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).

Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Frozen out: despite being filmed in Iceland, 'Fortitude' is set further north, in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
tvGerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Life and Style
Carmen Khu from The Royal China Club pours a cup of Dai-Hong-Po tea
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
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

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore