Friday, 15 April 2011

Winspit to Chapman's Pool (SW Coast Path 6)


We took the opportunity of the visit of my friend John to continue the Coast Path. Like the last leg (Dancing Ledge to Winspit), we started from Worth Matravers and walked down the long ravine that we had walked up at the end of previous walk.

When we reached Winspit, we climbed the steep stairs to reach the clifftop at West Man, and looked back to East Man on the other side of the ravine.

As we walked along the path we gradually became aware of a line of disturbance in the sea, as it changed from being seemingly still on top to being quite turbulent. We could also hear an increasing amount of noise. As we got closer we could see that the apparently calm water was in fact flowing west at quite a fast rate.

What was going on? It is apparently the result of a Portland stone ridge which stretches out to sea about 50 ft below the water level.

As we approached St Aldhelm's Head, we passed the memorial to the radar research carried out at Worth Matravers during 1940-42.

It was erected only in 2001 and is the work of a local sculptor, Tony Viney. The full story can be found on this website, which answers the obvious question: Why only 1940-42? It was discovered that the Germans, who were also working on radar, were planning a commando raid and so the work was moved to safety inland.

A little further on we came to the famous St Aldhelm's chapel.

This is an extraordinary little structure. It is square with one massive column in the centre supporting four vaults which hold up the roof and divide the space into four. There is an altar in the corner opposite to the doorway lit by a small lancet window. It dates from about 1100, but looks like no other church I have ever seen. It is unlike a normal church in that the four corners are oriented towards the cardinal points of the compass, whereas churches are normally oriented along an east-west axis, unless the site makes this impossible. There has therefore been speculation that it was not fact built as a chapel but was a store or even a disguised look-out post. It was restored in the 19th century and has definitely been a chapel since 1874.

We soon came to a point where there was another sharp descent and a corresponding long climb up steps to to return to the cliff top at about 100m above the sea.

Soon Chapman's Pool came into view - a sort miniature Lulworth Cove.

We followed the cliff edge around, passing the Royal Marines Association Memorial Garden on Emmett's Hill. It was established following the IRA attack on the Royal Marines Barracks at Deal, the home of the Royal Marines Band Service, in September 1989.

It is hard to get down to Chapman's Pool and the route now headed inland above a ravine known as Hill Bottom. Eventually there comes a point where path has descended enough to reach the ravine bottom and then  return towards the coast along the other side. Here we continued along Hill Bottom to eventually turn right and walk across fields to return to Worth.

Conditions: sunny, hot.

Distance: about 5 miles, of which about 2.5 was on the Coast Path. Distance covered now 16 miles.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset).

Rating: four stars.


We saw a number of Fulmars nesting in the ledges on the Purbeck stone cliffs before St Aldhelm's Head and launching themselves into their straight-winged flight. Although they look rather like gulls they are in fact members of the Petrel family.

In a field just beyond St Aldhelm's Head we spotted what we later identified as a Short-toed lark.

And beneath the same rocky cliffs where I was studying the Fulmars, John caught a glimpse of what seemed certain to be a Grey seal.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door

Lulworth Cove

My friend John was visiting and we decided that he should see something of the coast around Lulworth. We parked in the main car park and headed off down towards the cove, noting a sign that indicated that the paths across the Army range were open.

When we reached the Cove, which was pleasantly unpopulated in the coolish air, we decided to take the high path up above the cove. After a steep climb you are rewarded with an excellent view, which allows a much clearer sense of the cove’s shape than is possible from ground level.

At the far side, you descend by a long staircase.

We headed east and were a bit shocked to find that the gate to the ranges locked and a large red flag was flying. Lesson for the future: pay more attention to the flags than to the signs. We turned and retraced our steps to the cove, which this time we crossed at sea level, although the round stones were as heavy going as the climb and descent.

Now we decided to head west. We walked inland a little and took a path past Hanbury Farm which climbed steadily across grassland towards the Newlands Farm campsite, with Hanbury Tout (134m) between us and the sea. We thought this must be a very healthy campsite if you could only reach it on foot. Of course, when we got there this naive hope was dashed as we saw a stream of camper vans heading along the road access to the site, which also had caravans and holiday chalets.

John was frothing at the mouth at the desecration of the landscape and we hurried past. We descended to the entrance to a long curving valley, the splendidly named Scratchy Bottom. The photo captures the curve and the different shades and textures of green quite well.

We then climbed up the other side and walked along a grassy ridge overlooking the bottom below. We followed this to reach the coast at Swyre Head. This is deeply confusing, as there is another Swyre Head, just back from the coast a few miles to the east. This other, better known, Swyre Head is, at 203m, heralded as the highest point on the Jurassic coast. I climbed up it in January on a walk from Kingston.

To the right, there was a fine view of the Bat’s Hole, a natural arch in the chalk cliff.

We now began the walk back to Lulworth and soon had a fine view along the coast towards Durdle Door and beyond.

Durdle Door itself is undeniably impressive.

And a bit beyond it, you can see the continuation of the Portland stone ridge, of which Durdle Door is part, out in the sea, while the much softer chalk cliffs have eroded far back from their one-time extent.

Soon we descended the long paved path (here seen from the east) back to the Lulworth car park.

Conditions: the air was cool, but it was quite warm once you got going.

Distance: about 6 miles.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset).

Rating: four stars.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Dancing Ledge to Winspit (SW Coast Path 5)

Winspit from Worth Matravers

Our last encounter with the South West Coast Path, from Anvil Point to Dancing Ledge, was unbearably muddy, so we decided to give it a break until the weather improved. Today offered ideal conditions for a resumption. Because of our policy of doing the Coast Path by means of a series of circular walks, we started at Worth Matravers and headed east across the plateau on the path to Swanage, the Priests Way. There were initially nice views back towards Winspit.

I haven't been able to find out anything about the Priests Way - a Google search supplies only details of properties for sale in the street of that name in Swanage.

After a while we turned right on a path which descended to Dancing Ledge and then followed the Coast Path along a grassy clifftop to reach Seacombe Cliff, the site of former limestone mining.

The path heads inland to skirt the cove, which we didn't explore, and then back towards the sea via a steep series of steps. As we walked westward from Seacombe, the view back over a thick clump of may was delightful.

After a while we came to Winspit, with its dramatic former mine galleries from which the stone was quarried and then loaded onto barges.

We headed inland here and followed the line of a ravine, with a small stream far below, uphill for about a mile and quarter back to Worth Matravers. There was a pleasing view back down to Winspit from near the top.

Once in Worth we went to see the Norman church of St Nicholas of Myra. The church dates from the 11th century.

Inside, the magnificent chancel arch, of about the same date (says Pevsner) was apparently brought to the church from elsewhere, probably after the dissolution of the monasteries.

Conditions: sunny, hot.

Distance: about 5 miles, of which only about 1.5 was on the Coast Path. Distance covered now 13.5 miles.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset).

Rating: four stars.


A surprisingly good showing of butterflies: peacock, small tortoiseshell, small white, orange tip, holly blue. We only needed  red admiral, comma, brimstone and speckled wood to have a full set of the butterflies you could reasonably expect to see in early April.

Flower of the day

I haven't been able to identify these delicate blue flowers we saw on the grassy hillside above the coastal path.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Venice: San Marco - Arsenale - Lido

The Doge's Palace

We started today’s wander through Venice, mainly through the sestiere of Castelo, by the Doge’s Palace. Being a Sunday morning, it was already very crowded and we immediately felt that our plan to walk towards the eastern side of the city, away from the main tourist areas, was a good one.

We walked the short way along the Riva degli Schiavone to the little bridge from which you can see the famous Bridge of Sighs - the bridge that linked the palace to the prison behind, and is supposed to be named for the sounds made by the prisoners on their way to be tried.

We could not fail to have already noted the horrendous blue advertising hoarding on the east side of the Palace, but we were simply staggered to find that it continued around both sides of the canal. The resulting image is quite surreal.

From here, we headed away from the Riva and visited the campo which contains the marble-fronted church of San Zaccaria. We passed the Scuola di San Giorgio, famous for a series of paintings by Carpaccio, and then headed on to Campo Bandiera e Moro, with a fine palazzo on one side and the church of San Giovanni in Bragora along another.

The church has a late 15th century gothic facade. A plaque on the left of the facade records the fact that Vivaldi was baptised here in 1678.

The final church in this itinerary was San Martino, with its gothic-looking but 19th century facade, which incorporates one of the famous letter boxes in which Venetians could denounce their neighbours for heresy or other sins.

Immediately beyond San Martino you arrive at the Arsenale, the great naval dockyard that was the basis of Venice's maritime power. A great renaissance gateway stands beside the magnificent twin entrance towers (built 1686). Since we were last here, a bridge has been built over the canal that leads into the Arsenale, and it is now at last possible to see in.

The Arsenale remains in military ownership and so far as one can tell the vast area it covers is simply gradually decaying.

We now followed the walls of the Corderie (where hemp ropes were stored) and began to more fully appreciate the scale of the Arsenale.

We emerged in Via Garibaldi. It was built by Napoleon in 1808 by filling in a former canal. It is Venice's widest street.

At the end we passed the house of the explorer Giovani Caboto (better known to English readers as John Cabot), reached the Basino di San Marco and had a nice lunch in the Da Romano restaurant, enjoying the fine views.

After lunch we decided on an impromptu trip to see the Lido, Venice's beach resort island. We caught the vaporetto from the nearby Giadini stop. The views back towards San Giorgio Maggiore on the left and San Marco on the right were exceptional.

Arriving on the Lido a short while later we were staggered to be confronted with the unfamiliar sight of a road with traffic and pedestrians crossing. Shades of Abbey Road!

The beach is on the other side of the wide but shallow island and we advanced along the Gran via Santa Maria Elizabetta and were thrilled to see the extraordinary art nouveau Hotel Ausonia e Hungaria. It dates from 1907. The mosaic facade was created and realized by the Bassanese sculptor Luigi Fabris in 1913.

At the end was the entrance to the public beach via an ugly concrete concourse with a beach cafe and seating area. The beach was, it must be said, pretty uninviting.

Still, it was good to have seen it and to know that we had missed nothing by not having gone before. It did not at live up to the image I had taken from watching Dirk Bogard in Death in Venice.

That was it. We walked back to the vaporetto stop and took a boat back home.

Conditions: sunny, hot 

Distance: about 4 miles

Rating: four stars. Extraordinary variety.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Venice: Torcello and Burano

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello

With the arrival of the weekend we thought that Venice would become more crowded and so today seemed the ideal moment for a foray to the islands of the lagoon. We took the vaporetto from Fondamanta Nuove (the broad path on the norther side of the city) to Burano and then a further vaporetto shuttle on to Torcello. Torcello is where Venice began, but was progressively abandoned after the 10th century when this part of the lagoon began to silt up. Now there is a small clutch of wonderful old buildings, four or five restaurants and a few houses and that is all.

You walk along a brick-paved fondamenta from the quay beside the Canale di Torcello, passing the Devil's Bridge, so named presumably because it has no sides - perfect for photographs - and soon reach the centre. You are first confronted by the arcaded porch of the beautiful little church of San Fosca which dates from around 1100.

Walking round the back you find a wonderful Romanesque apse with blind arches and delicate patterning.

Opposite there is a small museum and a shop (originally 14th century palazzos) and then, linked to the church by the arcade is a Cathedral, which if you did not know, is the last thing you would expect in a settlement this size. There has been a church here since 639; it was enlarged and altered in 824 and 1008. The interior decoration dates from the 11th to 13th centuries.

We wandered round the side of the cathedral and explored the seeming wasteland by a nearby canal. We soon spotted a number of small white butterflies. I don't think they were Small Whites, because they had no black spots on their wings. Then a couple of blue butterflies appeared. At this point I was forcefully reminded that we needed to catch the shuttle back to Burano, so further exploration did not take place.

Once in Burano, we followed a path which led to a junction of two canals. The distinctive, brightly painted houses of Burano were soon apparent. Allegedly, they were like this to make the buildings more visible to fisherman returning through the winter mists which affect the lagoon. There was also an immediate sense of space and air, which is something that you do not get in Venice.

We walked along a fondamenta and approached the centre of the island. We passed Piazza Galuppi with its lace museum on one side and the church of San Martino on the other, with yet another leaning campanile. Somewhere around here the immortal words "I thought there would be more lace shops" were heard, but once in the very centre there was almost nothing but lace shops, lace being what Burano is famous for.

Walking along via Baldessare Galuppi, with a nice view back towards the church ....

.... we found the splendid ristorante Da Romana where we had an excellent lunch.

A bit further on there was another quiet canal lined with colourful cottages.

And from here it was a short walk back to the vaporetto stop. When we got back to the Fondamenta Nuove, there was a fine clear view of San Michele, the cemetery island.

Conditions: sunny, hot.

Distance: about 3 miles, although from our hotel to Fondamenta Nuove and back was another 2.

Rating: four stars.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Venice: San Zanipolo - Madonna dell'Oro - Ponte dei tre archi

Santi Giovani e Pauli

The original plan was to take a vaporetto trip to explore Torcello and Burano. However, when we reached the stop at the Fondamente Nuova, we found that next boat was scheduled to leave in 90 minutes. Then we discovered that there was a one-day strike and only a minimum service was in operation. We decided, obviously enough, to abandon the plan, and retired to a cafe to ponder.

Quite by chance, we found ourselves in the Campo Santa Maria Nova noticing the beautiful marble west end of a church partly visible across a canal. "Hang about, isn't that Santa Maria dei Miracoli?" we chorused.

It was. Our favourite church from our previous visits and the favourite also of many well-qualified observers of Venice, for example James Morris.

So we decided to embark on a route through some of Venice's other fine churches. We backtracked a little first to see Santi Giovanni e Paolo (known in the Venetian dialect as San Zanipolo). This, along with the Frari, which we saw on yesterday's walk from Santo Stefano to San Giacomo dell' Oro is one of the major Gothic churches of Venice. It was built by the Dominican order between 1246 and 1430.

To its left, at right angles to it, is the former Scuola Grande di San Marco, a magnificent Renaissance building with a marble-clad facade with some extraordinary false-perspective marble panels. It now houses the main hospital. Only in Venice!

From here we returned to Santa Maria dei Miracoli, to see the east end ...

.. and again visit the exquisite interior, which is also covered in marble. The church dates from 1481-89. 

Now we strolled through the Canaregio sestiere (we started in Castello) to reach the Campo Santi Apostoli and the church of the same name. It doesn't look much, but is one of the oldest in Venice.

We now headed north, towards the Fondamenta Nuove again, passing on the way the rather decrepit Palazzo Zen, once the home of a famous family of merchant adventurers. Possibly, it was also the inspiration for Michael Dibden's detective Aurelio Zen. The facade apparently once had frescoes by Tintoretto, but no trace of them remains.

We reached the Fondamenta Nuova, turned west along it, then walked inland again parallel to the Canale di Misericordia, which we crossed to reach the red brick Scuola Nuova della Misericordia. It was originally built in 1310, but what you see today dates from the 15th century. The other building is the 17th century Palazzo Lezze.

We headed north again to again reach the northern edge of Venice by the lagoon. The glass-producing island of Murano (to the left) and the cemetery island of San Michele (to the right) could be seen beyond a marina.

A bit further on we spotted this fine palace with an intriguing relief of a camel on the right of its facade. This it turns out is the Palazzo Mastelli, known, perhaps inevitably, as Camel Palace, the home of a family of 12th century traders.

The next landmark was the beautiful church of Madonna dell'Oro, originally built in the 14th century, but modified in the 15th. Jacopo Tintoretto is buried here.

Just a short distance away is his birthplace - the tall building in the photo.

By now it was lunch time and we found a nice restaurant on a wide fondamenta (a path by a canal). We had really already done what we had set out to do, but there was still the question of getting home, so we extended our walk through the Ghetto, coming first to the church of San Alvise. This dates from 1388, but inside has 18th century frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo.

The Venetian Ghetto, the prototype for all others, was established in 1516 and remained until Napoleon took over in 1797. All Jews were required to live here. It is said that the name ghetto derives from the existence of cannon foundries in the area or from an iron chain used to mark the boundary.

A key feature of the Venice Ghetto was that its area was fixed, but the population kept rising. So the only way of coping was to build upwards. The resulting tall buildings give the Ghetto its unique character in Venice, as the photo illustrates.

You leave the Ghetto to emerge onto a broad fondamenta beside the Canale di Cannaregio and soon reach the Ponti dei Tre Archi 1688 - the only one of Venice's 400 odd bridges to have three arches. It was originally built without parapets.

There was a nice view back along the wide canal.

From here, it was a short walk back to the Grand Canal where we caught a vaporetto to Sant' Angelo, the stop nearest our hotel.

Conditions: sunny, hot.

Distance: about 6 miles.

Rating: four stars.