We took the opportunity for a short break over the May Bank Holiday weekend, travelling down from Cambridgeshire to stay at a very nice Haven caravan park in Littlesea (near Weymouth). It has been over 25 years since I visited this part of Dorset and much has changed since then, especially around the Weymouth area.
To break-up the journey we stopped off for lunch in Salisbury, to visit the town's famous cathedral, which claims to have the tallest church spire in the UK. The cathedral building is extremely grand and impressive, set amidst wide green fields and located within a large walled enclosure, lined with many grand buildings and lavish houses. There is so much to see in Salisbury that you would really need several days to appreciate all of the sights and attractions, so a second trip is definitely on the cards for another time.
Littlesea is a quiet, picturesque area of Weymouth, situated just outside of the town on the south coast. The caravan park (in which we stayed) lies alongside the Fleet Lagoon, just behind the tall shingle banks of Chisel Beach. The lagoon forms a protected nature reserve and conservation area, with access to several pleasant coastal walks along its banks. A wide range of water fowl, waders, ducks, Coots and Moorhen can be spotted. We also observed some of the local fishermen plying their trade using trawling nets, cast from a simple two-man rowing boat. Compared with the hustle and bustle of the town, the pace of life here appears much slower, stress-free and peaceful.
The short walk to Portland from Littlesea, via Ferry Bridge, is somewhat pleasant. The grass pathway runs along the edge of the coast, affording dramatic views across the long stretching shingle bank of Chisel Beach and the lagoon behind. Along the way we spotted several wading birds and egrets, feeding in the mud flats below. We found the bay between Weymouth and Portland brimming with kite surfers and small sailing boats, out taking advantage of the brisk breeze that cuts across the breakwater. The little town of Portland, with its multicoloured painted cottages, sits snugly between Portland hill and the tall shingle bank of Chisel Beach, which seems to tower above the little houses. The curve of the shingle provides a dramatic backdrop at this point, with views all the way to Abbotsbury and beyond.
After the walk into Portland and some much needed refreshments in the little beachfront cafe, we caught the bus into Weymouth. The buses run very frequently (every 10 -15 minutes) during the day, and stop near the marina and along the seafront. On the day we arrived the beach was hosting a kite flying festival, which we enjoyed watching as we strolled along the Esplanade to the Pavilion. After visiting the Information Office in the Pavilion, we extended our walk around the quay to the historic harbour to see the boats and take some pictures of the harbour and marina area.
We stopped off at the picture postcard village of Abbotsbury on our way to Lyme Regis. Parking in the NT car park, we took a leisurely circular stroll around the village, passing by the ancient abbey ruins and Title Barn, down to the Swannery, along the coast and back up the hill to St Catherine's Chapel. The arduous climb to the chapel was rewarded with some excellent panoramic views across the village and Swannery. There are a number of quaint little tea shops in the village, where we enjoyed some of the local fair, suitably refreshing us for the next leg of the journey.
The coastal road from Abbotsbury to Lyme Regis offers spectacular views of the coastline and the rolling Dorset hills. Due to a Fossil Festival in the town, all the car parks were full, so we ventured on through the town and along the coast to the very convenient and reasonably priced Park & Ride (an added advantage of which is a free bus ride up the steep hill at the end of the visit!) The Fossil Festival was fascinating, with tables and tables of exhibits and things to do for excited children. We also paid a visit to the excellent town museum, which has a range of fossil exhibits and information on several famous writers and artists who have lived-in or visited the area and been inspired by its beauty.
If you do not have the patience or time to collect your own fossils, there are numerous shops in the town selling fossils and other associated memorabilia. Several of the shops have some very good finds on display, including many rare fossils. In fact, an important fossil retail industry has grown-up in the town over the years, fuelled from the fossil rich seems in the nearby cliffs.
After a tantalising look at the fossils in Lyme Regis, we could not resist a trip to the nearby cliffs at Charmouth to hunt for some fossil of our own. Unfortunately the tide was in and the light was fading, so we were restricted to looking just along foreshore at the foot of the cliffs, however we were rewarded with a few small finds even then. I found some soft black slate (shale) embedded with a few small ammonites and one of our party found a part section of a large ammonite fossil, literally just sticking out of the mud. The beach was teeming with other amateur hunters, one or two of whom had found some really interesting finds, including a small fossilised fish, embedded in the same slate layer as the ammonites I found.
We decided to stop off in Bridport on the way back to Weymouth, for a bite to eat at a traditional old pub in the town. Bridport is pleasant thoroughfare with very wide streets. Apparently the wide streets are due to the town's rope and net making industrial past, which caused the houses to be set back an additional 10ft from the road in order to allow for rope-walks (places where the flax strands could be laid out and twisted into shape).
As we were in the county of Dorset we decided to visit the county's capital of Dorchester, only a few miles inland from Weymouth. The town was initially a little disappointing as we expected something grander, however we found plenty to see in the town centre, which is blessed with several interesting historic buildings and at least six museums. We followed one of the set walks around the line of the old Roman Walls, of which sadly only a very short section remains above ground. The most interesting sight on the walk for me was the excavated Roman Town House, which had several well preserved and intricate mosaics.
The road out of Dorchester brought us to the museum at Tolpuddle, built as a tribute to the six Tolpuddle Martyrs who started the first free Trade Union in the UK. Although small, the museum tells an important tale of how these six men suffered at the hands of the local wealthy landowners in their fight for a reasonable living wage.
Before heading back north, to East Anglia, we took a leisurely drive through the New Forest National Park. There are many well placed stopping points along the road, where you can park-up and take a walk or sit and enjoy the view. At a convenient spot I ventured onto the moorland to take some excellent pictures of the New Forest Ponies, who seemed to love to pose for the camera. Then driving back slowly to dodge the ponies and cattle roaming on the roads, we eventually made for the town of Lyndhurst for lunch.