In lieu of next week’s three day jaunt along the Thames, I decide a spot of preparation might be in order and head off to Studland for a leisurely walk. I begin at the church where I was once married in another era; partly because parking’s free and partly to visit my old mucker who passes his time there. On the way back from depositing some cyclamens, and offering a nod and wink to the many others I know here from the old days, I stop to talk with a Dutch lady whose arms are full of trailing hops. She’s going to dry them and decorate her furniture apparently; and she’s thrilled about English hedgerows. There is certainly a proliferation of hops this year – maybe something to do with our glorious summer weather which continues today.
Considering I spent quite a few of my formative years in this village, today brings several surprises. On my way to the beach, I notice a path, in the wrong direction, signposted to a previously unheard of Fort Henry. I double back to investigate and find this porker sunbathing at the back of the aptly named Pig on the Beach restaurant.
Fort Henry is a piece of WW2 history being a bunker built early on when Studland Beach was deemed to be a prime location for a possible landing by the enemy. The beach was subsequently used for practice for the D-Day landings, and in 1943 Churchill, Eisenhower, Montgomery, Mountbatten and King George IV, amongst other top brass, came here to view the next part of my walk. Unfortunately, six tanks sank with the loss of crew members from which a lesson was learned: only launch your tanks in shallow water.
Children being back in the classroom, and parents being back at work, the beach today is empty apart from those accompanied by pre-school small people and those who, thankfully, have relieved themselves of holiday-type relatives. And the scenery changes constantly with the light.
Time is passing and with it, the opportunity for a picnic. I stop awhile to eat my prawn and cottage cheese sandwich at a point which I think is free of naturists. This part of the sweep has been set aside for those who wish to lose their clothing for as long as I can remember. However, there are one or two stragglers who have gone off piste. In general, I don’t mind. However, there are always those who to like exhibit themselves. A large naked man decides to walk across the beach in my path. He is so fat that I doubt whether he’s seen his willy for several years. He is, nonetheless, intent on me viewing his protuberance. The thing I detest the most is when they play volleyball. All that flopping around puts one off lunch. It’s not cricket. Well, no, it’s volleyball.
I round the headland and set off into Shell Bay. The tide has receded considerably and the insistent sunshine creates wonderful colours on the water.
Here’s the starting point for the South West Coastal Path: 90 odd miles to Minehead but a lot of uphill stuff. Anyway, who wants to go to Minehead? Me, I’m crossing the road.
It’s a different kettle of fish on the other side of the peninsula. I think I forgot to say that I’m following the second walk in my new book of Dorset walks. So far, I’ve stuck to the plan but it all goes a bit pear-shaped from now on as I move into Bramble Bush Bay.
For a start, the tide is ridiculously low which means I can access places I’ve never seen before on foot. Further, there are far more birds here so it takes me ages to progress as I keep stopping to enjoy these parts of Poole Harbour that have previously been out of bounds.
I assume this very low-flying plane is about to drop a bunch of SBS types into the sea. But I’ve got more interesting things to look at.
It’s all too wonderful and there’s no-one else here except me. I disregard the book which tells me I should’ve moved inland some time ago. The opportunity to walk around all these headlands is too tempting: what luck to have such a tide on such a glorious day. Had it been overcast, I might’ve felt a little threatened by the solitude but today, all these inlets remind me of the reconstruction of Poole Harbour in the Bronze Age which one can see in the local museum. Nothing much can have changed in all these lonely eons.
Eventually, I run out of beach and accessible ways so I find a path back through Godlingston Heath. It feels old. Hardy’s Egdon Heath is a composite according to some theorists. Conversely, Studland or Godlingston Heath is THE place. It feels a tiny bit desolate and I can’t find an easy way back. When you’re a little bit lost, the best thing to do is to think about the wine you’re going to drink later and the food you’re going to cook: Spaghetti Bolognaise.
And while this is happening, you can look back at where you’ve been and look at The Agglestone which you didn’t mean to go to. And I know I keep harping on but you can also think how lucky you are to be alive and mobile.
When I finally got off that wretched heath, and stumbled down a path unfit for human transportation, I met a very nice dog. Then I met his owners. Having finally lost the grasp of the new map book, I enquired as to whether this was the path to Studland. ‘Yes’, said Tom, ‘but don’t go to the Bankes Arms: just had the worse food ever’. ‘Oh’, says I, for no apparent reason; ‘I was married from there in 1975’. ‘Well’, he replied. ‘I think they’ve just served the last of your wedding breakfast’.