Thursday, 16 February 2012

West Bexington to Eype Mouth (SW Coast Path 18)

Looking west towards Golden Cap

Back in Dorset after a month's gap to resume the SWCP. The last leg (Langton Herring to West Bexington) ended with 2.5 miles along the back of Chesil Beach in a howling wind. Today we start with another 2 or 3 miles until we reach Hive Beach near Burton Bradstock. As the photo above shows, it is fairly unexciting initially - but the enticing prospect of Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast, can be seen in the distance.

Some interest was provided by Bexington Nature Reserve (Dorset Wildlife Trust), a reedy, wetland. We saw quite a large number of colourful Shelducks here. Then the path leaves the beach and follows the same line across grassy fields behind a line of bushes.

After about 2 miles the path emerges onto a dune behind the beach and begins to climb: you can look down on the beach, gravelly at the back, but with reddish sand at the front.

After passing the first of several holiday-home camps, we descended to Hive Beach, with the famous Hive Beach cafe doing a roaring trade with all the half-term visitors.

We walked down to the shoreline to see and photograph the cliffs with their extraordinary striations. Clearly this marked a transition from the mainly flat coast we have seen since Portland to a new zone of red sandstone. Golden Cap, in the background, is getting closer.

We climbed up, and then walked along, Burton Cliff to descend again to Burton Freshwater, where the tiny and short-lived River Bride reaches the sea (the map shows its source only about three miles away). It is a significant point, because so as we can see, this is the first river we have crossed since we began the Coast Path in Poole, 70-odd miles away.

Burton Freshwater beach is extraordinary. There is a massive gravel slope at the back of the beach, apparently built by the Environment Agency specifically to keep the river flowing smoothly.

You are forced inland here to cross the river and then back along the other bank. It passes through a sort of canyon to reach the sea and it is a fine sight.

Freshwater Bay is dominated by a huge caravan site with a large array of mobile homes at the back of the beach. We spent a moment articulating the difference between mobile homes and caravans and concluded that mobile homes were the ones that weren't in fact mobile - moveable, perhaps.

Now we were really back to classic Coast Path walking. Up the cliff from Freshwater Bay, along a bit, then down a steep slope to nearly sea level, then up again. The crumbling, nearly vertical, East Cliff looks very dramatic.

Bridport was inland to the right and soon West Bay appeared.

Pevsner doesn't have much to say about it, but does reveal that the little harbour is entirely artificial and was first constructed in 1740-4 and was rebuilt in 1824. The fine twin piers are part of sea-defence project and channel the River Brit into the sea.

We had a fantastic fish lunch at the West Bay Hotel. It doesn't look much from the outside, but don't be put off.

We walked past the old Salt House, an early 18th century building once used for storing salt for the Newfoundland fishing trade.

We knew that fishing boats went from Poole to Newfoundland and sold their salted cod in Spain and Portugal on the way back - it was the basis of Poole's prosperity in the 18th century, as evidenced by the fine Georgian houses in the old town. Apparently, a similar trade was carried on from Bridport.

We now climbed the West cliff and soon found ourselves overlooking Eype Mouth where we had left our car. We got a taxi back to the start. I explained that we wanted to be picked up at "ipe" - but was gently corrected - the correct pronunciation is "eep".

Conditions: cloudy, sunny intervals.

Distance: about 7 miles. Distance covered now 77 miles.

Maps: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset) - now completed - and 116 (Lyme Regis and Bridport).

Rating: four stars. The first part was not that interesting, but the stages from Hive Beach were excellent.


The most interesting sighting was a Billy Bragg. We knew that he lives somewhere near Burton Bradstock and we were pleased that our paths crossed on a clifftop walk.

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