Booton Foot Trails: Chideock, Golden Cap and Seatown
Peter Booton explores the coast and interior to the west of Bridport
Published in May ’12
Chideock lies in a valley bounded by Quarry Hill and Eype Down on the east, and Golden Cap and Langdon Hill to the west. Sir Frederick Treves described Chideock as ‘an unspoiled old-world village in a hollow of green fields’. The east-west turnpike that divided the village in those days is now the notoriously busy A35 which earned Chideock the dubious distinction of being the first village in England to have two speed cameras. However, away from the relentless pounding of traffic, much of the village’s charm remains where 16th- and 17th-century thatched cottages of local yellow sandstone line its narrow lanes.
The Royalist stronghold of Chideock boasted a castle until 1645 when it was destroyed by Parliamentary forces. Built by John de Chideocke in 1380, during the Middle Ages it passed to the Arundells of Lanherne, a powerful Cornish family and staunch supporters of the Catholic faith. When the old religion was banned the castle became a refuge for Catholic priests and a place where loyal villagers could attend Mass. During the reigns of Elizabeth I and Charles I seven men from Chideock were martyred for their faith. In April 1594, Rev. John Cornelius – chaplain to Lady Arundell, Thomas Bosgrave – a relation of the Arundells, and two servants at the castle, John Carey and Patrick Salmon, were arrested at Chideock and later executed in Dorchester. Known collectively as the Chideock Martyrs, and together with Rev. Hugh Green who was martyred in 1642, the five men were beatified in Rome on 15th December 1929. A plain wooden crucifix in memory of the seven men, the Martyrs’ Cross, now stands on the site of the former castle of which only the earthworks remain.
The Chideock estate remained in the Arundell family until 1802 when it was purchased by a relation, Thomas Weld of Lulworth Castle, who was also loyal to the old religion. Thomas’ sixth son Humphrey built the present manor house c.1810 and converted an old barn next to it into a simple Catholic chapel. This became the basis for the present Church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius which was built by his son Charles in 1872. This jewel in the crown of English Catholicism, and pilgrimage shrine of the Chideock Martyrs, celebrates Italian Romanesque style and its magnificent interior is decorated with portraits of the English Martyrs which were painted by members of the Weld family. The church is open from 10am to 4pm daily. Chideock Manor is now owned by the Coates family. The house is not open to visitors, but its gardens are opened occasionally under the NGS.
In 1852 Charles Weld erected a Memorial Chapel in memory of his parents alongside Chideock’s Parish Church of St Giles. The Chapel occupies the site of two former cottages, one of which was a priest’s house where Mass was said in olden times for the dead on All Soul’s Day. Its interior, which is usually open at weekends during summer, is beautifully decorated with wall paintings by Charles Weld. www.chideockmartyrschurch.org.uk also gives details of events at the RC church.
The Grade I-listed Parish Church of St Giles dates from the 12th century and a major restoration was carried out by Crickmay in the early 1880’s. A notable feature is the Arundell Chapel containing a 15th-century marble tomb and effigy of a recumbent knight in armour believed to be Sir John Arundell. The church has a peal of five bells. The oldest, dating from 1602, is inscribed ‘Love Dog’ which, presumably, is an unfortunate error. St.Giles is normally open during daylight hours, or contact the churchwardens on 01297 489260/489417.
Chideock is ¾ mile from the coast at Seatown, from where a notorious band of smugglers, the Chideock Gang, operated from during the 19th century. Led by a mysterious figure known as ‘The Colonel’, the Chideock Gang maintained a look-out post on Golden Cap and used St Gabriel’s chapel in the valley below as a receiving house for the illicit goods.
Legend has it that, when two newly-weds were shipwrecked off the Dorset coast in the 12th century, the groom prayed to St Gabriel for their safe deliverance and vowed to build a chapel in the saint’s name wherever they came upon land. Sadly, his wife died in his arms on reaching shore, but the groom kept his word and built St Gabriel’s nearby. A melancholy silence hangs over the now ruined chapel. Treves visited and wrote, ‘The east end of the church is the least ruinous. Here is clearly shown the site of the altar, while just in front of the altar is a wild rose bush in blossom. It would seem as if the spirit of the last bride who knelt upon the chancel steps still lived in the blushing petals which the sea wind scatters over the stones.’
The original Coast Path west from Seatown beach has been diverted a short distance inland following a landslip. Latest OS maps show this diversion.
1. Turn right out of the car park and follow the lane for 200 yards to a path on the left signed ‘Coast Path – diversion’. Go through the gate and cross the field on a well-trodden path heading towards the National Trust-owned Golden Cap on the skyline. At the end of this field, go through the gate and cross a footbridge onto a woodland path. Then through two gates onto a grassy path uphill, bear right at the Coast Path sign and continue until the path forks, where bear left to a gate and cross another field, keeping to the left side, to reach a gap in the fence at the top of the field. Four steps lead to a stile and 62 steps uphill to Golden Cap summit.
2. Heading west, pass the stone memorial to the Earl of Antrim, former chairman of the National Trust. After this, turn right at a stone marker onto a gravelled downhill path to the gate and the sign: ‘St Gabriel’s ¼ m’. Follow the path downhill towards the left side of the field and at the sign go left onto a track passing St Gabriel’s chapel on your right. Continue to the stile and a farm track leading to the information board on the village of Stanton St Gabriel.
3. Retrace your steps past the chapel to the sign at the bottom of the field, but instead of going uphill to your right – the way you arrived – proceed ahead, signed Langdon Wood and Seatown. Keep to the left side of the field for 200 yards and turn right after a farm gate to head uphill to the top of the field. Turn left along the fence to a farm gate onto a bridleway. Follow the sign ‘Langdon Hill’ and cross a field to 1½ gates ahead where the bridleway forks. Keep right and pass Langdon Wood on your left.
4. Follow the path downhill to a left fork onto a rutted and tree-lined track (very muddy after rain) named Pettycrate Lane which reaches Sea Hill Lane in 550 yards. Turn left through the village and continue into Duck Street and the A35. Cross the road with extreme caution to the Parish Church of St Giles opposite.
5. Pause to admire this lovely church and then turn right into North Road where the Weld Memorial Chapel is on your right. Proceed along North Road between some modern housing and go past the lane to Chideock Manor to reach the Church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius, shortly after.
6. Chideock Manor is on the left of the church. After viewing the RC church’s magnificent interior and small museum, return to the lane leading to Chideock Manor and follow to the private drive sign where take the footpath to the right of the drive along the left side of the field to the stile at the end. Follow the way-marked path downhill across the field to Hell Lane at the bottom.
7. Turn right onto a lane (very wet and muddy after rain) and after 150 yards cross an unmarked stile on the right. Head diagonally left (SE) across the field to the left of a small wooded area in the centre of the field and, on reaching it, head south to the stile at the top corner of the field. Cross into the next field and, keeping to the left side, follow its perimeter to the field end where turn right and after 10 yards cross stile on left into Ruins Field. The Martyrs’ Cross and earthworks of Chideock Castle lie ahead. At the far left corner of the field 1½ gates lead into Ruins Lane and A35 at end.
8. Turn right along the footpath and after 20 yards cross very carefully to the opposite side and a path signed ‘Seatown 1’. After crossing two wooden footbridges and a playing field arrive at Mill Lane where turn left and shortly after join metalled bridleway, passing Golden Cap Holiday Park. Continue to Sea Hill Lane at the end and turn left for the Anchor Inn car park.
Distance: 5¾ miles.
Terrain: Mostly grassy paths and bridleways, with some potentially very muddy sections, and metalled roads. The later stage of the climb to Golden Cap is moderately strenuous.
Start: The Anchor Inn car park (charge) at Seatown. OS grid reference SY420918. Postcode DT6 6JU.
How to get there: From A35 at Chideock turn south, opposite St Giles Church, into Duck Street (signed Seatown) and follow for ¾ mile to the Anchor Inn car park.
Maps: OS Explorer 116 Lyme Regis & Bridport. OS Landranger 193 Taunton & Lyme Regis.
Refreshments: The Anchor Inn, Seatown. www.theanchorinnseatown.co.uk for opening times. Tel: 01297 489215.
Public transport: Jurassic Coast bus service (Coastlinx53 Exeter – Poole).
Note: If travelling by bus to Chideock, commence the walk at 8.