When the shooting stops

Bob Jenkins discovers Dorset's Lulworth Range - a no-go area in the week, paradise at the weekend

Danger - unexploded shells. Keep out." Not the sort of welcoming sign you expect to encounter on a weekend stroll in Dorset. But this is the Lulworth Range: 7,000 acres of prime coastline leading a double life.

From Monday to Friday, the six-mile stretch from Lulworth Cove eastwards to Kimmeridge Bay is a public no-go area while the armoured Fighting Vehicle Gunnery School takes target practice.

But most weekends - and during summer and Christmas holidays - the gates are thrown open and walkers are welcome. Just stick to the well-marked paths and you won't be blown to smithereens by an unexploded missile.

Considering this is a place where 70,000 shells are fired each year, it's mighty peaceful. Decades of army use means there are no public roads and no buildings along miles of stunning chalk cliffs.

The absence of intensive farming and modern pesticides creates a nature time-warp, too. Wild flowers and butterflies flourish on the chalk and limestone ridges with names fit for a Scrabble game - squiancywort, scabious and small skippers.

All this is so near, yet seems so far from Lulworth Cove with its vast carpark and crowds of trippers. Taking the steps beside the beach cafe, they were left behind as soon as I puffed onto the cliff path.

From on high, the cove looked spectacular, a green and white amphitheatre, the closest Hardy country gets to a Caribbean lagoon. But a boundary fence and a formidable gate lay ahead, Lulworth's Checkpoint Charlie into the military range. Confirmation of stepping into a different world came with another sign announcing "Fossil Forest".

Intrigued, I followed the path the short distance to the cliffs where steps descended to the beach. An information board helpfully explained this curious relic of the dinosaur age.

A mere 135 million years ago, this was a pine-scented forest, the peace broken only by small hunting parties of megalosaurus. Then the sea advanced, leaving tufa rock particles sticking to the tree stumps. As a result, hollow boulders resembling giant ring doughnuts still adorn the beach. You can also clearly see the shape of fallen trees.

Back on the trail, I continued along the grassy clifftop to Mupe Bay. Here a stunning panorama of the coastline unfolded. Lofty white cliffs stretched far ahead to the beautiful arc of Worbarrow Bay. The only signs of human input were yellow-topped waymarking posts and a clifftop picnic table. Bringing your own food and drink is essential. There are no pubs, burger bars or ice-cream vans for miles. Just tanks.

After a steep climb up Bindon Hill, the army training ground came into view on the left. Ugly tracks scarred the heathland and rusty tanks were dotted about, targets for some distant gunner. Even on a silent sunny Saturday, the sense of modern warfare's awesome force sent a bit of a shiver down my spine. I hurried on to the little bay at Arish Mell, where, above the beach, a jolly couple were enjoying the soothing sound of the waves. They were the first people I'd seen for an hour. "Don't miss Tyneham village," advised the man. "It's a real treat."

The promise of something special kept me going up the next steep climb to Flower's Barrow, an Iron Age hill-fort. Ironic that this pre-Roman coastal defence, partly fallen into the sea, should be slap-bang in the middle of today's military range.

Making a beeline through the earthwork, I descended to Worbarrow Bay's curved shingle beach, overlooked by colourful cliffs streaked red, fawn and yellow. Several families were pottering about, a sure sign that a carpark lay not far off. I followed the trail up the wooded valley to the ruined village of Tyneham, whence they had come.

As promised, Tyneham was indeed a treat. Of an eerie sort. This was a place that had stopped in time, a fishing and farming village evacuated during the Second World War to facilitate military training. The inhabitants never returned.

The village pond is now overgrown with reeds but visiting children were happily poking sticks in and squealing with delight during my visit, just as local kids must have done all those decades ago.

Close by, in the ruins of the Post Office store, I came across a family enjoying a picnic. The roof and windows were long gone but the fire grate endured. In the front garden was a glorious 1928 cream and red phonebox, complete with Bakelite receiver and buttons A and B. A poster commands: "I am on war work, if you must use me, be brief."

Two Tyneham buildings remain intact in the schoolhouse, dating from 1860. A blackboard bade me welcome, outlined the day's weather and suggested I look out for kestrels, roe-deer and sparrow-hawks.

The classroom here aims to show how things were in the 1920s. Desks are covered with nature study books, as if the children will return from play at any moment. A silent piano sits in the corner.

Across the path I ambled over to St Mary's Church, home to a simple but engrossing exhibition on the village. Old photographs of the inhabitants from earlier this century were on display. Like ancient Henry Miller with his white beard and stick who sat on the cliffs keeping a look-out for shoals of mackerel. Or Miss Woodman, the scary-looking teacher, whose ruined cottage is still just around the corner.

I found it hard not to feel sad that village life came to such an abrupt end, especially after I had read the note that the villagers pinned to the door when they left Tyneham on 19 December, 1943:

"Please treat the church and houses with care. We have given up our homes where many of us have lived for generations to help in the war to keep men free. We will return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly."

LULWORTH LOWDOWN

WHEN TO GO

The range walks are open every weekend for the rest of 1999. Also open 18 December-3 January. In 2000, six closed weekends include 29-30 January, 11-12 March and 13-14 May. Holiday opening: 21 April-1 May, 27 May-4 June. Recorded information line (tel: 01929 462721 ext 4819.

Tyneham's school and church are open 10am to 3pm in winter.

GETTING THERE

The nearest railway stations are Wool and Dorchester. The 101-5 bus runs from both to Lulworth Cove Mondays to Saturdays (tel: 01305 262992).

There is parking at Lulworth Cove and Tyneham.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Lulworth Cove Heritage Centre (tel: 01929 400587). Purbeck Tourist Information (tel: 01929 552740).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born