Section 3. Abbotsbury to the Isle of Portland / Weymouth - Jurassic Coast Path Walking Holiday
Distance 13 miles Grade - 13 miles moderate / easy grade - What these grades mean.
Highlights – Inland Ridgeway Walking and then the full length of the serene and peaceful Fleet lagoon before crossing the causeway to imposing Portland Island.
A morning climb through scrub and woodland leads to open, rolling fields and a fine minor ridgeway over the small summits of Linton and Merry Hill. The whole way the South West Coast Path offers superb vistas across the east end of Chesil beach and the imposing looking Isle of Portland ahead. After some pleasant woodland descents from the ridge you rejoin the coast and reach the focus of the days walk, The Fleet.
The largest inland saltwater lagoon in the UK, The Fleet is hemmed in from the ocean by the ever moving barrier of Chesil Bank (Fleet comes from the Saxon word ‘fleot’ meaning shallow water). The coast path faithfully follows the lagoon edge, gently tracking in and out of picturesque bays holding dragged up boats, past tranquil willow beds and looping peninsulas. Its an absolute joy to walk the calming blue waters of The Fleet and happen across the hidden hamlets and villages en route along this unique section of the Dorset Coast Path.
There is a huge variety of wading birds on the waterside, Curlew, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank mix with exotic Little Egret, Oystercatcher and Heron. Visiting migratory birds such as the Brent Geese are attracted by the rare meadows of eelgrass and Thrift locally known as Sea Pink, indeed Fleet is the second oldest nature reserve in the UK, protected since 1393 on account of its swans.
The whole lagoon is not only a protected area of scientific interest, it’s also culturally rich in legend and seafaring history. At Lanton Herring, stop for a drink at The Elm Inn and note the beam in the bar, fashioned from an old ships mast which was used to hang a wanted fugitive in 1780. Perhaps this was done at “Gore Cove” where the Jurassic Coast Path takes you below the famous Moonfleet Hotel with its old Bell tower and boat house. This is the setting for J Meade-Faulkner’s famous novel Moonfleet, a tale of the local smugglers battles with the authorities in these parts. In the next bay, all you will see of East Fleet village is half a church, literally. The hamlet was ravaged by a huge storm in 1824 that was so vicious a boat was deposited in the churchyard and the sea left just the chancel behind. In the novel Moonfleet these church vaults were the secret store for the Smugglers Kegs. The annual pagan May Day ritual here is the casting of flowers from a flotilla of boats into the Fleet to protect the local fisherman at sea.
More easy walking over small creek crossings and bays, dotted with isolated fisherman’s huts, bring you to Chickerell, where you pass the Army Camp and firing range (The Fleet was one of the locations used for testing of the legendry bouncing bomb as it happens). The guard in the sentry box will divert you inland on a short detour if the army are on training amongst the yellow gorse covered shore.
Finish the day passing through Pirates Cove before arriving in the built up area of Ferry Bridge at the end of your peaceful journey down the Fleet. This is the entrance to Weymouth, but first the enticing Isle of Portland to the south is the next challenge looming above you. 5 miles in length and 2 miles across and in the words of Thomas Hardy “stretched like the head of a bird into the English Channel”.
Those not undertaking the Isle of Portland section will save a day by walking into Weymouth this afternoon and continuing from Section 5, Weymouth to Lulworth Cove