Miles are not the same as kilometres. This is an important lesson I learned this Easter weekend when we tried to hike from Seatown to Abbotsbury.
It all started so well. A free car park in Abbotsbury, right by the pub. This will be our welcome finish line, somewhere around mid-afternoon. The X53 bus arrives on time and takes us on a pleasant 40 minute journey along the coast, to West Bay, inland to Bridport and then on to Chideock Bridge. We even get off at the right bus stop. It’s a 20 minute downhill stroll to Seatown, the starting point of today’s South West Coast Path hike. The South West Coast Path website tells me this hike is 15km. Perfectly doable.
A quick pee stop – we’re not sure where our next toilet break will be – and we head off eastwards. It’s a huge steep climb up Thorncombe Beacon to get the legs and lungs working, but there are breathtaking views at the top, looking back at Golden Cap, the highest point on the South Coast of England.
We’re faced with more hills and cliffs, characteristic of the Jurassic coastline. On our left of us is green and lush Dorset countryside. But a little muddy. Hardly surprising with the amount of rain dumped on it on the week leading up to Easter. Indeed, we had driven down from Birmingham on Good Friday with the rain lashing the windscreen all the way, and had taken a very wet and windy walk down from our abode in Southwell on Portland all the way across the island. The mud makes for an interesting element whilst trying to remain upright, and it’s not long before I take a tumble, leaving a muddy mark on my rear end which makes me look like I’ve had a nasty toilet accident.
Soon however, we are descending into West Bay, with it’s imposing sandstone cliffs familiar to anyone who has watched Broadchurch. Two Doctor Whos and an Olivia Coleman have stood on this very spot (I imagine). I can’t help thinking that this town – as portrayed in the TV show – is a hotbed of crime, tragedy and misery. Nothing good happens in Broadchurch/West Bay. We take the time to have a spot of early lunch and congratulate ourselves on getting this far. Mr Fletche checks his handy app; we have walked around 6.5km (including the walk from Chideock Bridge and to the Spar trying to find a cash machine). We’re almost halfway along our 15km hike. At this rate we’ll be back at Abbotsbury for a second lunch.
Those Broadchurch/West Bay cliffs are lung-busting, and I almost take another tumble when I decide to Instagram Story my feet at the same time. #DoItForTheGram. Phone safely ensconced in my pocket, I continue the scramble to the top. It levels out for a while, before a series of raggedy steps going down, only then having to climb back up the other side. We emerge into a holiday park, where we travel slightly inland for what feels like a meaningless detour back on ourselves. We cross the bridge over the River Bride and we are back coastside. There are a lot of people struggling through a particularly muddy patch, and we watch one small group trying to heft a large bemused husky over a fence.
We’re eventually back down at sea level. We stop to pause at The Hive Cafe at Burton Bradstock, only to be ignored by every server. I’d have killed my granny for a pint of cider at this point. Had she not already been on the great hiking path in the sky for the past eleven years. Our bottled water supplies are running low. At least we haven’t got far to go now.
Mr Fletche spots a mile marker. It’s 7 miles to Abbotsbury. This is where we realise that the 15km walk is more like a 15 mile walk. We have already walked 15km. And 7 miles means roughly another 11km to go. Mr Fletche loses the will to live at this point, but I convince him that it’ll be a walk in the park. After all, we’ve climbed all these cliffs, surely the really hard bits are behind us. Mr Fletche is not entirely convinced, but I am an effective enough cheerleader to get his sorry ass moving.
It all gets a bit confusing at Cogden Beach, when the South West Coast Path takes an unexpected direction into a field. And along a very muddy patch of track. By muddy, I mean shoe-sucking, squelching, up to the ankle mud. Mr Fletche is absolutely, definitely not loving this walk any more.
The muddy trail finally ends – only for us to emerge into a field which may or may not now be a small lake. We face the fact that this could, quite literally, be the end of the road. There are two gates, both of which look like they need a canoe to get through. Mr Fletche decides to shimmy over a gate and check out our exit strategy. Shimmying over gates becomes our exit strategy. It’s like one of those games you play as a child, when you have to stay on high so you’re not consumed by fiery lava. Or is this case, sucked down into a muddy underworld.
We’ve made it to Chesil Beach! Which is notoriously pebbly. Which is not fun to walk on where you’re 21km into a 15km walk. Our water supplies have dwindled down to a tiny drop each. I am caked in so much mud that my trousers weigh twice as much as when we started. We can see a car park ahead at West Bexington but it is not getting any closer. I sink to my knees more than once, imploring Mr Fletche to go on without me. Send the coastguard. A helicopter. An undertaker. Anything to put an end to this misery. My enthusiasm has packed it’s bags and got out of dodge, leaving me with despair, despondency and melancholy as a trio of walking companions. It’s 1.2km of pure hell.
And eventually we make it to tarmac. Beautiful, blessed, smooth tarmac which I could kiss. The Club House which had stood out like a beacon all this way closes its lunchtime doors at 4pm, and opens it’s evening doors at 6pm. We are somewhere in between that. We review our options. Option 1. We could continue walking along that beach, for another 3.5km, towards Abbotsbury or…who are we kidding?
We check which one of us has the least dead phone battery and find a number for the nearest taxi firm. Being in a tiny village on the Dorset coast, there is just one taxi serving all these tiny villages on the Dorset coast, and it’s going to cost us £20. We’ll pay it. We’d pay double. And we fear it may well cost us double when the driver looks at us distastefully, me stripped down to undergarments brandishing mud-caked trousers and boots, and Mr Fletche with his trousers rolled up to his knees like he’s off for a paddle. But he lets us shove everything in the boot, questions us on our ridiculous hiking attempt (“you came from where?“) and kindly drops us off right at the door of the pub in Abbotsbury.
I have checked and double checked the South West Coastal Path website since, convinced that I made an error and got my miles and kilometres mixed up, but no, it’s still there for all to see that this walk is 15km. Even Google Maps gets it closer with 19.5km. But we clock in at around the 24km mark. I’m sure we didn’t take a 9km detour looking for that cash machine in West Bay?
Despite that, this was a great walk to do, a few steep climbs but mainly easy to moderate – it was the addition of mud to the mix which made this a bit challenging at times. The Seatown to West Bay section is stunning and at around 5km would only take a couple of hours at most. There are so many other sections of this coastal path to explore, and the X53 bus run by First Wessex, Dorset & South Somerset makes it easy to travel between starting points. Just check and double check the distances first..