Thursday 14th - Tuesday 19th May 2015

by Chief Scribe, Adrian La-Garde This year the AHWC decided to venture south to the Isle of Portland in Dorset, a limestone peninsula, roughly 4 miles long by 2 miles wide, in the English Channel. The group consisted of 14 members:

Walkers:

All distances are approximate and measured in Lucky Miles, as read from his pedometer.

Thursday 14th May

The group members arrived at varying times over Thursday afternoon, so as not to raise too much suspicion with the locals. I don’t think they noticed, and by the evening we were all securely encamped in the Portland nuclear bunker bunkhouse. When I say bunkhouse I really mean a breeze block box with 2 doors and lots of beds; plus some showers (at times) and toilets (fully functional). Some thought we had mistakenly hired the Young Offenders Prison, which is also located on the island; but the cells were empty, so we could sleep soundly (some with more sound than others).

The bunkhouse is situated at the very southern tip of the island and has some pretty impressive views over the sea (from outside of course due to the lack of windows). The owner does not live on-site (and definitely NOT in the white house next door); however, Ron “the fixer” was on 24-hour call if we had any problems (more of him later).

Peter decided to use his caving experience and take his torch to explore behind a small door in the hallway. He found that there was a narrow corridor running round behind all the bedrooms. We later discovered that the rooms had all been built by Ron; he was probably a bit tipsy when he did the job as we were to discover over the coming days.

With everyone gathered, Dave served up a very tasty meal of fresh tuna pasta, followed by fruit and meringue; we were off to a great start! Someone spotted the box of Hog’s Back Tea ale and by the end of the evening all 20 pints had disappeared (must have been a hole in the bag). Then the attack on the red wine commenced (and continued relentlessly over the next few days). After an exhausting evening of drinking we all retreated to our rooms for the night.


Friday 15th May

Cloudy start, turning sunny and warm.

Our rooms were comfortable, but lacked any form of light or air. However, we all survived and emerged from our cells to the smell of bacon cooking. I say cooking, but due to the highly sophisticated variable power supply to the kitchen it was cooking, not cooking, then cooking again. This was when we first became acquainted with Ron “the fixer”, who lived at the end of a phone call, not far away. Having failed to open the hatch to reset the trip switch using any of his 200 keys, he resorted to getting out the master key: a Black and Decker angle grinder. That opened the lock very easily, and within a short time breakfast was cooking once again. Martin suggested we purchase a generator from the kitty for future trips: Dave, can you add that to the list please?

Having enjoyed a hearty breakfast we thought it best we go for a walk to burn off the calories. So, we headed off to circumnavigate the island in an anticlockwise direction. The first part of the walk was uneventful but the views were outstanding as we walked past the tall red and white lighthouse and along the eastern cliff path, passing the remains of many quarries and stone winches. That is, winches for moving stone, not winches made of stone. The Portland stone is a limestone from the Tithonian stage of the Jurassic period (bet you didn’t know that - Martin, before you comment, I presume it was you who told Wikipedia that fact). It was highly prized for rebuilding many important buildings after the fire of London, such as St. Pauls.

We followed the coastal footpath along the cliffs until it finally descended to the seashore. Ignoring the path, which turned inland, Mike said we best continue along the beach. Some idiot had put an 8 foot fence across the beach. No problem, there was a gap broken in it that enabled us to continue. After a while we reached another fence; this time there was no gap. So we did an about-turn and Mike led a few trail blazers through the jungle to find a short cut. The rest of us gave up waiting and carried on back to the main footpath. When Mike and his followers eventually emerged from the thicket we took absolutely no delight in pointing out the sign no one had read warning that the path was a dead end. This act of ignoring signs is now known as "doing a Michael".

So now we followed the real path up the cliff to reach the Young Offenders Prison, where we sat and had our lunch by the prison gate. Such a lovely spot! Mike pulled a couple of thorns from his scalp he'd acquired in the jungle. He must of felt a prick. After lunch we cut across the top of the island, past yet another prison (for grown-ups), and explored an old quarry that had been turned into a sculpture park. We were now on the home stretch as we walked back down the western cliff path with some magnificent views of Chesil Beach stretching as far as the eye could see.

We arrived back at the bunkhouse about 4pm and thought it would be nice to pop into the local for a pint before dinner. No such luck, they decided to shut from 4-6:30 as they weren't busy. Oh the joys of island life.

Today's walk covered 11 miles, which included 2 "doing the Michael".

David had prepared us another tasty meal, this time it was chicken with spuds and beans; followed by lemon tart. He can certainly turn out a great meal using such a tiny cooker.

After dinner we retired to the lounge to relax. Mark got a bit annoyed when John Jeffery made a grab for his nuts (no, I'm talking about peanuts) because he hadn't asked permission. But they were interrupted by a loud crash from up the corridor as the ceiling in the ladies toilet collapsed due to some dodgy workmanship. A quick phone call and our mate Ron returns to sort out the mess; and share a glass of wine. We begin to suspect he's rigged the place so he can just come and visit us. Not too long after Ron leaves we discover that the gent's ceiling is bulging under the weight of dripping water. And so that too collapsed, flooding the room. Oh well, we'll leave that for Ron to sort out tomorrow.


Saturday 16th May

Yet again sunny and warm.

We wake up at various times. It's so dark in our rooms that we have no idea whether or not day has broken. John Williams wakes up, hears not a sound, and thinks we've left without him. No chance, Peter and Adrian were just fast asleep still.

Breakfast goes without a hitch, with no power outages. Colin decides he's going talk in a deep husky voice from now on. Something to do with a cold and sore throat, so he says. The day's routine starts: clear up breakfast, make sarnies, fill water bottles, pack bags, then off to the hills for the day. Today we drive about one hour to Swanage to catch the steam train to Corfe Castle. Peter took advantage of the ride to perform some open toe surgery, sorting out his blisters, before arriving at Corfe. We quickly leave the village as we climb up onto the high ridge that leads back towards the sea. The top of the ridge gives us some great views of the Purbeck countryside.

By lunchtime we'd come to the end of the main ridge, and another one beckoned us towards the pub in Studland. Unfortunately for some their bodies decided it was better to take the low route back to the cars in Swanage, so Mike set off with a few others, leaving the rest of the party to continue the climb. This time the ridge was a lot shorter and within 2 or 3 miles we'd found the Bankes Arms where we just had to stop for a beer. Well it would be rude not to; they brew their own out the back. Some of us still had some food left. John Williams went behind the hedge to eat his sandwiches. He recalled an incident of being evicted from a pub once before for eating his own food on their premises. He didn't want to risk that again. Others didn't care and just tucked in anyway. Mike and his blister party car arrives just as we'd finished, so we set off walking and left them nursing their pints.

We set off to visit Old Harry rocks at the end of the headland. The chalk cliffs give a spectacular view against the backdrop of the blue sea and sky. It's not much farther down into the town of Swanage where we join the promenade and Martin is first in the queue to buy an ice cream. The cars take us back after having walked 11 miles of beautiful Dorset countryside.

On the journey back we pass the famous Osmington White Horse carved out of the hillside. Although it seems to require a bit of a wash as it's more of a beige horse at the moment.

Cup of tea, shower, and change. The feet are glad to be back. The chef serves up a great Spanish pork with rice dish, followed by a homemade sherry trifle. The wine suffers further abuse with several bottles being emptied. Dave finds some empties in the bin. Naughty boys! Put them in the recycling box please (or words to that effect).

After dinner some of us visit the local Pulpit Inn, which this time is surprisingly, open. The pub is named after a local landmark called Pulpit Rock, which can be found on the rock ledge below the lighthouse just beyond the pub. Quite impressive when surrounded by crashing waves. After a couple of drinks the barman announces he wants to close up. It's 10 pm. Not many people around these parts so he's not used to having more than four customers.


Sunday 17th May

Yet more sunshine and still warm.

We have breakfast then drive over to start our day's walk at Tyneham, a deserted village that was evacuated during the war to make way for the army ranges. There were a number of ruined buildings, but the old church still stands intact housing an exhibition of the village's history. Peter remarks that people living in the nearby village of Lulworth are not allowed to be buried there; they have to die first. Leaving the village we head up onto the ridge overlooking the tank ranges. Big signs warn of not straying from the marked path due to possible unexploded shells all around. Definitely not "doing a Michael" with this one! From the ridge top we have a spectacular view of the army tank ranges, complete with a number of dead tanks used for target practice. Fortunately there's no firing practice today so it's safe to walk along the ridge.

We reach a point back down at sea level and in front we see the steepest hill yet encountered. Gerry's knees tell him they'd rather go via the road into the next village we were heading for, so he heads off along the road avoiding the hills. The rest of us huff and puff our way up the cliff path and once we're all up decide to stop for lunch. It's amazing how a few warm, squashed sandwiches can taste so good after some hard walking. Having been refreshed we set off again and we stop for a quick look at the Fossil Forest. Although it looks more like a fossil shrubbery; I guess there must be a lot more hidden in the rock. Soon after we are descending the cliff path into Lulworth Cove. What a spectacular view of this popular little village and blue water cove. We are reunited with Gerry and then some of us have a traditional cuppa, while others preferred a pint, or two. A few of us leave the tea and beer drinkers for a while to walk an extra couple of miles to visit Durdle Door, the famous Jurassic rock archway. Having been told by someone it had collapsed in the winter storms we were pleasantly surprised to find it still in one piece (and we have photographic proof).

Back in Lulworth, Mike and Dave have arrived to transport the drivers back to collect the cars from Tyneham. The rest of us make sure the local Bishops Hotel has some customers and enjoy another beer in their garden overlooking the bay.

Back at the bunkhouse we have cold showers. Ron is called and he quickly arrives to hit something with his spanner to get them going again. Something to do with low water pressure up here.

Dinner smells so good. Dave is roasting his neighbours lamb in the oven. Don't worry he'd bought it, not just taken it from the field. We enjoyed lamby-kins with roasties and veg and he's quickly followed by homemade apple crumble and custard; what a treat.

Sadly, due to feet problems, Mike decides to head home. Dinner time was much quieter.

The longest route walked today totalled 9 miles.


Monday 18th May

Woke up to wind and rain, but the forecast looked like it would clear by midday, so we decided to set off a bit later than usual and let Dave lie in a bit before breakfast.

We drive a few miles to Abbotsbury, home of the famous swannery, where we put on the scuba gear and start to follow the coastal footpath along the inner edge of Chesil Beach. Within an hour the rain had stopped and we found a beach cafe open so had a hot cup of tea and stripped off the waterproofs. Another couple of miles along the seashore and we stop for lunch on the beach at West Bexington. The sun is now out and the rain has gone, but the wind is still quite strong. After the rest we head inland to follow the ridge back towards Abbotsbury. Fortunately the wind is behind us and we quickly move along the ridge top, stopping for the traditional photo of Martin on top of the trig point we find in an iron age hill fort. Soon after this the party splits in two and one group head down the shorter route back to the cars, while the rest of us continue another 4 miles to end at Hardy's Monument that could be seen in the distance. It turns out it was nothing to do with Thomas Hardy (the author), or Laurel & Hardy, but Nelson's "kiss me Hardy" who had lived nearby. The cars arrived to pick us up from the monument and we drove back to Abbotsbury for a drink in the pub (wouldn't want to break the pattern here). John "Lucky" Williams checks his pedometer and it looks like we'd done another 11 miles.

After another cold shower Dave provides us with a filling meal of spaghetti bolognese, followed by Greek yogurt and blueberries. The Farnborough/Aldershot team say their goodbyes and head off home after dinner, leaving the rest of the group to finish the wine.


Tuesday 19th May

I went home last night, but I assume the remainder of the group packed up and headed home (unless they're still there?).

Summary

I'm sure all will agree that the holiday was a real success, with some good walks (some more challenging than others), lovely weather, and great company. In total the hardy walkers did about 42 miles; not bad eh? This was all topped off by the fantastic food prepared by resident chef, Dave Fillery. We thank you Dave for all the meals you prepared, and for keeping everyone in line!

Hope to see you all in a year's time...