RAIN and fog prevented me from seeing the amazing 30km long Chesil Beach, the first time I drove along the Dorset Coast, from Weymouth to Lyme Regis, in 1982, during a holiday ahead of covering the Kangaroo rugby league tour of Britain.
It was 33 years later when I finally saw the immense bank of shingle, which is more than 12 metres high in places, and has been the graveyard for many a sailing ship when gales swept along Lyme Regis Bay.
This time I was accompanied by my wife, Marie, as we enjoyed a day trip from our base at Birdport in Dorset, and, while the weather was overcast and cool, visibility was good.
We walked at the villages of Burton Bradstock, (home of singer, Billy Bragg, and boasting a fine pub – The Three Horseshoes) and Abbotsbury, the latter providing excellent views of Chesil Beach, and ‘The Fleet’, the lagoon behind the beach. At this western end of the lagoon, there is a colony of swans, which feed on a rare grass in the area.
‘The Swannery’, home to the world’s only managed colony of nesting mute swans, is open to the public, but Marie and I baulked at the entry price. And we also decided against a walk on the massive rampart of pebbles which doubles as a beach. Chesil Beach’s shingle absorbs and retains much of the sun’s heat, to create a very mild, mini-climate, which accounts for the sub-tropical gardens at Abbotsbury.
Chesil Beach was the place the newly married couple in the 2017 movie, ‘On Chesil Beach’, chose for their honeymoon. Set in 1962, the movie, which my wife and I saw in Brisbane, is a societal study of an era when ‘The Beatles’ were starting to top the charts, and stars Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan.
The Benedictine abbey which gave Abbotsbury its name, was founded in the 11thC. Little remains, except for the imposing, but half ruined, abbey barn, which was built in the 14thC. It is one of the largest buildings of its kind in Britain. In medieval times it swallowed a tenth – or a tithe – of everything the villagers grew or raised on their farms, or in their fields.
In 1982, after my coastal drive, I stayed the night in a bed and breakfast at Dulverton, on Exmoor, after a Palmer’s Real Ale at the Charmouth Arms, on the coast, where a local told me all about the floods of 1979, when Bridport and other towns in the area, went under water.
In 2015, Marie and I returned to (a dry) Bridport in time to enjoy live music at the Ropemaker’s Pub. I think they even played a Beatles’ song.
1 Burton Bradstock, Dorset
2 14thC Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury, with 15thC Church of St Nicholas in the background
3 Chesil Beach with The Fleet (lagoon) behind it
5 Marie Ricketts at Bridport
6 Steve Ricketts at Weymouth