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Walking the South West Coast Path

A Companion Guide

by Simon Butler & Philip Carter  (Pixz, £9.99)

Walking the SWCP book cover

A COMMON refrain that runs through my head when I’m out walking and I notice an interesting building or geographical feature is ‘I wish I knew something about that’.

I vow to look it up when I get home – and invariably forget.

For walkers on the South West Coast Path, myself included, there is now no excuse to remain in ignorance, thanks to a book that reveals secrets and fascinating facts about so much that can been seen along the 630-mile route, between Minehead, on the Somerset coast, and South Haven Point, on the southern edge of Poole Harbour.

Who knew, for example, that Durlston Castle, the curious sort of wedding cake atop the cliffs near Swanage and a pathside landmark that would certainly pique a walker’s interest, was originally built as a restaurant in 1890?

Thanks to this endlessly fascinating book, I can show off my wisdom to allcomers, wherever I might encounter them as I walk the path. I can tell them that Tintagel was the home of F.T. Glasscock, a man who made his fortune from custard, and that a hotel at Mount Batten, where the path heads east of Plymouth, used to be a guano processing plant.

Less arcane are the facts about the many churches and features of industrial archaeology that are encountered on the route. History and legend, folklore and irrefutable fact all have their place, too (even if the many exclamation marks do not).

The Companion Guide is based on Exploring the South West Coast Path, written by Philip Carter, a founder member of the original South West Way Association in 1973. Sadly, Philip died in 2011, after 40 years of passing on his enthusiasm for the path and helping to secure its use for generations of fortunate walkers.

In this volume, which reproduces the original foreword that Philip wrote for his book, Simon Butler has sourced illustrations that enable the walker to compare views of landscapes, towns and villages as they are now with how they looked in bygone days.

Aerial photographs are especially compelling and many show the path itself winding sinuously around headlands and coves as it takes its walkers along some of the most beautiful coastal countryside in Britain.

Whether your journey along the SWCP is the whole thing or just a few miles, this book will enrich the experience no end. Its format does not lend itself to being popped into a daypack or rucksack: it is too chunky for that. Better, perhaps, to read it before you pull on your boots and commit what you can to memory.

However you choose to use it, it will most certainly reward you.

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Pitton 01

A sunny September afternoon walking with my sister was the purest pleasure – mixed with a tiny amount of pain from that most annoying occupational hazard, a zingy blister.

Nothing, though, could spoil the joy of hours immersed in sun-drenched countryside in one of the prettiest parts of south Wiltshire.

The terrain was interesting and varied, with a few hills, cool woodland, baking-hot, open fields, narrow paths, village lanes, all of it the very stuff of rural England in the full heat of late summer.

We saw two other people in the whole time we were out: a rider conducting a loud mobile-phone conversation while his horse flicked its ears in contempt, and a man walking towards us through a copse close to our finishing point.

We started at Pitton and followed a map and written directions on a circular route that would take us to Farley and Clarendon Palace before bringing us back on weary legs to where we’d begun five hours earlier.

It was meant to be a six-mile walk. We walked nine miles with several stops, including picnic lunch and a visit to a church, a little blackberrying and a fair amount of “oh, whoops, we’ve gone wrong” doubling-back. We are not good map-readers and we talk so much we rarely stop to read directions.

“I’d planned to go for a run this evening, but I won’t now,” my ultra-fit sister conceded as we trudged up the final hill. “And I won’t be going for my bike ride, either,” I said.

Even we had managed to exhaust ourselves, and that’s saying something.

A lovely rustic stile - the first of many we crossed

A lovely rustic stile – the first of many we crossed

The terrain was very varied

The terrain was very varied

We enjoyed a wander around Farley's All Saints Church, still decorated after a weekend wedding

We enjoyed a wander around Farley’s All Saints Church, still decorated after a weekend wedding

A stray dog preceded us into the churchyard

A stray dog preceded us into the churchyard

Bishop of Llandaff dahlias ablaze in this pretty cottage garden

Bishop of Llandaff dahlias ablaze in this pretty cottage garden

Open fields . . .

Open fields . . .

. . .  and shady woods

. . . and shady woods

A footpath as straight as the nearby Roman road

A footpath as straight as the nearby Roman road

Llamas inspect us at Clarendon Palace

Llamas inspect us at Clarendon Palace

Only minimal evidence of a medieval ruin remains of the original Clarendon Palace, a royal residence throughout the Middle Ages.

Only minimal evidence of a medieval ruin remains of the original Clarendon Palace, a royal residence throughout the Middle Ages.

Resting after a vigorous dust bath

Resting after a vigorous dust bath

Late afternoon sunlight on a majestic beech tree

Late afternoon sunlight on a majestic beech tree

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I am fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world where there are limitless opportunities for walking in the countryside and for running, too. This great variety of terrain, from woodland paths to watermeadows to trailways (former railway routes), is all within a few minutes of home, and further afield there are ancient hill forts to puff my way up, countless acres of downland and, of course, the glorious Jurassic coast.

Here are some of the photos I have taken of uplifting sights while out walking. I see lovely things, too, when I’m running, but I don’t like stopping so a lot of good things go unrecorded.

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A Boot Up Mid Dorset – 10 Leisure Walks of Discovery, by Rodney Legg (PiXZ Books, £4.99)

HOW reassuring to have such a good, clear, well-designed and intuitively helpful walking companion as this latest book in the inelegantly named ‘A Boot Up’ series by prolific local author Rodney Legg.

How delightfully appropriate too, that he should write about walks – best foot forward and all that, Mr Legg.

The illustrations – scores of photographs of the treasures that lie in wait, and maps to guide those with a less-than-perfect compass-reading technique – are, sadly, not credited to a Mr Ankle or a Ms Instep. That would be too much to hope for. In fact they are the author’s, so huge credit to him for that, too.

This is the perfect book, and quite possibly the only book one would ever need, to pop into the jacket pocket or daypack when setting off to explore and enjoy this sensationally lovely part of Dorset. It covers a shallow band between the Blackmore Vale and the Dorset Downs, bounded by Batcomber and Up Sydling to the west and Winterborne Stickland and Winterborne Houghton to the east. Spectacular walking country indeed.

There are 10 walks, carefully explained from first step to last, with just the sort of information you need: length (they vary from three miles to nine miles), degree of difficulty, type of terrain, where to park, availability of public transport, the postcode of the start point and any associated websites that could enrich the experience. With photos of many of the landmarks and snippets of local history too, the book packs in a mighty amount of information considering it’s only a tiddler in size.

At £4.99 it’s a snip and if it introduces you to only one of the lovely corners of central Dorset, then it has to be money well spent. R.S.

(Published 2011)

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WALKING in Dorset is a great pleasure at any time of the year, but when the countryside is looking its absolute best, it is doubly pleasurable.

You only have to step out along a woodland path that’s flanked by a carpet of bluebells, or cross a meadow dressed with frilly cowslips to appreciate the rewards.

But it’s a matter of getting the timing right. Miss the bluebells by a week, and the droopy heads take the spring out of your step.

For help with what’s flowering where and when, and how to get the maximum pleasure from your walk, turn to the experts – and with Peter and Margaret Cramb you couldn’t be in better hands.

Their ‘Shorter Wild Flower Walks in Dorset’ is the sequel to their very successful ‘Wild Flower Walks in Dorset’ (2006) and results from requests from people wanting shorter walks to enjoy with families.

So the Crambs have put together this really lovely volume, illustrating it with their own paintings and photographs, offering 10 walks ranging in length from about two to three-and-a-half miles.

All the walks are in wild flower habitats the length and breadth of the county – including Jurassic coast, chalk downland, river, woodland, meadow and heathland – and between them they produce an impressive 300 different flower species.

Each walk is described with a detailed route, a map, and flower and landscape photographs, as well as a list of the flowers that are likely to be seen. The authors recommend the time of year, between early April and early September, when the flowers tend to be at their best at each location.

Peter Cramb works on botanical projects as a volunteer at Dorset County Museum, and his and Margaret’s main recreation is walking in the Dorset countryside, so it can be with great confidence that anyone wishing to walk the county’s byways and paths takes this book as their companion. RS

Shorter Wild Flower Walks, £7.95, available from booksellers, Tourist Information Centres and other outlets in Dorset.

(Published 2009)

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