First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Seatown lies tucked into a crack in the Dorset coast, right at the heart of a spectacular run of crumbling cliffs that stretches west from Chesil Beach to well beyond Lyme Regis. This is walking country so superb that it came as a surprise, even on a weekday morning in mid winter, to find ourselves climbing away westward from Seatown’s cosy old smugglers’ pub, the Anchor Inn, with only a handful of walkers to share the South West Coast Path with us.
The weather matched the landscape for magnificence, a cloudless blue bowl of sky, upturned over a coast of close-cropped pasture fields and tall bitten-off cliff faces. The whaleback of Golden Cap is the highest piece of land along the Dorset Coast. Up there, more than 600 feet above the sea, the view was sublime – east along the yellow wall of cliffs to the long curve of Chesil Beach and the distant wedge of the Isle of Portland, west over a great sloping rampart of rock steps smothered in scrub, to Charmouth and Lyme Regis sprinkled in white cubes down their valleys, and the tottering coast beyond.
This is one of the most dynamic coasts in Britain, the greensand and chalk toppings of the cliffs constantly slipping and sliding seaward on the treacherous layer of skiddy gault that underlies them. Rainfall and hidden springs lubricate the clay layer, making things even more wobbly. Falls are frequent, landslips commonplace. The angled flanks of the cliffs and the skirt of fallen material and rocks at their feet bear witness to their remarkable instability.
A young robin, emboldened by hunger, followed us down the steps from Golden Cap, pecking at fragments of chocolate that we let fall. We followed the Coast Path west along the shaky rim of the cliffs, looking down into the chaotic jumble of the undercliff where sedges, willows and brambles flourished in the untrodden ground.
At last we turned inland past lonely Westhay Farm, up to the ridge of Stonebarrow Hill and the homeward path. At Upcot Farm chickens roamed, the farmer dug his muckheap, and a handsome bull stood unmoving beside the stile, contemplating space and his own internal rumblings.
Down in a cleft below Golden Cap we found the broken walls of St Gabriel’s Chapel, built 800 years ago to serve a remote agricultural community in this isolated hollow. Most likely those medieval peasants never had the time or leisure, as we did, to drop down onto the beach at Seatown and watch the red ball of the winter sun sink below the horizon and leave a track of wrinkled gold across the sea.
Start: Anchor Inn, Seatown, Bridport, Dorset DT6 6JU (OS ref SY 420917)
Getting there: Seatown is signed off A35 Lyme Regis to Bridport road at Chideock.
Walk (6¾ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 116): From Anchor Inn, inland up road. In 250m, left (fingerpost/FP, ‘Coast Path’/CP’, ‘Golden Cap’) on path also marked ‘Monarch’s Way’. Follow CP for 2½ miles, over Golden Cap (407922) and three streams (398923, 389926, 386926). In field that follows 3rd stream, Westhay Water, bear right just below Westhay Farm at 3-finger post (385927, FP ‘Stonebarrow Hill’). 200m above farm, drive bends right; ahead here (382930, ‘NT car park’), up bridleway to car park (381932). Right on track along Stonebarrow Hill.
In ½ mile at next car park, fork right (390935, FP ‘Chardown Hill’). In 20m, through gate (‘St Gabriel’s’); fork right, diagonally downhill, path soon becoming a track, for ⅔ mile, to Upcot farm. Left (397930, FP ‘St Gabriel’s’); in 150m, right (FP, stile); follow hedge on right to bottom corner of field; right over stile (399927) into lane. Right, down to St Gabriel’s.
Opposite St Gabriel’s House, left (401924, FP ‘Seatown’) past chapel ruin (blue arrow) and on (‘Langdon Wood, Seatown’). In 250m, right (404925, FP ‘Langdon Wood’) up to 3-finger post (405924). ‘Langdon Wood’ points left, but bear half right uphill, following top hedge to gate (408924). Forward (FP ‘Langdon Hill’) to gate (410923). Forward (‘Seatown, Chideock’) along edge of Langdon Wood. In 300m, right (413923, FP, ‘Seatown’) down to CP (415921); left to Seatown.
Conditions: Some short steep climbs; unguarded cliff edges
Lunch/Accommodation: Anchor Inn, Seatown (01297-489215, theanchorinnseatown.co.uk) – friendly, comfortable, superbly situated.
Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122