Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Dorset in July

Two days of great contrast: well-hunting on Monday, a journey to a variety of sites I'd visited many, many years ago and a few that were new to me, was accompanied by scudding clouds and quite a bit of warmth at times. On my customary pilgrimage to Abbotsbury I missed the usual turn and found myself going down White Hill instead of through Portesham, opening up a breathtaking vista along the coast east to Portland and westwards to the red cliffs of Devon, vanishing far, far beyond Lyme. That evening Ms Formerly Aldgate warned me over the phone that the next day would be a downpour, and so it proved when I and my mum went for a drive to Lulworth Cove. 

As I toiled up the hill towards St Catherine's Chapel I passed three black women struggling under rucksacks and camping gear. They came in to the chapel while I was in the middle of the office hymn to St Catherine, so we had to have some kind of explanatory conversation given that what I was doing was a bit unexpected! Griot Chinyere from London and her friends from the Shanti Chi company are dedicated to helping young people of African heritage from the inner city, particularly if they have mental health or behavioural issues, establish a sense of identity through storytelling, especially in the setting of the English countryside. I'd met them on a sponsored hundred-mile walk along the South Coast path from Exmouth to Worth Matravers. Strangely - although I have come to put some weight by coincidences - their next storytelling festival in July is at Parmoor Farm in Frieth, just yards away from the former Abbey of St Katherine whose black vestments I of course inherited and use. 

In such ways the modern world interacts with the fossil landscape of what we are now supposed to call the Jurassic Coast. On the second day, the rainy one, I and my mum ended up in Lulworth, another scene from my childhood, and it furnished another example. Back in the 1970s you parked up in a field and walked down a tiny street to the Cove, and there was nothing much there for visitors despite the geological fame of the great agonised folds of rock visible in the far cliffs. Then the Lulworth Estate, fresh from refurbishing Lulworth Castle after a fire in 1998 and looking at the potential of the several hundred thousand souls who found their way to the Cove each year, bucked up its ideas and built a visitors' centre and shop, and around the same time a rather grand restaurant opened between the car park and the old street. Since 2008 the Castle grounds have hosted the music event Camp Bestival, which can draw about 30,000 people. We found Lulworth packed even on a July Tuesday in term-time, as folk fought their way against the wind and rain to and from the shore. A group of about twenty teenage girls seemed to be carrying out a school tourism project, noting down on clipboards the number of Bed-and-Breakfasts and asking people where they'd come from. It's a far cry from a field and a one-room shop selling a few postcards and a couple of snow-domes with crabs in them. What would the dinosaurs make of it all?

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