Our much-awaited and eagerly anticipated trip down to Dorset started with a lot of packing and loading, but not until I’d been out for a bit of a run with the Redway Runners crew over at Marston Vale Forest Centre.
We took the obvious route down through Bicester, Oxford and Newbury and then Southampton, where we stopped on the motorway services for the mandatory geocache. Mandatory because it was a day required for the August 2013 “31 Days of Geocaching” challenge. Not mandatory as in “you’ll be locked up if you don’t”.
The motorway services on the M27 have a single cache on the eastbound side. We were going westbound, but there’s a tunnel left over from the days when the eastbound side only had a car park. It was an easy find.
Our hotel was the brand spanking new Premier Inn on the Brewery Square development in the centre of Dorchester. The only bad bit was that it wasn’t obvious either whether you could stop the car outside the hotel (you can) or where their car park was (underground). So we abandoned the car outside the station nearby and walked in, from where we were given the keys for our room and a numbered parking bay.
The room was maybe just as, or slightly better than, what I expected. The standard family room apparently has a double bed and a single. For us, they had moved a bit of furniture around so we had two singles but a bit less floor space. It wasn’t too bad though. The cases fit under the beds and there was a draw, shelves and a bit of hanging space which allowed us to unpack the kids’ stuff at least.
The Brewery Square development is a redevelopment of what used to be, obviously, some land belonging to the Dorchester Brewery. The development has the hotel and also a bunch of apartments, several restaurants and a cinema. It also has some splashy fountains, which after a long drive on a warm day was most welcome. The kids got straight into their swimming costumes and we all went outside so they could get themselves cooled off a bit. After a while they were a bit too cold, so they put on their “summer onesies” and went back for a bit more. All of this meant that when we did go back to the hotel room they left a lovely trail of soggy footprints all the way through the hotel reception area. I think anyone following us would have been thrown off the scent at the exit ofg the lifts though. And anyway, we weren’t the only people bringing soaking wet kids into the foyer.
We finished off the day with some spicy chicken in the well-known restaurant with a name that rhymes with commandos. Nuff said. The chicken was spicy, they were short of peas so we got a free extra side, and we all went home early to try to get some sleep ready for a fun day tomorrow.
Our first full day in Dorset, so what shall we do today ? How about going to that bit that sticks out at the bottom ?
The decision was made, as were many on this holiday, whilst working our way through a hearty (for which, read “lardy”) breakfast at The Premier Inn. It proved to be a good idea to pre-buy breakfast. Buy adult ones, get the kids free. Which means unlimited coffees, plates of cooked goodies, and for the kids, a major assault on the European Muffin Mountain, with Sherpas and everything. OK, maybe not the Sherpas then. But a lot of muffins. The American type, not the English.
The decision was probably made the previous night, to be honest, but as is always the case these things need further discussion and confirmation over breakfast, just in case one of us has developed a sudden urge overnight to go spend the day prospecting for gold or herding llamas, or something. You have to check these things.
So to the bus, and off we go in the general direction of Weymouth, with one of us driving, one of us reading a map, and two of us sitting in the back and asking if we’re there yet. We weren’t. Not for nearly an hour, anyway.
To get to the Isle of Portland from Dorchester you have to drive all the way through the middle of Weymouth and out of the other side. And to where we were going, you then have to drive around the harbour and then all the way across the Isle of Portland itself. It’s quite a long way.
When we got there, we pulled into a very large, and really quite empty, car park. Empty maybe because the nearby Portland Bill Lighthouse hadn’t opened at that time. We had no change, but thankfully a bit of a phone signal, so we were able to pay for parking using the phone. Magic that, isn’t it ?
And because the lighthouse wasn’t open we had to find something to do for a while. That something was a couple of geocaches and a quick shufty at the sea. After all, it was sunny (if a little windy) and it was the first time on the holiday we’d been near the seaside.
First up was a traditional geocache stuffed under a big rock. There was a bit of argy-bargy with the kids – the usual fight about who’s turn it was to find the cache – which resulted in a bit of grumping for the next half hour or so. I hate it when they do that.
After that we did a rather dramatic earthcache based around the Pulpit Rock, which required some analysis of the rocks under our feet (which the grumpy kids were already doing), a bit of estimation, a quick peer “over the edge” at the sea and the obligatory photo with a GPS device. At least this time there’s more than one of us, and more than one camera, so the camera can take a photo of the phone (pretending to be a GPS).
Walking back along the cliffs from here the kids were starting to cheer up a little bit at last. Ami was happily snapping away with her camera (the photos on this page are hers as much as mine) and Izzy was enjoying the fresh air. It was starting to feel like a holiday.
By this time the lighthouse was open so we went and stood in the queue to go up to the top. It was a fairly long queue, so we had to wait half an hour or so, and then when we got to the front we discovered that Izzy wasn’t tall enough and they wouldn’t let her go up. Grump-diddly-grump from Grumpington. So Kas stayed at the bottom with Izzy while me and Ami went for a climb.
It is quite a long way up, and to be honest, I don’t think Izzy would have enjoyed the climb, especially not the rather steep ladder/staircase at the top which lead up to the actual lamp room. She wouldn’t have enjoyed that bit. So on reflection, I was quite glad they wouldn’t let her go up there. Which just left the small task of persuading her she was glad too. Wasn’t that hard. She’s a lot more level headed than her sister most of the time.
So we then mooched over the car park to try to do a “Ye Olde Survey Monument” cache in the road, which was supposed to be what’s known as a “Surface Block”. Unfortunately, it’s now what you’d call a “Subsurface Block” after a considerate man with a lorry load of tarmac decided to widen the paved area on this junction. As the block was not actually visible, the cache owner wouldn’t let us log it as a find either. Grump again.
Back in the car and a couple of hundred yards up the road we found a traditional cache, under a rock. Ami grumped again because, despite the bleedin’ obvious, she wasn’t able to find it and I had to do it. At this point, and getting a bit tired of her not trying, and then grumping when someone else got the cache first, so I decided we should stop at a cache and make her do the whole thing on her own. The cache concerned was a golden postbox jobby, dedicated to sailor Helena Lucas and attached rather unsurprisingly to a big black box on a post right next to said golden postbox. Ami did actually find it unaided, and thankfully this did elicit a bit of an improvement in general attitude. Woo-hoo!
Next, we made our way back across the island to a car park overlooking the harbour which had a nice seating area and a great big set of concrete Olympic Rings. Ideal for taking a few arty photos of Chesil Beach. It was supposed to have another geocache as well, but we couldn’t find it.
The beach itself was a bit easier to find. In fact, you couldn’t really miss it. Big thing, covered in stones. Over there, between the sea and the, oh, the other sea. Wikipedia says that the Isle is joined to Chesil Beach by a barrier beach, but there isn’t really a line showing where the barrier beach ends and Chesil Beach begins. It’s all just stones. And an Earthcache. And a cafe, which meant it was (late) lunchtime. Cake and crisps time, to be precise, but we’re on holiday, so who cares. The Earthcache required some more examination of the floor and a photo with the GPS, so we got the girls to experience the beach up close by laying on the shingle with my phone. Then we walked over the crest of the beach onto the seaward side. When you get to the top you realise quite how large it actually is. It really is huge. On both sides.
Talking of beaches, the weather was still nice and the kids were getting stressed again by the lack of plodging in the sea, so we drove into central Weymouth and went for a sit on the beach for a while. We hadn’t planned to, so we didn’t have their swimming gear with us, and as a result, there was a lot of sandy clothing in the car on the way back. We also left quite a lot of sand on the floor of a very nice fish & chip joint right opposite the Queen Vic Clock. It was so good, in fact, that we went back on our final day.
After which we had a sand-filled walk back past the station to the car and then a drive home, some washing of sand down the plughole, and an earlyish night caused by all of us being in the same room. It was a fairly traditional first day to a holiday for us – the kids were grumpy after getting tired and being over-excited the day before, we did a bit of this and a bit of that, and we went to bed to try to get the kids back onto Planet Earth again.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Day 3 of our little holiday and the day began with Kas scooting off for a bit of a run, leaving me and the girls to grab a lardy breakfast and then kill an hour or so waiting for her to come back. We opted to kill our hour by walking just up the road to the Maumbury Rings, a Neolithic Henge just up the road from our hotel.
When we arrived the grass had been recently mown, so the undoubted highlight of the visit was the impromptu history lesson which resulted in us constructing a scale model of the nearby Maiden Castle from the grass clippings. Obviously we decided to name it Hayden Castle, as you would. It is plainly visible on many of the photos I took while we were there.
Once Kas was sorted out it was time to begin the main event(s) of the day. It was time for a bit of walking & caching, followed by a bit of a dip in the sea, with some random geology. First up was a cache named for the Osmington White Horse, which was conveniently sited in a posh new car park built just to provide a good overlook of the White Horse itself. Ideal, in fact, for doing photos of the horse standing on your hand.
After which we proceeded down to Osmington village and then drove round in circles for a bit trying to find somewhere to park. We ended up in the pub car park. The pub was open so we could use the toilets and buy a couple of drinks and some crisps to take on our walk. It also had a cache in the car park. Cha-ching !
The walk stretched for about 4 miles or or so and consisted of walking up and over a rather large hill, down into a valley, and then along a ridge above the White Horse, with a final steep drop back down into the village. There was a selection of types and sizes of cache, and Ami made an event of it by taking photos of a trackable keyring dog (which she decided was called “Cow”). She photographed it everywhere. Kept her busy, I suppose.
By the time we got back to the pub time was marching on and we all had throats drier than a Pharoah’s sock, as it were. So we went back into the pub for a drink and some more crisps before moving on. I’d been collecting information for a multi-cache as we were walking round but because we were doing it’s loop backwards it turned out that the final was a half a mile back up the path where we’d just come from, so we didn’t bother. Getting a drink was more pressing.
Durdle Door is one of those places I remember from school geography lessons. I’d been there once before on a family holiday in the early 80’s I think. Aside from the nostalgia though, it is worth a visit, but if you do go, remember to take a bucket load of coins with you. The parking meters on the top of the cliff wouldn’t accept a credit card and we had no phone signal so we couldn’t pay by phone. We eventually managed to scrounge enough coins between us to pay for a visit long enough to be worthwhile.
The girls descended straight to the beach while I went for a bit of a stroll along the cliffs to grab a couple more caches. There were some steep hills on the way. And some more on the way back.
Down on the beach, the girls were already in their costumes and having a bit of a plodge in the sea. Just after I arrived Ami decided to go for the full dip/swim. She was welcome to it. The water was perfectly warm enough but the beach could best be described as painful. It was all bug pebbles and smashed up bits of cliff, so it was really painful to walk on. In fact, I remember eventually I gave up trying to walk without shoes on and started crawling around instead. Ouchy ! Didn’t seem to bother the kids so much though.
Lulworth Cove is another place I remember from school geography lessons back in the day, back when the Interweb hadn’t been invented (but after everything was in colour instead of black & white). I came here once before on a family holiday too. Funnily enough, the same holiday and the same day as my previous visit to Durdle Door. This was our final touristy act of the day. I think it was about 5pm when we arrived, having already been to, well, all the other places further back in this post. No need to list them. If you’re still with me at this point in the proceedings you’re doing well (and I luv you).
We weren’t really planning much other than a bit of a look around and then maybe stop for something to eat. In the event, we ended up down by the cove, as you do, and my camera automatically realised I wanted to produce a panoramic shot, so it produced this rather impressive image without me having to do anything clever, and without reading the manual. Problem is, I’ve never managed to get it to do the same thing again.
After this, Ami expressed an interest in going for a walk around the beach. Kas and Izzy weren’t bothered, and to be honest I wasn’t that bothered either, despite there being an Earthcache around there. But if we’re going anyway well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it. It’s quite a difficult beach to walk around, as it’s all big stones and unevenness. But we got round there eventually and collected enough goodies for the Earthcache. We seemed to be getting a lot of Earthcaches down here. Must be something to do with all the nice scenery. Good geology, you know. Can’t beat a good bit of geology.
Back at the plot, all of this business during the day was taking its toll and we’d all just about had enough, so we decided it was time to grab something to eat. We looked at a few places in West Lulworth but nothing really seemed worthwhile. Everywhere looked a bit expensive, or had menus that the girls wouldn’t eat, or any one of a number of other reasons, so we decided we’d try driving back to the pub in Osmington where we’d parked earlier. Turned out to be a good choice. They did a carvery in the evenings, so the kids gorged themselves on roast dinners. Excellent stuff. Winner winner and, quite literally, chicken dinner.
And then we drove back to Dorchester and put the kids to bed. And ourselves. Long day!
What can we say about this day?
We can say it was wet. We can definitely say that. And we can also say that we hadn’t planned what to do if it was wet. And we could say that none of us really dressed properly for the conditions, especially the ladies of the house.
We thought it might be a good idea to start off by going to the hill fort at Eggardon Hill near Bridport. It was an interesting drive up, and at several points we thought we might be driving through the clouds and surrounded by rain. Once we parked up it became apparent that we actually were in the middle of the clouds. We went for a quick walk around the top of the fort (and a quick dash down the back to grab a cache for me), but we weren’t really enjoying it. All of us were getting cold and wet. Enough of that then.
After which we started a few hours of generally farting about as a result of not having planned anything. We ended up in Abbotsbury and down at the western end of Chesil Beach. We thought we might go for a look at some botanical gardens just out of town, but after we saw the cost of entry tickets we ended up just having lunch there. It seemed a bit much for what would undoubtedly be a short walk around. In nice weather it might last us all day, but in bad weather, when we were all already wet and cold, I doubt the kids would last more than an hour.
The weather still wasn’t great so we drove around the village to the other side and walked up a very steep hill to reach St. Catherine’s Chapel, taking in a couple of passing caches on the way. Kas decided to stay in the car, so it was just me and the daughters. It finally stopped raining, so whilst we were still getting wet feet from the grass at least our top halves were drying out.
When we came back down we still needed to complete the daily tasks of doing an Earthcache and feeding some ice cream to the girls. Both were achieved by driving back around to the botanical gardens, abandoning the car in their car park and walking down to Chesil Beach again. There’s an Earthcache that involves a bit of minor chat about pebbles and a load of photos showing the chapel in the background, and the like. This explains why all the photos in this batch have my phone included.
We had an ice cream (or a coffee in mine and Kas’s case) sitting under the porch of a cafe in the car park, whilst watching the renewed rain falling around us. At least it was covered and the coffee was hot.
After which we went home, got clean and dry, and went out for pizzas. At least the day ended well.
Our final day in Dorset, and after yesterday’s rather soggy debacle we made good on our promise to take the girls down to the beach first thing. On the caching front it turned out to be a fairly productive day involving a lot of multis in central Weymouth which took me through some very nice parts of the town. If you’re reading this just for the list of caches, feel free to skip to the bottom of the post.
Kas was up and at it quite early, having decided the marathon plan said she should run to Weymouth from Dorchester, a distance of about 10 miles. So she set off at about the same time me and the girls started our Premier Breakfast. Mmmmm ! As was now customary, the girls raided the muffin basket for all it was worth while I engaged in the usual protein-fest. I’m sure having cake for breakfast is OK really, so long as it isn’t every day. And so long as it isn’t 4 each.
Back at the plot we jumped in the not-so-trusty bus and headed off up the old Roman Road to Weymouth. Apparently we passed Kas somewhere near the Weymouth Massive Magic Mushroom Sculpture, but we didn’t see her.
We parked up at the park & ride and walked over to the beach at the Queen Vic clock, by way of the Station and it’s “Sidetracked” cache – gotta get that first cache of the day in the bag to get the souvenir. Not a very impressive cache but enough to get us going.
By which time Kas had more or less finished running and met us, as planned, by the Queen Vic clock.
Onto the beach we went then, and sat down, got the kids changed, and then lay down for a bit of a snooze under the light breeze and layer of high cloud. Enough of a breeze that we were quickly getting buried under the drifting sand. Within 5 minutes I had a mouth (and nose) full of the stuff and was starting to get a bit ratty. You may have guessed, if you don’t know me, that beaches are not my kind of thing. At least, not the sitting-around-whilst-getting-sand-in-every-available-orifice kind of beach. I’m fairly happy with the walking-around-taking-photos type and the got-an-Earthcache-on-it type.
So Kas sent me off caching for an hour or so while the kids got the sandcastle building out of their system for a bit. There’s a summary of the caches I did below, but let’s say it was an hour of setting off on a couple of multis rather than much actual caching. I did find one at the ANZAC monument and then another short multi down by the big sailing vessel near the ferry terminal though. However, the main gain from this hour of caching in the morning was that I managed to breeze past a load of other stuff that looked like they’d be good things to do later in the day, especially as the sun was starting to make an appearance by late morning. Near the big sailing boat there’s a little company doing 1-hour tours around Portland Harbour. Just along the river there’s a bridge over the river that opens up every 2 hours. And walking north from there you pass along a pedestrian shopping street with a few bits of summer street entertainment on them.
Back at the plot, and back with the girls, we decided to leave the beach and head for lunch. Kas went to chuck all the buckets, spades, and unnecessary bags of wet, sandy clothes into the back of the car while the girls and me went off in search of somewhere for lunch. Kas had expressed a desire for a hot dog, so we thought that ShakyDog’s looked a good bet. They major on milkshakes in all kinds of bizarre flavours, and do a nice side in hot dogs. I ordered some stuff for the girls and waited for Kas to arrive.
It turned out to be quite a good little place if you can cope with the loud music. Izzy had a hot dog and when I told the staff she wouldn’t eat the bun (she never does), they gave her another sausage free. Kas and Ami had mango milkshakes and I had a peanut butter one. Titter ye not, Mrs ! Peanut butter milkshake, when made with real ice cream, is very nice. None of the food we had was particularly healthy, but who cares. We’re on holiday, innit?
From here we wandered down the shopping street, with the girls choosing to totally ignore the silver-painted bloke standing on a bucket. Shame, he would probably have been good theatre. But we ended up at the Town Bridge, which is a very fine-looking double-leaf bascule. It opens every two hours, and I just so happened to time my walking in the day so that I caught it opening at 12, 2 and 4 pm. Which is quite bad timing. Once or twice would be good for photos, but that third one was just shabby timing on my part. At the 2 pm opening we also did a team hunt on a multi-cache themed on the bridge. It should have been a solo find for me, but I just couldn’t spot any item matching the hint, and eventually went for help. All three girls came over with me and Kas spotted the very thing inside a couple of minutes. An item I had walked straight past probably 6 times already without noticing. Mumble, mumble…….
After the 2pm opening we crossed back over and along the quayside (where the rails and loading platform of the old Weymouth Harbour Tramway are still in evidence. ending up at the tall sailing ship we were just in time to jump aboard one of the little boats doing one hour tours of Portland Harbour. This proved to be a good little trip for us to do, as it filled an hour in the afternoon when the kids were starting to wane a bit, and it was engaging enough for both of them to show a little interest in the Captain’s quite simplistic commentary. It was bright sun by now, so we had a proper holiday feeling as we scooted along over the water being gently burned on the top and cooled by the occasional salty splash.
When we got back to shore we then strolled back along the quay and up the shopping street again, with no particular plan other than maybe going back to the beach for a bit longer. This soon turned when Kas and the girls spotted a woman doing hair braids – a bit of a Gardner girls holiday habit. Unlike their counterparts in France, who seem to charge for the overall effect, the lady in Weymouth charged by the inch. 80p an inch, to be precise. So mine was free, and very quick. The girls had to wait a bit longer. And as Kas knows I’m not much of a “standing around” type of person she basically told me to go caching again and she’d give me a call when the braiding was close to finishing. This gave me the opportunity to finish a couple of caches I’d started earlier in the day, including a walk back over the Town Bridge (with 10-minute wait for the 4 pm opening) and into the old town, south harbour and the Nothe Fort. On this little dash I managed to grab another 5 caches. I ignored two that were marked unavailable.
It was a bit late getting back by now, and whilst Kas had occupied a bit of time by buying a new sweatshirt, it was time to get back together for an early evening meal again. Before that though I had to extend the parking. One thing I came to both love and hate whilst in Dorset is the parking. I hate it because it seems expensive everywhere and you can’t get refunds on part-used time periods, and I love it because you can pay by mobile, and when your period is running out they send you a reminder text with a phone number you can call to extend it without having to return to your car.
I got another 2 hours parking and we went for dinner at King Edward’s Fish and Chips on the Esplanade (again).
This time we were right posh, with the kids having their food served in a plastic bucket (with spade).
Which just about left time to drive back to Dorchester, query why the hotel had let someone park in our allocated space again (they hadn’t – someone had just gone all “freestyle” on them), wash half of Weymouth Beach down the plughole and grab a swift half in the bar before retiring to bed.
So if you’re only reading this post for the caching parts, I’m sorry for wasting your time with the rest of it, but here’s a quick list of the caches I did. If you want a relatively touristy, not too hardcore, day of caching in the centre and old town of Weymouth, I suggest you start at the ANZAC Monument just north of the Queen Vic clock on the esplanade, and gradually work your way south, not that I’m telling you where the multis take you. The caches that I did during the day, in the order I did them, were :
- Sidetracked-Weymouth – a quick nano round the back of the bikesheds.
- ANZAC Tribute – A quick bench job near to the memorial to ANZAC soldiers on the esplanade
- Shipwrecked – Mayday – A short multi down by the ferry terminal with a very muggly end-point, but worth it just for the nerve of putting one there.
- Weymouth Town Bridge – Another short multi themed on the bridge of the same name.
- Hope you find it… – An easy trad near the Rotary Club building in Brewery Square
- OYB 27 Before the Bridge – Part of the big “On Yer Bike” series on the bay to the south of Nothe Fort
- Portland View – An excellent multi starting at the Queen Vic clock and taking you through 5 stages to reach a viewpoint overlooking Portland Harbour
- White Hideaway – A fairly big trad under a rock overlooking the bay to the south of Nothe Fort
- OYB 29 My Favourite Viewpoint – A quick multi based around the Nothe Fort
On the route I took to do these there are several other trads that were temporarily disabled the day I was there, and you might also like to try Cannon Ball Run – a multi I didn’t have time for but which starts near the Town Bridge and ends over by the Ferry Terminal (at least, the description implies it ends there). There are a number of puzzles that appear in the old town but none of them are actually there – most are a good way out. There is the Castle Treasure puzzle, though, which requires you to have found 3 caches at Portland Castle, Sandsfoot Castle and Maiden Castle. We didn’t try this, but given the name I guess it’s most likely to be somewhere near the Nothe Fort.