Being British, a little bit of rain ground-hugging cloud wasn’t going to stop @alice-mccoy and I from our planned amble around Abbotsbury.
After a superb English breakfast, we set off down the lane armed with an Ordnance Survey map and rain coats. We had ascertained the previous evening that the dismantled railway at the bottom of the lane sadly no longer provided us with an easy, quiet route. In fact, the railway – a branch line from Upwey to Abbotsbury – was ripped up entirely (thank you Dr Beeching) in the 50s due to dwindling demand and a misguided belief that people would drive to stations on the main line rather than just drive right on to their destination. The bridge across Cheese Lane is still just about visible as some unexpectedly sturdy walls and – allegedly – the Coryates Halt platform crumbling under the weight of the bushes that have eaten it.
Of our footpath options, the one across the neighbouring farm’s land was sporting electric fences across it and the next one ran through the field of frisky bullocks that had chased us along the lane the previous evening. Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, we braved cars and local dog walkers (‘don’t get too close, he’ll take a chunk out of your arm’) and cut down to Rodden to start our cross-country adventure.
We promptly lost our sense of direction as we zigzagged up a steep hill and shortly afterwards found ourselves at a fence line that quite clearly didn’t include a gate. Here we began our discovery of just how much farmers like keeping footpaths clear (not very much) as we tried a number of desire lines that nominally connected up to paths on our map, but all ended up in barbed wire and/or spectacular summer nettle / bramble growths. Applying some ingenuity, we safely climbed one barb wire fence and wriggled under another, eventually getting back on track. Sorry, farmers. Should have kept those stiles passable.
Keen to avoid main roads, we found a bridleway that would take us most of the way from Elworth to Abbotsbury. As we tramped along, we realised we had started squelching. A deer leapt out of the hedge in front of us, startling all concerned, and promptly leapt the hedge that we had just realised we were going to have to thrash through (the ‘path’ through it also having succumbed to summer growth).
Kicking sprays of water with every step, we were quite relieved to intersect the main road on the outskirts of Abbotsbury and spent the rest of the day on dry surfaces. The air didn’t get any drier, though, so we went to hang out with the swans.
Photo by Mick Knapton (Wikimedia Commons) – I failed at photos in the rain
We dried off and ate lunch ourselves (unmolested by swans or geese) then headed up hill to the picturesque St Catherine’s Chapel that overlooks Abbotsbury.
The chapel is not the mist-haunted ruin my photo suggests, having been substantially restored over the centuries. It is empty these days, although occasional special services are still held there. Its simple dressed stones feel full of grace and it would feel welcoming on any day, but particularly so that day. Two white doves nesting to either side of the main window were particularly apt, and we were delighted to find the cloud backing off as we came back out.
Our trail took us next to Chesil Beach by way of a downhill scramble (largely ignored by goldfinches, a kestrel, coal tits and martins). Chesil Beach is a natural artefact of glaciation and tides, a huge pebble embankment that spans from Abbotsbury to Weymouth, fully enclosing the brackish Fleet (where the Swannery is found) in its lee. It is being slowly dismantled by the sea, but will be there for a few millennia yet and well worth a look. We found some intrepid fishermen and stubborn British families (‘we said we were having a beach holiday. I don’t care if it’s wet and windy, I’m putting up the tent and we’re sitting on the bloody beach’) braving the elements and admiring the crashing surf. Walking on the pebbles is, frankly, exhausting and I for one was happy we only had to do so for half a mile (if that) before we turned up another lane.
Distance covered: just over 12 miles (thank goodness for that bus)
Sustenance: an enormous English breakfast, jacket potato with an immensity of cheddar and tuna mayo (me; @alice-mccoy went for a more sensible toasty), oxtail soup and a roll, lemon shortbread and chocolate macaroons. Oh yes.