We marched beyond Hog Hill, across Ashton Farm and past Four Barrow Hill, bound for the Dorset Coast Path, where we were surprised by the cool bite of the breeze on our faces. Suddenly, the English coast rested at our feet. Or so it seemed from the crest on which we stood, gaping.
Straight ahead was Weymouth, the Isle of Portland and the English Channel. To the right, the coastline disappeared into the horizon. To the left, the same, and we could distinguish the shape of the land as it appears on maps. We were 160 meters above sea level but it seemed like the top of the world, as if we could see all the way from Dover to Penzance.
We had come expecting stunning views but weren’t prepared for this. It was dazzling. And the fact that the three of us had hiked here and were sharing the scene with only a few sheep made it all the more extraordinary.
We crossed pine woods and pastures and saw a sign that read “Hell Stone Only” on the way back to high ground. From afar, our destination of Abbotsbury resembled a village from a fairy tale, with its shimmering swannery and ancient St. Catharine’s Chapel perched regally on a hilltop.
A fitting pub for the final night
The next two days along the coast were equally spectacular. June is a fine time to travel on the Dorset Coast Path, because wildflowers decorate the countryside: bellflowers, dandelions, poppies, Queen Anne’s lace and more, running the spectrum from vivid red to delicate lavender to deep violet.
Along the way we discovered Palmer’s Centenary 200, a wonderful strong ale specially brewed by the Bridport brewery to celebrate its 200th anniversary. We had it first at the Three Horseshoes in Burton Bradock, where nostalgic World War II veterans wearing their old uniform shirts reminisced at the bar.
We could have used another pint the next day by the time we reached Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast. Although 626 feet above sea level sounds modest, the climb was so steep that even the sheep stood at a slant. Golden Cap offered 360 degrees of the scenes we had savored throughout the walk, from seacoast to chalk cliffs and rolling farmland.
We spent that night in Lyme Regis, which was the setting for John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman and the film of the same name. We scaled steep, twisted, narrow streets, walked along the beachfront promenade past a Victorian pavilion and strolled on the Cobb⎯the stone barricade that Meryl Streep trod in the movie. We even heard Lyme Regis’s traditional town crier proclaiming the day’s news.
The Draught Bass we had on cask at the Volunteer was as good a pint as we had in London or the country. However, it was the Angel, where we were the first American tourists to sign the guest book in a year, that we’ll remember the best. First, publican Ed Bignal still took time to point out the sights, such as the Leper’s Well a block away. Lepers once lived along the Angel’s street, Mill Green, a narrow alley on which monks had led horse drawn carts centuries ago.
Early in the evening we saw Bignal step from behind the bar and go outside to check a tire because one of his female customers was worried that it was going flat. When we returned to the pub after dinner, it was bustling. Patrons constantly paraded between the skittles alley out back and the back door to the pub, where they refilled their pints. When the skittles shut down, the singing began.
It sounded like something out of a bawdy English musical, with the leader singing the verses and the rest of the crowd joining in the choruses. The two house dogs barely stirred, and while most patrons participated in the singing, one couple sat at a table and played cribbage.
There should be such a scene at the end of every stroll in the country.