Making the most of the hot dry weather, I did a clifftop walk along part of the South West Coast Path. We started in Bowleaze Cove, which is bordered by a strange mixture of expensive upmarket housing and budget tourist accommodation, plus a rather intriguing Spanish-style building of epic proportions, somewhat reminiscent of the grand spas to which Soviet Communist Party members might once have resorted in the summer.
We soon left all that behind, climbing the cliffs to the east to follow the coast path across acres of rough grassland dotted with wildflowers and alive with butterflies and other insects. Almost every plant of knapweed was host to at least one Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) or Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), and I saw lots of hoverflies, bumble bees, five-spot burnet moths and also the ubiquitous Red Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva), which has the humorous English nickname of “bonking hogweed beetle” from its habit of lengthy copulation, often on the convenient platform afforded by hogweed flowers and other umbellifers.
This was thistle country – creeping, spear, marsh and nodding thistle to name the most common; all providing nectar for a throng of busy insects from their magenta and blue or pale lilac flowers. The ubiquitous creeping thistle has a honey scent that instantly brought back a sudden pang of childhood summer memory, as scents often do; suddenly, I was about five and the thistles were taller than me as I looked though the back fence. We lived on a modern (at the time) housing estate still bordering farmland, and the field verges at the bottom of the garden were thick with them. Apart from that, the most common wildflowers were teasels, hogweed, common ragwort (a pretty, noxious weed but very nectar-rich) and lesser bindweed, with its delicately crumpled pink and white almond-scented bells borne on twining stems with arrow leaves – another childhood favourite of mine.
Halfway between Bowleaze and Osmington we walked perilously near the top of an active landslip, fissured and wild – peering over the top we saw a large block with a section of wire fence that I guess used to mark the edge of the cliff not long ago. Here, the rock is yellowish and part of the Upper Jurassic Corallian sequence. Down on the beach at Osmington Mills there are limestone platforms full of oyster shells and huge round or ovoid boulders, some of which look too perfect to be natural – but they are – concretions in the Bencliff Grit locally called “doggers”. The beach is crossed by a freshwater stream, which tumbles over a verdant bed of greenery onto the rocks.
But the real glory of the beach is revealed in the rock pools and shallows at low tide – an astonishing profusion of seaweeds of all colours and shapes waving gently in the limpid water. We have had no significant rain for weeks now, so all along the coast, the water is unusually clear and sparkling. I also saw my first snakelocks anemone (Anemonia viridis) hiding in the weed, pale green tentacles tipped with luminous blue.
All in all, I had a lovely time. Signing off with a few more little images that show us how lucky we are to live here …