Day 9 – Dancing on the Ledge

Starting mileage: 15383 km
Day started: 8:30
Day ended: 21:00


We stayed one more day at Tom’s Field, to do some admin (washing, laundry, minor repairs), rest and take the highly recommended coastal walk.

The Purbeck Isle (not really an island) always struck me as the best place to withstand any land-based invasion, be it zombies, Daleks or Triffids. With a strong fence along the Purbeck Hills and a well defended gate at Corfe Pass, you could easily defend yourself for months, keeping your troops morale up with ice-cream and scones.

Getting out of the car and walking around once in a while takes you to the lowest level of zoom in the fractal of curiosities that is the English Coast. The area is so rich in memorable places, views and historical spots, that one could easily spend here a few weeks exploring everywhere on foot. The two Matravers villages near our campsite, for example, soon turned out to be both famous, each for a variety of reasons. The Langton is a site of two well known preparatory school for boys, the Durnford and the Old Malthouse, which produced several generations of Etonians. Ian Fleming studied at Durnford, and a nearby residence of Bond Family, with the motto “The World is Not Enough”, was an obvious inspiration.

The Worth Matravers is a smaller village further up the road, now renowned for its grand public house and local museum, The Square and Compass (once the haunt of local quarrymen), but also notable for its ancient, 12th century church. Both villages are of course built from the local Purbeck Stone, and look more like movie sets than places where actual people live.

The Purbeck Stone is the stone on which England was built; not as famous as its Portland cousin, the Purbeck nonetheless served as building stone for most of England’s medieval cathedrals, and for rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. Mined since Roman times (plenty of Roman findings to be seen at the Square and Compass museum), the quarries of Purbeck had left great scars all over the local landscape, and transformed the straight cliff walls into jagged ruins. One such scar is the Dancing Ledge, an enormous flat slab of black rock sloping straight into the raging sea; the imaginative headmaster of Durnford School had a standard-sized swimming pool blasted into the rock, to strengthen the pupils’ bodies and hearts. Nowadays it’s popular with climbers and other thrill-seekers.

The coastal path winds spectacularly along the cliff edge in both directions; a bit to the east of the Ledge we saw our first guillemots of the year; that they ventured so far South was proof enough there was something seriously wrong with this year’s weather – but we knew that already 🙂

There were more quarry remains along the way and ruins of radar sites, until at last we reached the Winspit, a great ravine cut into the hills striped with lynchets – medieval farming terraces; near the bottom of the spit we saw a view straight from Alan Lee’s watercolour: a yellow-moss-covered slate roof peeking from among the wild roses and vines growing all around the ravine.

When the Winspit Cottage was up for sale twenty years ago, it attracted 600 offers in excess of  £200,000 (in 1995 money); in the end it was sold to an anonymous buyer for undisclosed sum of money – even though it has no electricity and is a mile away from the nearest road. The only house allowed so near to the cliff, the Grade II-listed quarryman’s cottage is a fantastic location, remote and dream-like.

There was a Cider Sunday at Square and Compass, so the pub was slightly overcrowded; the ciders were great though. But for a quintessential local English boozer, with tiny rooms and poor ale, I’d recommend the King’s Arms in Langton, where last night we met a band of old-fashioned Brighton rockers (we are the mods, we are the mods) having a party. Apparently, they come here often for a good time.


Durnford School’s swimming pool

Purbeck Coast

Purbeck Coast



There is a family of rabbits on Tom’s Field which are almost domesticated, as are the blackbirds who had grown fond of coriander seeds.

It’s getting really cold at night. The guillemots must feel right at home.


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