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Dorset walk: Worth Matravers, Winspit and St Aldhelm’s Head

Teresa Ridout goes on a circular walk from Worth Matravers via Winspit and St Aldhelm’s Head.

Tony Viney's sculpture celebrating radar research. with the NCI St Alban's Head lookout station and St Aldhelm's chapel beyond

Worth Matravers is a picturesque village best known for its pond and its pub. In 1942, though, it was the nerve centre for scientists working on radar development, with around 2000 people working at RAF Worth Matravers (before the installation was relocated to Worcestershire). The 2012 electoral roll has 250 living in Worth.
In the graveyard of the church of St Nicholas of Myra is the grave of Benjamin Jesty, which reads: ‘…an upright honest Man: particularly noted for having been the first person (known) that introduced the Cow Pox by Innoculation, and who from his great strength of mind made the Experiment from the Cow on his Wife and two Sons in the Year 1774.’
Along with the Jestys, are the graves of hard-working families and artists drawn to the district – the sculptor Mary Spencer Watson, stained-glass artist Alan Younger (who produced the stunning window in St Aldhelm’s Chapel) and the 1930s actor Leslie Banks.

Spectacular stone formations are a feature of this walk

The evidence of an interesting history is deeply engraved not only on a gravestone, but also on the surrounding landscape: extensive quarrying 13th-century open-strip field systems, strip lynchets set up on steep hillside banks so that terraces could be cultivated by the plough and which remain clearly defined on the hills East and West Man. Vast amounts of Purbeck stone and marble were quarried (and conveyed around the country) for use in churches and cathedrals. Winspit Quarry was worked until the 1950s when, having satisfied demand for hardcore for Second World War airfields and then the post-war demand for building materials, it was finally abandoned.

The walk
1 Park in the Worth Matravers car park.
Turn right out of the car park and walk down hill, the Square and Compass pub will be on your left and follow the road to the right towards the village pond. Continue to travel downhill along Pikes Lane with the duck pond and green on your right and take the second turning on the left. You pass in front of an attractive row of terrace cottages called London Row and then bearing slightly to the left, follow the road as it becomes an unmade track and pass through a gateway.

Worth's iconic pond

2 Continue to follow the footpath downhill until it eventually widens and is joined by another track from the right; there is a water station on your right side at the point where the two tracks meet. Continue to follow the path downhill and gradually it becomes enclosed by hedgerows on either side. There is no opportunity to deviate and the track known as Winspit Bottom is simple to follow to the sea. Part way down Winspit Bottom is a sign indicating Winspit Cottage – the home of William Jeremiah Bower (1886 – 1966) known as ‘Billy Winspit’, the last man to work in Winspit Quarry (which is also where the 1979 story ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ was filmed for Dr Who.

3 Just before the terrain opens out to overlook the sea, is a South West Coastal Path sign on the right –  marked St Aldhelm’s Head. This is a steep but short climb to the cliff top with a stone seat at the top where you can rest and enjoy the magnificent view.

4 Continuing west, the path takes you along the cliff top for about a mile when the track turns inland, branching into two forks; either path can be followed as they meet up again. The National Coastwatch Institution lookout station and St Aldhelm’s Chapel come into view. The path here passes the footings of a World War 2 radar station, and Tony Viney’s monument to wartime Radar development. The square, stone Norman chapel is dedicated to St Aldhelm (Saxon saint and Bishop of Sherborne), but Purbeck natives call the headland on which it sits as St Alban’s Head.
• (If you wish to take a shortcut and avoid the steep steps which feature in the next stretch of the walk then follow the path inland behind the Coastguard station and past the coastguard cottages, then pick up the walk from number 7 * – see below.)

5 To continue to Chapman’s Pool, follow the path behind the coastguard station building. There is another SW Coastal Path sign marked Chapman’s Pool. Several seats are dotted along this stretch dedicated to former walkers and lovers of the area from where you can admire one of the best views of the Dorset Coast.

6 The path now comes to steep descending steps. The steps are edged with stone and quite easy to descend although inclined to be muddy when wet.

7 At the bottom of the steps turn right and climb the stile into a field. (If you wish to explore you can turn left at this point and descend into Chapman’s Pool.) Follow the path uphill across the field through the valley to the top right hand side, cross the stile and, after a very small stretch of green path, turn left to join an *unmade stone track. Continue along the track until you reach a barn and a turning to the right which is posted Worth ¾. No cars.

(If you wish to take a shortcut back to Worth Matravers then turn right and follow this path with the barn on your left-hand side until you reach a T-junction. Turn left into Bonvils Road, passing cottages and bungalows on the left, passing the HM Coastguard building on the right and as the road bends to the right join Weston Road, turn right and follow the road back into Worth Matravers village and back to the car park.)

8 Continue straight on to Renscombe Farm (passing a car park on the left just before Renscombe Farm) where the track joins the lane to Chapman’s Pool. Turn right from the track into Renscombe Road and proceed along the lane to Worth Matravers passing by Weston Farm on your right and following Weston Road back into Worth Matravers village with the pond on your right and back to the car park.

Distance: Approximately 5 miles – Route can be varied, either lengthened or shortened to suit.
Terrain: Well-marked but unmade paths, with climbs and a particularly steep decline at Emmetts Hill. Good for burning calories but not so good for baby-buggies or the less fit!
Start: Worth Matravers Car Park (OS reference SY974 776). A voluntary donation of £2.00 is requested but there is no time limit imposed on your stay.
How to get there: From Wareham follow the A351 to Corfe Castle. At the end of Corfe village turn right (B3069) follow the signs marked Kingston and Langton Matravers. Half way between Kingston and Langton Matravers is a signpost on the right marked Worth Matravers. The car park is on the right side of the road.
Maps: Ordnance Survey OS Explorer Map OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset. OS Landranger 195 Bournemouth and Purbeck
Refreshments: Square and Compass pub and Worth Matravers Tea and Supper Rooms.
Wildlife: Horseshoe bat, Lulworth Skipper butterfly, wild cabbage, early spider orchid

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