I’d been put up the previous night by Mac Mackenney, a friend from the Royal Geographical Society who’s company Max Adventure, provides logistical support to Everest expeditions, Ranulph Fiennes’ exploits and far flung vehicle based TV shows. Tales of adventure flowed and it was some reluctance that I accepted the need to turn in. The morning is still night as he waves me off at Charmouth from one of his well travelled 4x4s.
At the deserted beach in Charmouth waves break in quick succession, threatening and insistent. A red smear above the horizon hints at the dawn about to break, Golden Cap is shrouded in mist.
The cliffs here are tiers of landslip and the whole thing looks like it may slide into the sea at any moment. In parts the mud oozes down the cliffs like custard. I feel a little anxious to press on to Lyme Regis as the tide only just gives me time to get there before rising to the base of the landslip.
I write 1,000 in the sand to celebrate the number of kilometres walked since London. On calling Mila to share the moment she sweetly sings me ‘Happy 1,000’ to the tune of happy birthday.
Black Ven, famous for all the fossils it contains is black like coal – though on closer inspection it’s a very dark glistening clay, alarmingly fragile.
On the approach to Lyme Regis the beach is populated by stooping fossil hunters some hammering away at rocks. The tide is not in my favour to see the extraordinary ammonite pavement today and I have to imagine these ancient mysteries under the waves as I cross the invisible Dorset to Devon border.
I’m excited to press on to the Lyme Regis undercliffs, an environment celebrated most famously in John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman for its otherworldly wildness in such close proximity to the polite society of the town. The dense foliage closes around moist and silent.
There has been a large land slip making the path officially impassible. The track is fenced off where a sign unhelpfully states ‘If you wish to travel along the coast you are advised to catch the bus’ The land slip area is two hours walk into the Undercliff with limited side paths so I skirt around the barrier hoping for the best.
The broken ground and lush ferns look just like the dinosaur dioramas in the book about the Jurassic coast fossils that I’m carrying. Not a soul is about and fallen trees obstruct the path in a few places. I half expect to see monkeys swinging from the trees. Occasionally the forest canopy opens up too give breathtaking glimpses of the cliffs towering above.
On reaching the landslip it looks like the ground suddenly dropped three metres leaving a jagged edge of raw earth across the landscape. I negotiate this step by lowering my pack before me hooked on the end of my trekking pole before making an ungainly slide-dropping performance in it’s wake. A few hundred metres further on and I’ve crossed the landslip, a short scramble up the torn ground this time. I feel elated as I pass the reverse of the no entry notice. I’d imagined the obstacle to be far worse than it is so it’s a relief to be through.
At Axe Cliff golf club house gents with Santa hats and Xmas jumpers chat amongst the golf buggies.
Old Beer Road had spectacularly fallen down the cliffs – this is one No Access sign that I would definitely obey. Despite being dark Beer Youth Hostel where I am staying tonight won’t open for another hour. I wrap up with all my layers cinching the hood tightly and wait for the door to be unlocked, relishing the feeling of stillness.