South West Coast Path – Part 13 – The End
It’d been a long road. 630 miles long, give or take, but I knew that the end was within reach. I was creeping higher up the Southern Coast and zeroing in on Poole Harbour – my final destination. That morning I was also creeping up the side of Golden Cap too, though at times it felt more like crawling. At 191 metres it’s the highest point of the South Coast of the UK, and a fair ole stank for my legs in the heat even after all the miles I’d already done! The view from the top was well worth it though. After passing another golf course or two (they seem to be everywhere on the SWCP – why is that?! Don’t the balls fly off into the sea?) I knew I was closing in on a place made famous by Ian McEwan’s similarly monikered novel – Chesil Beach.
I didn’t know what it would be like but I was looking forward to seeing it. An 18 mile-long shingle stretch and one of Dorset’s most famous landmarks, it’s something to behold. Rugged, wild and barren, but to be honest…it was a total nightmare to hike along. For a good stretch of the pathway I had to walk through the shingle itself, sinking down with every backpack-laden stride and swearing my head off at how tiring and slow my pace was. A couple of miles took me over an hour to hike and I was in considerable pain, so I stopped a couple coming the other way to ask them how much longer the shingle went on for before I could hop on a path. Luckily, they said, it was pretty soon. Thank goodness! I finally shuffled off the pebbles and got myself a well-deserved ice cream from an unexpected kiosk, allowing myself a small sulk. Ha! It was a pretty rough way to end the long day though and had slid me into a bit of a funk.
I tried to hike on a little further but gave up the ghost with my aching back and hips, skipping a couple of miles into Weymouth to my digs for the night. I didn’t realise it, but my funk was soon to get a little bit worse. Weymouth wouldn’t be up there as one of my favourite spots to visit, but I had to stay in the city to be able to take on…Portland Island. Now, so far the coast path has taken me in a glorious forwards trajectory and every step has been another increment around these beautiful counties. Portland Island however is a different kettle of fish. You cross a one mile causeway just before Weymouth, hike 14 miles around the edge of the limestone island and then cross the SAME causeway back, then hiking road miles into the city.
I wasn’t keen on the idea but had to try. I’m no trail-purist and have jumped city stretches before, but I knew I couldn’t miss out an entire island just because it seemed to get me nowhere, so I was going to do it. Or so I thought. It just so happened that a huge gale was coming through the next day, but I valiantly headed over the causeway and tried to start the hike around the island’s cliffs. I was blown down, backwards, forwards, into rocks, the poles blown out of my hands and my straps whipped my face like nylon bullies. I soldiered on for a while, with my body aching from yesterday’s Chesil Beach pummelling, and then I burst into tears and sat down. Hunkering behind a rock I had a solid conversation with myself. Was it worth it? Was I lame if I turned back? Was it safe? Did I really need to see the stripey lighthouse at the end? I finally reconciled myself to the fact that I was exhausted, well overdue a day off to recover and that the weather and wind weren’t helping. I hobbled to a bus stop and caught a bus back into town. Beaten by Portland Island, but trying not to let it get me down.
I slept like a log and awoke refreshed. I loved the walk out of Weymouth with it’s stunning Victorian changing rooms and promenade. I also knew I had some stunning scenery to see on this day – the amazing Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove! They didn’t disappoint, and after miles of solo hiking along the undulating white cliffs, it wasn’t surprising that I ran into huge crowds at these beauty spots. People weren’t really socially distancing so I wove in and out the best I could, taking some photos of the iconic archways and scooting back out into the Lulworth Ranges. These military firing ranges are routinely closed for drills, so I was lucky to be able to get across and not have to take a huge detour! Seriously hard going inside the ranges though, with some massive elevations and descents. Luckily I had rusted tanks on one side and stunning coastline on the other to take my mind off the hard work!
The next two days zipped past in a blur. More stunning cliffs, cute campsites, cows and snacks. I was on the final stretch and I couldn’t wait to meet my Mum and Dad in Swanage to complete the final day with them. I was so happy that they’d said they’d come to join me, and when they arrived super early on the morning of the final day I had tears in my eyes seeing them pull in; smiling and supportive as always. Mum and I loaded ourselves up with snacks and water, and Dad was in charge of driving to the end of the trail and walking to meet us at the end when we let him know we were incoming. Mum and I had a hoot; chatting and laughing our way around the final stretch, enjoying the views together and getting caught in showers whilst munching flapjacks. Perfect. And then, after slipping and sliding across the final miles of sandy beach to the harbour, there it was – the end. And standing there just like he always has been my whole life, Dad was waiting to tell me he was proud.
The three of us took some photos and then piled in the car to find a cup of tea and head home to Falmouth. I couldn’t really believe the hike was done – it had consumed me so joyfully for so long – but all good things come to an end and I was definitely due a rest. Of course, by the time I’d had a cuppa and a nap on the way home…I was already planning the next adventure. Can’t wait to tell you more. Thanks for coming along with me so far!