The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset walk 2 – Osmington Mills

Teresa Ridout heads for the south on a circular walk via Spring Bottom

The start and end of our walk: the Smugglers Inn

Osmington Mills lies at the heart of the Dorset World Heritage Site and displays geological features from the Jurassic period, the most well-known of the geological periods found along the stretch and the one from which the World Heritage Site took the name.  The characteristic which make the coast so beautiful and interesting is erosion; in recent months the whole coastline has undergone more rapid alterations than usual at the hands of nature.

The shore at Osmington Mills provides both an ideal fossil hunting ground and many rock pools supporting varied fauna. Although not a new victim of erosion and change, the fishermen’s slipway was destroyed by cliff subsidence in 2003; Osmington Mills sits on soft sediment which soaks up rain which means that it is an area which is particularly prone to mudslides and cliff falls.  Erosion reveals exciting features and fossils that have not been seen for millions of years, however the prevailing weather conditions during 2012 and 2013 have exacerbated conditions making this an area to be explored with particular care.

The English landscape painter John Constable came to Osmington after his marriage to Maria Bicknell in 1816.  Their marriage service was conducted in St Martin-in-the-Fields by Reverend John Fisher, vicar of Osmington with whom Constable was friends and the couple returned with Fisher for a six week honeymoon in the Vicarage at Osmington.  They spent many holidays in the village and he painted many of his most famous paintings here although they were not always well received by the critics noting for example that his work ‘Weymouth Bay’, which now hangs in the National Gallery, was nothing but ‘a sketch of barren sand without interest’.

This Jurassic Coast walk has a wide array of stunning vistas

There has been an inn on the site of the current pub since the 13th century.  Originally called The Crown, then The Picnic before being aptly named The Smugglers Inn, the pub can boast authentic connections to the smuggling trade. Quiet areas along the south coast saw a dramatic rise in smuggling after the Gin Act of 1751, one of several punitive taxes imposed by the government to fund war in Europe.  Situated away from the main village of Osmington, down a winding lane which ends at the cliff, it is scarcely surprising that during the 18th and 19th centuries, Osmington Mills, nestled in a valley away from curious eyes, was once the home of the leader of one of the most notorious gangs of smugglers in the area, the Charles gang, and reputedly provided shelter for the famous French smuggler Pierre Latour, known locally as French Peter. During the 1820s Emmanuel Charles, landlord of the Crown Inn as the Smugglers was then named, was reputedly the leader of an extremely ruthless gang of family members who mercilessly set about officers of the newly formed coastguard, although the spirit he smuggled was described as ‘so raw and unpalatable as to be totally unfit for consumption’.

The walk

Distance: 3 ½ miles.

Terrain: Moderate walk – undulates for most of the route. When it has been raining this stretch of the Coastal Path is slippery and the initial stages of Spring Bottom can be very muddy.

Start: The Smugglers Inn car park.  The Smugglers Inn car park is owned by Hall and Woodhouse and is a pay and display car park which currently charges £5.00 for up to 3 hours stay, however this is fully redeemable against bills over £15.00 in The Smugglers Inn.  There is limited free parking on the roadside.  Toilets are situated at the entrance to the car park.

How to get there:  Turn south off A352 Wool to Dorchester road at Warmwell Cross roundabout onto the A353 signposted to Weymouth. Turn left off the A353 to Osmington Mills.

Maps:  OS Landranger 194, Dorchester and Weymouth or OS Outdoor Leisure 15, Purbeck and South Dorset.

Walk down the steps to the Smugglers Inn, cross over the footbridge and turn left (the bridge is signposted with the Coast Path yellow arrow and acorn symbol).  The Coast Path rises at the left-side of the pub and passes through a gate marked with another Coast Path marker.  Once through the gate continue straight on up a slope towards another gate.

Passing through the second gate, the track continues to rise up steps, through a wooded area and comes out on the cliff top where it overlooks Frenchman’s Ledge.

The coast gives glorious views across to Portland

Looking inland along this area are various interesting constructions; first at the top of hill is, the now privately owned, Upton Battery which was built to supplement the gun batteries guarding Weymouth Bay and the approach to Portland Harbour.  It became operational in 1902, but the guns were removed after the First World War.  In June 1940 the fort was re-equipped and manned by the 522nd (Dorset) Coastal Regiment, apparently firing once in March 1944 to warn off marauding German E-Boats approaching Weymouth Bay.  The Battery was decommissioned by 1956. The walk also passes two red-brick pill boxes, Second World War look-outs for the enemy.  There are splendid views of Ringstead Bay and White Nothe beyond along this stretch.

Continue along the Coast Path until entering another hedged and lightly wooded area which is Bran Point.  Along this stretch on the left side at ground level there is a stone Coast Path indicator.  Turn left here and follow the arrow indicating Spring Bottom ½ mile and cross a stile, a gravel track and a second stile when the route enters a wooded glade – Spring Bottom.

Follow the clearly defined track through the copse until the track reaches a ‘Y’ fork; follow the fork to the left until reaching a stream and a gate (don’t cross the stream).  There is a signpost on the right here (it’s not immediately obvious), climb the stile and follow the path indicated on the signpost to Upton.  Spring Bottom is a quiet and magical wooded glade and the path passes next to a series of ponds.  As the path rises follow through the woodland until reaching the tree line which ends with a stile.

In 1926 a coffin, a beaker and some nails were found in a chalk pit at Spring Bottom which were dated to the first century.  This is a sheltered valley with a fresh water supply and these finds, together with the medieval strip lynchets cut into the hill at the higher end of Spring Bottom, suggest that there has been settlement present in this area over a long period.

Cross the stile into the field and walk to the brow of Spring Bottom Hill keeping the hedgerow on the right (there is a view of Upton to White Horse Hill at this point) and then descend the hill, still keeping the hedge on the right, to the stile at the bottom.  Cross the stile and turn left, there is a signpost which indicates Osmington Mills 1 mile.

Looking westward one can see the restored White Horse at Sutton Poyntz

Walking along a tarmac drive until reaching a blue sign marked Upton Glen Countryside Homes, climb the stile that is on the left of this sign and follow the track until reaching a gate and stile.  Cross the stile and follow the track as it descends through woodland to reach a tarmac road.

Turn left onto the road; there are wooden chalets in the valley on the right and woodland on the left.  As the road leaves the wooded area look for a gate and a stile on the right side, cross the stile and walk down the slope towards the houses and the bottom right-side of the field where the path returns to The Smugglers Inn.

The World Heritage coastline's ever-changing geological face is one of the joys of this walk


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