A lovely walk along the coast to a great pub: the Anchor Inn, Dorset | Holidays in Dorset
SSome hikers find coastal walks boring. Their main complaint is similarity: too blue, too green, too straight, too twee. Sometimes they say it’s not “real” enough, which means they prefer mud and mountains. I challenge any of these people to walk from Seaton to Seatown and not admit that they are, at least sometimes, completely wrong.
Here on the Devon-Dorset border, drama abounds. For centuries, the constant onslaught of waves and wind has twisted the land and kept mapmakers busy. Between Seaton and Lyme Regis, a series of landslides produced a five-mile under-cliff, a rocky shoulder of clefts and gullies. The greatest crisis, on Christmas Eve 1839, resulted in part of the wheat field, somehow intact enough for the next summer’s harvest. The farmers tried to keep the land in use, especially with sheep, but the rough terrain made it impassable and, after eventual abandonment, the place became wild – really wild.
Freed from the yoke of man, the basement teems with life; rainforest is a frequent, non-hyperbolic comparison. It is the density that invites the parallel. Apart from the narrow path, every patch of land is alive, leaves of all shapes and colors, creeping and climbing. For the first half, the battle for the pitch is won by the little guys. The primroses in the ditches, the mercury of the dog in the craters, the violet of the woods, the sorrel, the arum. My favorite is the wild carrot, which sprinkles the path with white flowers so delicate they could melt. I stop to pick one up, stroking the soft petals. And I realize that I haven’t seen or heard the sea for an hour. Breaking waves, probably within 30 yards of me at all times, are muffled by a wall of greenery.
Halfway through, the scene changes a little, the air becomes a little freer. Light filters through the beech leaves, each bursting with majesty. Jays and nuthatches chatter and hunt between field maples and ash trees and the eerie gnarled oak. A female blackbird shoots up from the ground, catching my eye. I stumble over a thick root hoop, trace it on the ground and see it twist into a vine, up and around a trunk, curling in circles towards the crown – and there is the blackbird again, singing happily.
Werner Herzog once said of the jungle: “Here the trees are in misery, the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing, they just scream in pain. At that time, I had never thought him more stupid. Life is a carnival here.
The undercliff ends, suddenly, at Lyme Regis. But the drama continues. The great green curtain draws back, revealing a brilliant sea, dazzling white. The sky is white too, although there are no clouds. There is too much light for the elements to hold. It just bounces. The wind drops and, sweating now, I slalom down the town’s main street, all coffee and scones mid-morning, before reaching the vast stone harbour, the Cobb.
The streetlights here are adorned with streamers of ammonites. Most of the stuff is in Lyme Regis, the famous Jurassic Coast town, England’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. About 200 million years ago, this land was at the same latitude as North Africa and the warm sea supported a rich marine ecosystem.
When the animals died, they fell into anaerobic mud and were buried by the mud flowing from the rivers. They descended, these dead ammonites, belemnites and ichthyosaurs, deeper and deeper, until they turned to stone. They were three miles below the surface of the water, until Italy blindly crashed into southern Europe; the shock waves produced the Alps and, further north, raised the beds of the dead to the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. Now, as the constant pounding of the waves hits the cliffs, the old fossils come loose. Children can chisel out a piece of rock and hold in their hand the remains of creatures that died eons before mankind existed. It is quite an extraordinary thing.
I drive out of Lyme Regis and over the folding valleys, to the charming, colorful cottages of Charmouth and back up the other side to see a large hill beating its chest, issuing a challenge. I check my map to confirm it’s Golden Cap – the highest point on the south coast. The climb is typical Southwest Coast Trail: strong breeze, stone path, steps braced with wood, fields lined with ferns. As I ascend, I pass through a herd of dozing cows, the wonderful view up the hill being totally ruined for them. It’s steep enough to steal your breath and hard enough on your feet on the way down to make them sing.
When I finally arrive in Seatown, I take off my boots, walk straight into the water and walk in the cold, watching the waves roll in from the flat horizon. I stand on the soft little pebbles, massaging them between my aching toes. After a minute or two of bliss, I go numb, turn around and walk a few yards to the pub for some more.
Google map of the route
Distance 14 miles
Time 7 hours
Total ascent 884 meters
Thank goodness the Anchor Inn is hard to get to. Golden Cap intimidates its share of visitors, and the narrow road down from Chideock quickly deteriorates. Without these guards, the place would be overrun. Surely no pub displays its location better. He simply basks at the mouth of a golden creek.
Amidst hungry walkers and happy families, friendly dogs and kids with salt in their hair, I ask for a table – they don’t take reservations in the summer months. “Are you okay to sit outside?” I am asked, quite redundantly. The terrace overlooks the water and I sit mesmerized until another waiter’s polite request surprises me. I get my bearings and order the local Palmers Gold, brewed on the road in Bridport since 1794. The man at the next table congratulates me on my choice and, after exchanging cheers, I understand why – it’s the perfect beer after a long walk, a sweet and rich reward.
The same man offers me to choose the plowman for lunch. He’s had it every year since he started coming here five years ago. But, as a vegetable, I choose the aubergine and hummus baguette. It’s excellent too – fresh and filling. If I return, I might try the Pizzeria on the Cobbles: the pub’s old boathouse has been redone as the Seatown Slice for those who can’t fit inside.
After eating, I hop onto the sloping cliff garden benches for another Palmers. A beer garden in London can mean metal tables and chairs in a car park. Here, foxtail dances in the breeze, clouds tickle the tip of Cap d’Or, the waves stun with calm. As I empty my pint, I check my phone and realize I missed the Chideock bus. I’ve never been so happy to waste an hour.
Each room at the Anchor Inn has a king-size bed, a private bathroom and a sea view. But book well in advance: there are only three. If you’re unlucky, there’s the Golden Cap Holiday Park, less than a minute’s walk away, with caravans, lodges and the like.
double of £170 bed and breakfast, palmersbrewery.com