I wake at 3.30am in Swanage due to nerves and excitement at the prospect of the long and arduous day ahead. There are no creature comforts along the way as well as being one of the most dramatic stretches of coast that will be a challenge to photograph creatively.
Starting in the dark, car bonnets are covered in frost as I leave Swanage to reach Perevil Point before dawn. At the Point I see a fellow photographer setting up their tripod to capture the radiant sunrise that is unfolding. We wave to each briefly before returning to our viewfinders.
“What will you do now with the gift of your left life?” asks Carol Ann Duffy carved in stone by the path at Durlston Head.
“Excuse me!” Calls a man dressed in a ranger uniform.
“There must be about 30 guillemots on that ledge down there, thought you might be interested, certainly made my day!”
“Beauty has come to visit us today!” he exclaims, gesturing around him to the cliffs and the golden sunlight. I couldn’t agree more.
Nautical mile markers and no mobile signal. Bird calls merge with wind and distant waves.
“There’s a massive brown cow, probably a bull along there so I turned back” says a flustered lady as she walks towards me. I carry on and don’t see so much as a mouse.
St.Aldhelm’s Chapel seems like it has weathered a thousand storms with its single tiny window and squat ancient walls.
At one point the path goes so close to the cliff top I find myself unconsciously leaning to the landward side as I walk.
I realise with a mix of amusement and disgust that the unpleasant odour that has been following me around all day is a pair of fermented socks that I put in the side pocket of my pack a couple of weeks ago.
I’ve been much slower than planned with all the ups and downs today and the sun dips below the horizon as I enter Lulworth tank ranges. The notice states it’s open to the public until 8am tomorrow morning before closing for another week, I have to trust they keep to schedule!
Moonlight is strong enough to cast a shadow and I use a torch primarily to be seen. To my right signs warn of ‘Danger Unexploded Shells’ and to my left ‘Danger Unstable Cliffs’ – I’ve been in more welcoming places. The Plough bright in the sky marks my direction.
I pass gigantic numbers constructed like motorway signs that I assume mark targets in the range. Suddenly distant automatic gunfire breaks the night silence, I hope this is taking place on an adjacent range, it’s disconcerting to hear while alone in this landscape. The sea glistens from the moonlight as I go up and down the black humpbacked hills before finally leaving the range and descending into Lulworth with a sense of relief and aching knees three hours after sunset.