Walk - Limekiln Hill from Graston Copse
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
From Graston Copse travel down Annings Lane into Burton Bradstock. Turn left onto the main Bridport - Abbotsbury road (B3157). Make your way to Swyre. As you travel through Swyre look for a road on the right signposted West Bexington. Take the turning and at the end of the road turn right. The car park is at the end of this road.
- From the car park at West Bexington pick up the South West Coast Path heading east, towards Abbotsbury, and follow it along the track. At first it is shingle and it is hard going, but this soon gives way to a rutted earth track.
Chesil Beach, one of the world's finest storm beaches, was formed 6000 years ago, in the Holocene period, as vast quantities of shingle were pushed onshore by rising sea levels. It is 18 miles long (29 km) and stretches from West Bay to Portland. The massive shingle bank is as high as 49 ft (15 m) in some places and consists of 100 million tonnes of pebbles. It is highly dynamic, with pebbles being driven inland at a rate of 5 million every century by the storm overwash.
John Fowles, author of The French Lieutenant's Woman, described Chesil Beach as “an elemental place, made of sea, shingle and sky, its dominant sound always that of waves on moving stone: from the great surf and pounding 'grounds of seas' of sou'westers, to the delicate laps and back-gurgling of the rare dead calm.”
At its eastern end the shingle bank provides an important barrier against the pounding of the sea, protecting Weymouth lowland and the Fleet, one of the most important lagoons in Europe. Although the bank divides the Fleet Lagoon from the sea, there is still a narrow channel between the two at Portland Harbour, allowing seawater to percolate through the shingle and mix with the freshwater being washed into the lagoon from the hills and fields. This has resulted in an enormous body of water whose temperature and salinity (saltiness) varies tremendously from place to place. This makes it a unique habitat for wildlife, especially birds.
Although on the seaward side the pebbles are always on the move , the landward side is much more stable. A number of highly specialised plants flourish in the shingle alongside the track as you walk east. Adapted to thrive even in the fierce salt-laden winds that whistle over the bank, the plants have long roots to probe deep into the shingle to find the freshwater far below. Thick, succulent leaves retain the moisture once it has been taken up. Look out for mats of speckled white sea campion flowers, with yellow horned poppies dotted between them. Heads of thick rubbery sea kale sprout like cabbages from the pebbles, and spiky green clumps of thrift with their tufty pink flowers. Look out, too, for the rare sea pea, a creeping plant with vivid pink or purple flowers like sweet peas.
- A short distance after The Old Coastguards, a bridleway heads uphill towards East Bexington. Turn left onto it and follow it along the hedge to East Bexington Farm, passing to the right of the buildings and then turning left beyond them.
The concrete structure in the field to your left before the path is a machine gun emplacement from the Second World War. On the shingle by the Old Coastguards is a World War II pillbox. Hitler's military advisers identified Hive Beach and Freshwater, near Burton Bradstock, as the best place for landing troops in a German invasion. The whole stretch of coastline here was England's first line of defence (see the Hive Beach Walk). The hillside is dotted with concrete and red brick gun emplacements, pillboxes and observation posts.
- Follow the footpath along the hedge and into the next field, bearing right to head for the centre of the opposite hedge.
- Turn right and follow the footpath uphill to where it meets the South Dorset Ridgeway (formerly called the Inland Coast Path) as it approaches the road.
- Turn left and follow this route along the side of the ridge.
The scrub and hedges provide good habitats for birds. Listen out for linnets, stonechats and yellowhammers, and summer warblers such as whitethroats and chiffchaffs. Sometimes brown hares and even roe deer can be seen.
There is another World War II observation post just off the path, unusual in that it has three large windows to give good views over Chesil Beach in both directions as well as out to sea.
A little further along is the old limekiln which gives the hill its name. Probably dating from the nineteenth century, it was used to burn local limestone to produce lime, which was used to fertilise the fields.
- When the path meets the road, bear left along the track and then turn left onto Donkey Lane, carrying on ahead along the road when it reaches West Bexington and dropping downhill to return to the car park.
The sixteenth-century Manor Hotel Restaurant in West Bexington has a full a la carte menu for lunches and evening meals, with bar meals served at lunchtime too. Daily fish specials are always available.
Fish flourish in the deep waters along this coastline, so fishing has provided a livelihood for the locals for thousands of years. Although the commercial fishing fleets are no more, there are still plenty of fish to be caught by the shore anglers to be seen on Chesil Beach: mackerel, garfish, plaice and bass in the summer, and cod, whiting and dogfish in the winter.
The fish attract diving birds. Cormorants, guillemots and razorbills can be seen close to the shore, diving into the water from the surface, while gulls, wheel overhead. In spring and summer, common terns - migrants from Africa - plunge into the sea to catch fish for their young.
In the fields to the left as you approach the car park there was once a medieval village, although there's little to be seen today. First documented in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-66), it was burnt down by the French in 1439-40 and its inhabitants held to ransom. By 1625 it had been abandoned.
In West Bexington