My previous walk along the coast path had been behind The Fleet, the natural lagoon that forms behind Chesil Beach. However in my rules I try to follow the most coastal safe route. I have already walked the South West Coast Path route but the most coastal safe route is along Chesil Beach itself. So this is the route I followed on this walk. I must admit I was actually quite looking forward to the walk with nothing but the sound of the sea, and water on both sides of me.
I knew that this was going to be a demanding walk as there is no proper path and shingle and pebbles are hard to walk on, with the stones moving underfoot and making every footstep more of an effort than it is on solid ground. Having said that, the beach is largely flat, so there are also not any huge hills to be climbed.
Logistically this is also a tricky walk. The beach is almost 10 miles long and once on the beach the only access is at either end unless you have access to a boat (I don’t). There is no road access and no facilities. So this also means setting out with plenty to eat and drink, as well as sun screen if the weather is good. There are other problems too. The firing range at Tidmoor has it’s Danger Area over the beach. So if the range is in use you can’t walk along this part of the beach and might have to turn back or wait for it to open. So it is a good idea to check if the range is in use before setting out (I didn’t). Lastly because of nesting birds, there is no access along the beach from 1st May to 31st August. It is therefore probably a good idea to go in late April or September, when the weather is likely to be more favourable – in stormy weather waves can sometimes break over the entire beach.
However I did not let any of that put me off, but I was concerned for how much time it might take. I decided to start from the eastern end, at Wyke Regis on the basis that I had not checked if the firing range was in use and if it was it is a shorter walk back from Wyke Regis end than from the Abbotsbury end if it was and I had to turn back. However it was a Sunday, so I doubted the range would be in use. In addition because I suspected this would be a tough walk, I decided to drive down and rather than start at Weymouth I would drive to closer to the start of the beach. Although there is a car park at the visitor centre at Chesil Beach I was not sure if it would stay open late or if I could catch a bus back there (you can). So I parked on-street in Wyke Regis, which is near the start of the road out to Portland. It took me around an hour and 10 minutes from where I was staying. I wondered about taking the bus out to Abbotsbury first but again, concerns about the firing range meant I decided to start from here and take my chances with the bus, which at the time was only once every 2 hours.
It was a glorious day, a cloudless sky, quite warm and just a gentle breeze. I walked down the road from where I parked, passing the little harbour at Small Mouth and out onto the road. The coast path is marked as following the road here, but there is a path of sorts along the top of the shingle, which is more pleasant than walking beside the main road to Portland.
There were soon fine views of Portland itself glistening in the sun ahead.
Just past the little harbour at Small Mouth I had to return to the road, as this is the bridge part of the road (Ferry Bridge), which bridges the mouth of the Fleet. Without this, Portland would only be connected to the main land via Chesil Beach. Once over this I was back on the shingle and to my right I could now see the mud flats behind the beach, the tide was obviously out, not that it makes much difference to this walk.
I headed along to the visitor centre which has only fairly recently opened, ready to start the walk. I suppose I should have asked in the visitor centre if the range was in used but I was half expecting the staff to try and put me off doing the walk, so didn’t bother.
I set off on the walk and initially things were easy – there is a board walk path from the visitor centre over the first part of the shingle but soon, as I expected, this ended. I was however pleased that the stones were pebbles rather than rocks, I had wondered if the first part would be hardest, as it is said the stones get smaller as you get further west.
There were a few people about enjoying the beach and some fisherman, but most didn’t walk further than the end of the boardwalk.
I continued to trudge along the shingle, still seeing people ahead, but I suspected that soon wouldn’t be the case. Already this path was offering better views than the coast path over The Fleet, to Wyke Regis and the large caravan park.
This was the view I would have for the next few hours.
Bits of wood had been placed to mark out parts of the beach into large squares, I have no idea why.
There were also wooden posts at regular intervals close to the shoreline too, I have no idea what those are for either. Soon I was passing the level with the Chesil Beach holiday park on the mainland and here on the beach was the first of several little fishing huts, presumably where the fisherman store their nets.
The caravan park to my right soon ended and the scene became more rural, as I passed more of those fishing huts.
Looking back Portland still looked quite close and I realised I was not making as quick progress as I had hoped. I was also a little concerned to see that the weather had changed, and Portland was now disappearing into the cloud. I hoped it was cloud and not a sea mist, although at least there was no chance of getting lost, just keep the sea on my left.
I had now long since passed the last of the people and had the beach to myself. The view ahead was simply of miles and miles of shingle, disappearing into the haze, with not a person in sight, and the only sound the surprisingly loud sound of the sea crashing over the pebbles, sometimes sending up quite a spray.
I alternated between walking along the top of the beach, which offered the better views, and nearer the shoreline which felt more coastal and seemed to be a little easier underfoot.
It was now mostly the gulls for company, although I could see people walking on the coast path further inland – perhaps they were wondering what I was doing?
I was soon passing the military buildings at Bridging Hard to my right, a sign that I was nearing the firing range. Weymouth and it’s associated villages and suburbs spread quite a distance inland, and there were still houses on the hills behind Chesil Beach.
This marked the point that the land behind The Fleet was closest to me and ahead the water got wider and the scene more rural.
For a while I could make out something on the beach ahead. It was getting bigger and I soon realised it was a small hut, with a flag pole behind it. This was obviously the start of the firing range, but oddly not signed. I assume if it is in use the red flag is put up. But I had assumed that would be all, I was surprised to see the hut here. Does someone have to come and sit out in it whenever the range is in use to stop anyone walking along the beach? Not sure what that would be like as a job, I suspect quite dull but at the same time it must be nice to be paid to sit on a beach all day!
The lack of a flag or indeed any people made it clear the range was not in use and so not going to bother me. I headed down to the shoreline again and walked along the shingle for a mile or so.
Down here it was nice to be close to the sea and feel the spray at times, but gauging progress was very hard now. There were no landmarks behind The Fleet and at any case at sea level the shingle bank blocked any views inland. I resorted to using the grid reference on my GPS.
After a while I headed back to the top of the shingle, where there was another fishing hut at the back of the beach but little in the way of features on the mainland. Sadly one other feature which I suppose was to be expected, but was a shame – the vast amount of litter on the beach. I suppose the difficult access means that it is rarely if ever cleared. It was mostly wood and fishing equipment, but a lot of plastic bottles, drink cans etc too. I recall a shipwreck in the area a few years ago where lots of wood washed up, this was likely some of it that was not so easy to take.
After a while I dropped back down to the shoreline again.
I decided to stop for lunch and a rest hear as it was quite sheltered and I was starting to get tired. I entertained myself taking some abstract photos of the pebbles and shingle.
After a nice rest I was no longer feeling tired and continued, returning to the top of the bank again. Looking back I could see I had now passed the Moonfleet Manor Hotel which I had taken to be the rough halfway point of the walk.
I continued on the top of the bank for a while looking out for the little bays behind The Fleet I could remember. This one I worked out is Langton Hive Point, with the line of white at the shoreline numerous boats left on the back of the beach and the row of white coastguard cottages, Langton Buildings on the map.
Soon I was inline with the road and slipway and there is another slipway on this side too and even a small brick building, presumably part of a boat club on the other side?
I continued on the top of the beach for a while and there were quite a few boats left here. I presume they belong to fisherman so perhaps they have two boats, one to get over to Chesil Beach and another to take to the edge of the sea? I also noticed that the fish box was from Newlyn Harbour, all the way at the tip of Cornwall.
I continued to alternate between walking along the shoreline, the top of the beach and the back of the beach. The back of the beach had started to get a lot of plants growing on it between the stones. Standing on them made for a smoother walk but I figured would not do them much good either – the plants probably help to stabilise the shingle so headed back to the shore.
This stretch of coast was now much more coastal than the coast path, which by now had headed quite a distance further inland than the edge of the Fleet itself. I was continuing to measure progress on my GPS. At the start of the walk I thought I might be able to catch an early afternoon bus, but I now realised this was out of the question.
After another hour or so I was alongside Abbotsbury Swannery, with the white swans visible at the shoreline – nearly there!
Beyond it I could see the hill with St Catherine’s Chapel on the top.
Finally I neared the line of concrete blocks that formed Tank Traps during World War II. The remote shingle beach would of course have been an ideal place to land tanks on the beach, out of sight of the mainland, so these were built to stop any tanks that had been landed from driving any further and getting off the beach. Presumably at the end of World War II no one had the money or inclination to remove them, so they remain today.
The water of the Fleet soon disappeared to my right to be replaced with reeds, as the ground became a boggy marsh rather than open water.
Soon I began to see people again, and I had reached the end of Chesil Beach, or at least the part with water behind it. I stopped for a rest for a while, knowing I had nearly around an hour before the next bus was due, although it would take about half an hour to walk into Abbotsbury. After a rest I followed the now familiar coast path route back from the beach into this lovely village.
I sat down on the wall at the bus stop, tired but happy. The bus arrived, about 15 minutes late. When I got back to Weymouth I took the first bus going out to Portland (they run often) and got off when I got to a street I recognised just before the end of Wyke Regis, and walked back to my car for the drive back.
I think most people walking the coast in this area miss this beach out. I can see why – it is a hard walk but it is also one I actually really enjoyed. It is hard work at time, there is a lot of rubbish and the scenery is not that varied, but it is also quite a privilege to be somewhere few people go and that feels very remote – a feeling it can often be hard to get in England. It was just me, the sea and the many sea gulls for several hours. Despite the number of fishing boats on the beach, I didn’t see any fisherman once I was more than a mile or so from either end of the beach – the middle section was entirely deserted.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
First Dorset X53 : Poole – Hamworthy – Sandford – Wareham Station – Wareham – Wool Station – Winfirth Newburgh – Osmington – Preston – Weymouth – Chickerell – Portesham – Abbotsbury – Burton Bradstock – West Bay – Bridport – Chideock – Morecombelake – Charmouth – Lyme Regis – Colyford – Seaton – Beer – Sidford – Newton Poppleford – Clyst St Mary – Exeter. Only a few buses each day run the full length (Exeter – Poole), but between Abbotsbury and Weymouth the service is hourly seven days a week. The bus stops near the railway stations in Poole, Weymouth, Wool and Wareham.
First Dorset 1 : Weymouth – Wyke Regis – Portland Victoria Square – Southwell. Every 10 minutes Monday – Saturday, every 20 minutes on Sundays.