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Dorset walk: Tyneham and Worbarrow

Teresa Ridout explores Tyneham, Worbarrow Bay and Worbarrow Tout

The abandoned village at Tyneham

Frequently described as Dorset’s ghost village, Tyneham’s evacuation at Christmas in 1943 for ‘the sake of the nation’, is renowned. The heart-rending notice, which the villagers pinned to St Mary’s church door as their departure was completed, is a familiar missive and adds poignancy to an already sad story: ‘Please treat the church and houses with care. We have given up our homes, where many of us have lived for generations, to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.’
Evidence of occupation in the valley pre-dates the visible village buildings and the adjacent hamlet communities. Tyneham’s manor house was a building of Elizabethan importance, built in 1583 by Henry Williams and passed into the hands of one of Dorset’s foremost landowning families, the Bonds, in 1683.
Earlier still, on the steep hillside which overlooks the Tyneham basin and the road leading to Worbarrow Bay, is Rings Hill, on which sits the impressive Iron Age hillfort of Flower’s Barrow. Perhaps as much as half of this prominent fortification has been eroded and fallen away into the sea below, but to imagine this desolate spot 2500 years ago conjures up a place of auspicious defence, inaccessible from the south because of 560 feet of cliff with views stretching out to sea, and with a similarly steep hill inland to the north which could only have been accessed by scrambling up the steep incline.
Once the possession of Robert, Count of Mortain, who was half-brother of William the Conqueror, Tyneham is listed as consisting of four parcels in the Domesday Book, being referred to as Tigeham and Tingeham; in reality these are likely to have been Baltington Farm, North and South Egliston Farms and Tyneham itself. Baltington and North Egliston endure today as farms with earthworks suggesting the sites where houses and gardens once stood and each of the four hamlets are clearly bordered by modern hedge-lines that lie on original field boundaries and which define well-preserved remains of medieval field systems. Built from limestone rubble, St Mary’s church in Tyneham village is likely to have begun life as a chapel. Dating from the 13th century with later extensions and rebuilding works which were carried out in the mid 19th century by the Reverend William Bond, it is built on a simple cross formation and today, along with the school house next door, is one of the few unscathed buildings and houses a fascinating exhibition.
As the years trickle by and the last of the residents who lived and loved in the valley before 1943 pass away into memory, so too fades the hope that Tyneham homes would once again ring with the jolly noises of family life, while the ruins of abandoned homes have taken on an air of romantic melancholy. Ever since the compulsory purchase order, which was issued in 1948 giving Tyneham and the valley in which it sits over to the permanent ownership of the Ministry of Defence, the hamlet’s fate has been sealed. Although an incalculable loss to the villagers, the limited access to one of the most beautiful hidden gems of Dorset can in part be mitigated by the fact that it is military control that has protected Tyneham from the intensive farming and development seen elsewhere in the county.

The view looking west over Worbarrow Bay

The walk

This walk is a short stretch of less than three miles but there are many other tracks to follow if you want diversion.
Distance: Approximately 2½ miles
Terrain: First stretch is flat track, followed by a moderate climb of approximately 450 feet and then a moderate descent on a zig-zag track, slippery in places during wet periods, back to starting point.
Start: Tyneham village car park.
How to get there & access: Tyneham lies between East Lulworth and Kimmeridge, approximately 5 miles south-west of Wareham. The Lulworth Range Walks are generally open on Saturdays and Sundays and bank holidays and for other periods during August and Christmas. Phone Lulworth Range Control to check (01929 404819) or http://www.dorsetforyou.com/lulworth-range-walks.
Maps: OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth), OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck); OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset).
Refreshments: Kimmeridge Village or Lulworth. Toilets clearly marked on the path from Tyneham to Worbarrow Bay.

1 Park in the car park at Tyneham village. With the village and church behind you walk down the track through a gate and follow the track as it veers to the right. (There are toilets on the left-hand side). The track is signposted Worbarrow Bay and Coastal Path. Follow the gravel track with the woods on your right. This area is known as The Gwyle, which is a Cornish word meaning uncultivated ground. See the sign on the right along the gravel track.

2 Follow the track down to the bay, which is the site of the ruined fishing hamlet of Worbarrow. Flower’s Barrow hillfort to the right overlooks the bay. Straight ahead is the cone-shaped hill, Worbarrow Tout, which divides Worbarrow Bay from Pondfield Cove on the left. Pondfield Cove is a small cove which is hidden behind dragon’s teeth anti-German tank defences built in 1940.

3 Turn left and climb a stile. You are now walking on a grass path which rises up a steep slope to Gold Down. To the right along this stretch are the rocky cliffs of Gad Cliff and in the distance beyond are Kimmeridge Ledges.

The coast path at the point where one heads back towards Tyneham

4 Continue along Gad Cliff until you reach a stone marker. At this point you will be able to see Tyneham Cap in front of you. Turn left at the stone marker and descend to Tyneham Farm. This takes you downhill on a zigzag path and across the pasture to a stile beside the main valley track. Climb over the stile (there are toilets on the right-hand side) and walk straight ahead to the car park.

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