‘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.
‘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.]