Walk - Smugglers Inn - Osmington and Osmington Mills
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Coming out of the Smugglers Inn, turn right and walk uphill through Osmington Mills for about 200 metres, to where the South West Coast Path leaves along a footpath on the left, opposite the top of the caravan site.
- Turn left to follow the South West Coast Path towards Weymouth, carrying straight on past the gate on the heathland.
The mound beside the path a little way on is Goggin's Barrow, a burial mound from the Bronze Age (about 4,400 years ago). People were buried singly in round 'bowl' barrows, often with personal effects made from the newly-discovered metals (bronze, copper and even gold), and there are about 400 of these barrows along the Ridgeway (see below), including others around Osmington as well as this (look out for circular mounds on the hills around you!). .
- Reaching the road in front of the holiday park, shortly afterwards, leave the Coast Path to turn right up Shortlake Lane, climbing at first and then descending gently to the main road at Osmington.
There is a pill box above Shortlake Lane as you climb steeply above the PGL centre. There are many of these red-brick pillboxes in the area, remnants of the Second World War, when this coastline played an important role in keeping a lookout for the enemy and training for D-Day. Portland was a target for heavy bombing, although most of the warships had moved further north for that reason, and it was the embarkation point for Allied forces leaving for Normandy in 1944
- Turn right on the main A353 and walk through the village and past Craig's Farm Dairy, to where a Coast Path fingerpost points along a tiny footpath to the right through the trees.
- Turn right onto this footpath, climbing gently uphill.
This is the last stretch of the inland route of the Coast Path, which follows the South Dorset Ridgeway from Osmington Mills to West Bexington, near Abbotsbury. The Ridgeway gives stunning coastal views of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, as well as inland panoramas over a rolling pastoral landscape dotted with clusters of picturesque hamlets and decorated with iconic chalk carvings such as Osmington's White Horse. Sculpted in 1808, this carving depicts George III, who was a regular visitor in Weymouth in the early nineteenth century (see the Osmington Roman Walk). It is 85 metres long and 98 metres high, and it was restored in 1989 by the TV show 'Challenge Anneka' and tidied up again in 2012, when Weymouth hosted part of the Olympic Games.
The Ridgeway also runs through one of the UK's most ancient landscapes, and it is considered to be as important as the more famous prehistoric sites at Stonehenge and Avebury. Incredibly, archaeologists have found flint tools on nearby Bincombe Hill from 500,000 years ago, when nomadic people followed herds of wild animals north from Europe, walking across the bridge of land that still connected Britain to the rest of the continent. The English Channel was created by ice sheets melting after the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, and there are traces of human settlements here from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) period, around that time.
Like most of Britain's uplands, there are many layers of ancient history exposed on the Ridgeway's high heathland. There are a number of long barrows along the Ridgeway from the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period, before the Bronze Age. They were used for burials for two or three generations and then closed up. There are also some mysterious bank barrows, whose purpose is not known, although archaeologists know they were not used for burials.
During the Iron Age that followed, around 1,000 BC, families lived in large round-houses, with mud walls and a steep conical thatch, and both trade and industry flourished. Shards of pottery from Dorset have been found on Hadrian's Wall, on the Scottish border, and there is evidence of tin and copper being brought into the Ridgeway from Wales and Cornwall. There was even some trade with Europe, with bronze being imported while woollen goods and hunting dogs were exported. In AD 43 the Romans arrived, making good use of the Ridgeway as they Romanised the area, setting up camps and fortlets along the way. At Bowleaze, just along the coast from here, it is possible to see the remains of a Roman temple (see the Osmington Roman Walk).
- Carry on ahead along the South Dorset Ridgeway when a path crosses yours at Sandy Barrow, and drop downhill into Osmington Mills, turning right when you reach the road and retracing your steps to the Smuggler's Inn.
Sandy Barrow is another Bronze Age bowl barrow.
On the hillside to the right and on the side of Spring Bottom Hill, to the left, you can see banks and terraces forming small ridges in the fields. These medieval 'strip lynchets' were cut into the hill to create flat strips suitable for farming, and the remains of these can still be seen all around the area. In medieval times, all farming was done on narrow, unfenced strips of land, and these were distributed in such a way as to give all landowners a fair share of arable land. This meant that often a farmer's land was scattered through the district, and it wasn't until the 1857 Enclosure Act that hedges were built around numbers of adjacent strips to turn them into the larger field systems in use today.
Smuggler's Inn, at the start of the walk