Dangerous Dorset (Part Two)..


Coo, this clay is heavy. After a good deal of waggling – or is it wiggling? – my leg is once again mobile. But simply lifting the mud-caked foot requires the strength of a superhuman; the weight of the boot – needing both arms to lift it – is like constantly dragging a medium-sized child around with you. I’m sure you all know how that feels.

Yet at least we had sea views while languishing in the clay bog; the next stage of the “walk” is beset with inviolable Dorset jungle. As Dad thrashes a passage through a particularly dense thicket – a route that perhaps no man has ever trodden before – the rest of us begin to climb trees. It’s our only hope. But upon reaching higher ground, I think I can safely say that we’re doomed. There is still no path in sight.

Amazonian Dorset

A full twenty yards of Dad battling with vines and cougars at ground level ensues. And we all breathe a sigh of relief at eventually reaching fresh air and sunshine. ‘Whoopee! Civilisation!’ cries my sister, on spotting a man-made stile. We have mobile phone reception again – did we ever not? – and feel safe once more. There is seldom a more appropriate time for the thermos flask to emerge. And quite frankly, I think the ordeal warrants an accompanying Hot Cross Bun.

‘It was a bit of a risk,’ admits Dad airily, as though his offspring have been subjected to nothing more taxing than a game of Monopoly. His words trigger childhood memories of amphibious treks at high tide. He unfolds the map again as each of us examines our wounds.

Wounded and Bleeding

 

Dad is scratched; Robbie and I have jeans frayed beyond recognition; and querulous Josephine is worrying about sunburn. We plod up Golden Cap for cheese-and-pickle sandwiches before it begins to rain.

Could it be a mirage? Nestling between soaring peaks lancing into the sky, is it really the Anchor Inn? Hooray, it is indeed a tangible entity, serving rewarding pints of real ale. We skip down the hill at speed and make a toast. This calls for a group photograph, I think. A passing gull celebrates, too: he launches excrement straight into my lap, just as the last of the clay falls off my boots. Talk about kicking a man while he’s down.

 

Eccentric English

 

‘Want a hand?’ offers a friendly rambler, as Dad fiddles stoically with the self-timer function. ‘No, that would be far too easy, thank you,’ replies Dad. The camera wobbles on the makeshift platform – he’s used the camera case and a flowerpot – and the shutter clicks. Three out of four of us are captured in the picture.

‘Now why have I done that?’ asks Dad rhetorically. Thawing comfortably at home, we’re poring over a map of New Zealand’s Milford Sound, and he’s just pulled out a red-and-white neckerchief with a huge knot tied in the middle. This is a generational, if curious and eccentric English affectation – supposedly the knot signifies a reminder to do something.

‘Blowed if I can remember what I have to remember to do, though’ he says, puzzled. He rubs his screwed-up eyes in thought and notices his scratched arms. ‘Oh, and do you think they’ll have brambles in New Zealand?’..

[For real adventurous travel, check out polosbastards.com – “going where we ain’t supposed to”.]

Dangerous Dorset (Part One)..

‘Is there a path, Dad?’ I holler. Ahead of me, an intrepid figure – beneath a cap with “Sports” marked on the back – flails among impenetrable brambles. ‘Yes, if you’re a badger,’ he yells back. Blood is leaking from his left forearm.

We are trying to walk the South West Coast Path in Dorset: the stretch from Charmouth to Eype. But part of the path is closed – the first part, as it turns out. So we are forced to head east along the beach instead, marvelling at the Jurassic coastline. As we crunch along the shingle from Charmouth car park, signs advertise hourly rates for hiring fossil hammers and deckchairs. Other signs warn: “No digging in the cliffs without permission”. Hmm.

Hammerless, we find a fossil within seconds. But my sister Josephine grasps the flawless ammonite – perfectly preserved for, oh, about 180 million years – rather ham-fistedly. The clay crumbles; the specimen is ruined. Still, this is the best place in the whole of the UK for fossils, and we are quietly confident of finding another.

A Short Cut..

‘I can’t see Gabriel’s Mouth,’ announces Dad, unfolding an Ordnance Survey map in the wind. That was supposed to be the point at which we rejoined the Coastal Path. ‘Make your own way up that clay bank,’ he decides instead, hedging his bets. ‘The path can’t be too far inland.’ Golden Cap, the highest sea cliff in southern England at 191 metres, looms omnisciently above.

The bank proves a little soft. All four of us – Dad, Josephine, and her partner Robbie – seek different routes across this formidable tract of land, some faring better than others. Take me, for example: never one to shirk a challenge, I am faced with considerably softer ground than the other three have negotiated. Dashing across a short stretch of quicksand, however, has never fazed me in the past. Nor, incidentally, has climbing icebergs, but that episode didn’t end too rosily either.

Coastguard Required?

‘You should have put your feet down more lightly,’ says Robbie helpfully, ‘as though you’re dancing.’ As though I’m dancing?  With one Wellington boot submerged to the hilt, I fail to see the humour. But then my thoughts turn to Namibian and the predicament we could potentially have found ourselves in. My mood instantly lightens.

OK, so he wouldn’t have set off on a seven-mile walk in the first place, but stick with the hypothesis for just a second. Can you picture the Coast Guard rescue helicopter, the custom-built stretcher and the industrial winch? Ha ha.

My boot is buried entirely, a salutary reminder of nature’s triumph over man. I need assistance, and I need it immediately. With unyielding rectitude, my family members lunge for their cameras, capturing the inelegant pose on digital film for posterity. Almost as an afterthought, a steadying hand is proffered. Oh, what bourgeois horseplay. See Part Two on October 31st to see if I escaped..

 

[For a news report on another stuck boy in this area, click here.]

Two Wheels in Sussex..

 ‘This is where my route falls down,’ admits my father. ‘I don’t know how to get back.’ Taking a sanguine view, he pours our well-deserved tonic – a flask of tea – and consults the map again. His finger traces the disused railway line we’re cycling along, and he absent-mindedly eats my last apple and raisin biscuit. Oh brilliant, now it’s too late to consider rationing provisions; deep on the Cuckoo Trail, almost 500 metres from the nearest bakery, this is rash behaviour indeed.

‘We can go diddly, diddly, diddly,’ continues Dad, munching merrily, his index finger carving a slalom through Sussex lanes depicted on the Ordnance Survey. ‘Then there’s only an inch of pants.’ Do you need an interpreter, readers? By “pants”, he means “main road”. ‘Oh hang on,’ he exclaims, realising there’s a fly in the proverbial ointment. ‘How old’s this map? 1987? Ooh, that dual carriageway might not be on here.’ Great, we’re stranded, delirious without so much as a Garibaldi to see us through.

From the Sublime..

It had been a topping morning thus far, peddling through the sublime beauty of the Pevensey Levels. We’d soared through somnolent hamlets with the equilibrium of eagles, the world our oyster. There was even a Morris Minor in a pub car park – a sure sign, if ever there was one, that all was right with the world. (Dad’s equilibrium, however, was rather being assisted by a snazzy Air Comfort saddle from Lidl.) In short, here were two heroes of a different stripe entirely, picking up any derring-do gauntlet you’d care to throw down. Unstoppable, you might say. Well, until we stopped – for a wee wee and a cuppa.

‘Banana or an apple?’ Dad had asked, graciously offering his only son first dibs. Our steeds rolled to a halt and a coffee flask was uncorked. ‘Ooh, banana please,’ I enthused. Well, he did a curious thing. He wrinkled his nose, tutted and applied a caveat the size of a dashed orchard. To be truthful, he withdrew any choice at all and tucked straight into the sole, delicious-looking, perfectly formed banana.

The apple was twirled expertly between his fingers and proffered alluringly, the bruising kept hidden. Well, as alluringly as a man can offer a starving boy a piece of fruit whilst simultaneously stuffing a banana down his face. ‘This apple’s brilliant,’ he cooed, as the Serpent may have done in the Garden of Eden. ‘Grew it myself, you know. Bought a tree from Lidl for about £1.49.’ Well, if it’s so good, why doesn’t he eat it himself instead of cramming that banana down his blasted, bloated throat, I thought. ‘Thanks Dad,’ I gushed, crestfallen.

..To The Ridiculous

A little later, freewheeling beside a meandering river, Dad pointed out a little spot where he’d erected a tent 41 years ago. ‘For a bit of privacy with your mother,’ he explained. ‘Of course, you’d think “Hallo” if you saw a tent just here at the side of the road now, but back then it was more common.’ The short version is that a busybody policeman turned up shortly afterwards, rapping on the tent zip and demanding to see whether my mother (no doubt in a state of undress) was all right. ‘You do realise your tax disc expires at the end of October,’ the copper had persisted to Dad after Mum had squeaked that she was OK and would he please buzz off. It was the middle of June.

 

Rubbish

 

Other than a brief run-in with the son of a lowborn innkeeper in Hailsham – ‘ooh, hallo,’ said Dad, ‘I saw you the other day emptying our bin,’ – little else of interest happened on our ride. But we did get onto the topic of false addresses. You know, just in case you have your collar felt by the constabulary.

Alas, with the advent of  internet, you couldn’t get away with it now, but quick as a flash, Dad can still rattle his off. ‘Peter Jones, 23 Manor Park Road, Sevenoaks,’ he intoned guiltily, not that he’d ever have been brave or dishonest enough to actually lie to a policeman, busybody or not. Postcodes, just in case you were wondering, weren’t fully introduced to the UK until 1974.

 

Remember our impending peril of dehydration and possibility of missing lunch? Well, with a little doubling back, we arrived safely back in Pevensey for a pint and a sandwich. ‘People who don’t eat lunch want slapping,’ concluded Dad rather sensibly. And he asked the barmaid to fetch some ketchup..