Man O'War BayThe authorities had stopped visitors going down to the beach due to a crack on the rocks and was deemed unsafe After protracted abstinence from any leisurely pursuits, there were a few talks, in the power circles, about taking a break "from it all" and heading out on a much needed holiday. The year 2017 had whizzed past us in a blur and before we knew it, we were upon Christmas break.
The first mention of any holiday was made sometime during late October/ early November when one of the regulars in our group felt he was perpetually jet-lagged with all the official travel and desired, for a change, to embrace travelling for pleasure. It was agreed then that the days immediately following Christmas up to New year be considered as potential travel dates.
Our holiday group is typically made up of a minimum of 7 or 8 people to all the way up to 13 or 14 people depending on people's availability. It is easier to organise a holiday for a smaller group size than the full complement. You seldom get a property that can take in all 14 people at once unless it has been planned very well in advance - sometimes as much as six months ahead. This does not become such an issue if the preference is to stay at a hotel (rather than a villa or a cottage) where you might be able to book four or five family rooms and still be able to travel as a group. It is, nonetheless, a very expensive proposition. The preference, however, is to travel together, stay together and take advantage of the convenience of the self-catering option that the cottage or a villa provide. Some of our best holidays were spent travelling together as a group - The English Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Cornwall, France and Belgium.
The next challenge was the destination. There were a few options discussed - Timisoara in Romania and Dublin in Ireland were among those discussed that meant travelling outside the United Kingdom. Not knowing the numbers that make up the final group size was a serious blocker and we were unable to take advantage of some fantastic airfares on offer. When the group size was eventually known, it was too late to consider any travel outside of Great Britain - the airfares had risen to untenable levels. We, therefore, set our sights on the famous Jurassic Coast, a world heritage site, in the South-West of England. We eventually booked our accommodation for a group size of nine people at the Isle of Portland, the southern most point in the county of Dorset. The choice of destination was a safe wager as extreme cold temperatures tend to be rare - but no one had mentioned about extreme conditions, though!
As with most of our holidays, a well-planned itinerary provides a staple configuration that is relied on by the whole group. It helps us to maintain focus on the places we wish to visit yet lending the flexibility to circumvent or skip any part of the plan arising out of unforeseen circumstances - weather, fatigue, traffic conditions.
When the day finally "arrived for departure," the anxieties ran high - the weather forecast for the duration of the trip was pretty bleak. Windy, rainy and stormy. After being initially dissuaded by the notorious M25 motorway with it's massive tail-backs, we somehow managed to break free of the gridlock and reached Portland. The drive to Portland itself was uneventful other than the constant reminder of the weather to come - we were belted by heavy rains along the way.
We arrived at our cottage well after it had gotten dark and once we had settled down, the rest of the evening was spent on idle chatter and whipping up a quick dinner before we retired to bed in anticipation of the next day.
After heavy breakfast we set out to explore one the most iconic landscapes of the Jurassic Coast and one that is, arguably, the most photographed. The distance of twenty miles to Durdle Door was covered in less than an hour. The weather forecast turned out to be a false alarm and we were greeted by wonderful sunshine - despite being very windy. As we parked the car and stepped out, we were nearly blown off our feet by the winds. It was quite strong that we instinctively reached out for any form of permanent support to hold on to.The car park is located on the cliff top at the Durdle Door Holiday Park. The iconic limestone arch of Durdle Door could be seen to the right within just a few minutes of walk from the car park on a descending trail towards the beach. Despite the windy conditions that dropped the temperatures to well below freezing, there were quite a few hikers, adventure seekers and people walking their dogs. As we descended further we were confronted by a fork in the pathway, the one going to the left leading to the famous Man O'War Bay and the one to the right down to the shingle beach through a series of steep steps on the hill, to Durdle Door.
The access to Man O'War bay was blocked by the authorities on the day, as there apparently were some cracks on the rocks that had been reported and therefore not deemed safe. Durdle door, however, was accessible once we negotiated the muddy, slippery and supportless steps down to the beach. The arch was formed by the pounding of relentless wave action over centuries and the fierce winds.The group unashamedly indulged in selfies with utterly no care about unkempt hair. In the meantime, I had set up my tripod and captured a series of long-exposure shots. The one below was shot using a 10 stop ND filter with a one second exposure to indicate just a hint of movement in the water.
Once we knew that the wind-chill was too much to bear, we made a steady ascent back on the trail towards the car park. We were relieved to be back inside the car with the heating turned on high and soon we managed to get some sensation back on the limbs. We then drove for ten minutes eastward to Lulworth Cove - another popular tourist destination that can get very crowded in summers. The walk from the car park to the white pebble beach is through a gentle gradient in the road and can be reached in about five minutes.
When we arrived at the beach, it was nearly deserted - the crowd might have taken cover from the winds and the bone-chilling weather conditions. It was such a beautiful sight out towards the sea, however, we couldn't enjoy the panoramic views it offered as the wind-chill worsened. The ambient temperature was about 2°C and with the wind-chill it felt like -8°C and clearly getting progressively uncomfortable. We all agreed that we may have to revisit this site another time in the future than expose ourselves to the elements. We then returned to the car park - glad that the brisk uphill walk warmed us a bit - and ate our packed lunch inside our cars.
We then proceeded towards Old Harry Rocks located at Handfast Point and is considered the eastern-most point of the 96 mile Jurassic Coast. Even as we started to drive towards the destination, we were a bit skeptical about being able to walk the 1.5 mile trail from the Middle Beach Car Park to Old Harry Rocks, given the hostile windy conditions. We did want to see through our plan on the off chance that the winds had either subsided or perhaps not so severe at Handfast Point.
When we arrived at the Middle Beach Car Park roughly forty minutes later, the winds had definitely eased a bit and therefore we headed out in the direction of Old Harry Rocks. Half way through our walk, we came to a little clearing with a brilliant viewpoint out to sea - so we spent some time doing group pictures and I had made some pictures of the rock stacks with varying focal lengths and different lenses - the picture below is a combination of multiple images shot in burst mode and processed in Photoshop CC 2018 to result in a single image that made the water appear smooth. Having spent about twenty minutes on the spot, some members of the group felt that it was getting colder and therefore we returned to the car park to finish the day's programme and to get back to the cottage back in Portland.
The plan for the second day was to explore in and around Portland but we were not prepared for how well the weather turned out again, there was not a drop of rain. It was a beautiful, crisp and sunny morning with barely a hint of breeze. We clearly hadn't expected this benevolence from the weather gods and decided to rather use the conditions to venture farther out than just visiting Portland. We swapped the schedule with the next day's itinerary and headed out to Lyme Regis - about 35 miles north-west of Portland.
The drive to Lyme Regis was through a scenic route and there were several lay-bys along the way at different elevations to take in the views overlooking Chesil Beach and out to the sea. We managed to get to a car park adjacent to the beach, at Lyme Regis, and soon set out to explore the beautiful coastal town. It appeared that the entire town had turned up at the beach to soak in the winter sunshine to have one big party. It is a pebble beach so there was no risk of sandy floor-mats in the car later on. We stopped every few minutes to take some pictures and kept walking the beautiful promenade.
We finally reached the end of the Marine Parade and found ourselves at The Cobb. The name is synonymous with the town of Lyme Regis. It is a stone pier structure that extends about 900 feet into the sea forming a harbour. It is believed to have been in existence since the early 14th Century. The elevated section of the structure slopes at an appreciable angle towards the sea. It is one of the most photographed landmarks at Lyme Regis.
After spending a few minutes at The Cobb taking several long-exposure images, we decide to head back to the car park and get some lunch, to have at the beach.
All over South-West England, there have been sign posts at every beach that there is a fine for feeding the gulls. In the last few years the situation has worsened as more and more tourists arrive at the beaches and the seagulls have become the public enemy No.1 following spate of attacks as they have become keen opportunists, for scraps of food or just plain territorial when raising chicks. There have been reports of colonies of seagulls dive-bombing on unsuspecting elderly people, young kids and even small dogs at the beach. If you come across anyone mention the term "flying rats," you can be pretty sure they are referring to the Seagulls. We all kept one "beady" eye on these belligerent birds while taking a bite off our sandwiches.
After about twenty minutes of nervous eating with a meerkat-like warning system established in the group to keep a look out for the gulls, we decided to head back to our cottage for some bit of rest and relaxation. On the return drive, we briefly stopped at Chesil Beach on the Weymouth/ Portland side to witness the sunset. Chesil Beach is a barrier beach made of shingles and pebbles and stretches approximately eighteen miles westward from Portland and protects some of the low-lying coastal villages from flooding. The beach is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
When it eventually got very dark, we drove back the remaining five miles to the cottage to retire for the evening. We could afford a late wake up the next morning as the plan involved soaking in the sights in and around Portland, within a five mile radius.
When some of us woke up the next morning it was nearly 8am and took more than adequate time to wring out the laziness out of the system before we started having discussions about the sites we were about to see that day. Eventually at around 11am we stepped out of the cottage to visit Portland Bill Lighthouse and nearby Pulpit Rock. What we hadn't counted on was the weather. There was no semblance of the calm of the previous day and the weather forecast for the day was not ideal for sight-seeing. When we exited the cottage, we were buffeted by howling winds and soon we all jumped into the relative safety of the car. The distance to Portland Bill was only two miles i.e., a very short drive. As we came to the final stretch of the road with a slight descent, we were in awe of the enormous waves crashing in the rocks. The swells were huge, but there was a sliver of sunlight in the south-easterly direction from a break in the clouds. Looking towards the west the sky looked menacing with dark and mean clouds ready to drop tons of water at the slightest provocation.
We were aided by strong winds on our backs when we started to walk away from the car park and the Lighthouse to the rocky rugged appendage that jutted out of the landscape into the sea. Now it was just a question of finding the right photographic composition looking towards the Lighthouse while trying to capture the waves crashing against the rocks. The image below was captured at a shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second.
There were a few other photographers with their gear and one of them frantically waved at us to get back to the safety of the car - he mentioned that we will soon be hit by a major squall accompanied by extremely high winds and it will be very unsafe to be standing on the bluff with the waves crashing. No sooner had he said and left, we were hit by a sudden force of wind that made it difficult to put even one step in front of us. We now had to negotiate a very strong headwind to get back to the car park and the distance of 150 yards felt like a mile. Some of the other visitors to the Lighthouse were caught off-guard as well and they took whatever little shelter they managed to find. Eventually we managed to reach our cars looking completely disheveled but safe. There was no more appetite for visiting Pulpit Rock which is another 100 yards from the car park and we agreed to head to Weymouth - a distance of about five miles. We indulged in a bit of retail therapy at Weymouth and bought some souvenirs of the trip to Jurassic Coast.
We returned from Weymouth at around 3pm and we realised there was another opportunity to visit the Lighthouse for a shot of the sunset. We reached Portland Bill in the nick of time but was dismayed to find that every vantage point was taken by landscape photographers trying to get a shot similar to the one I had in mind. Eventually, I managed to find a secluded spot with some interesting rock-pools as a foreground interest to frame my composition. More importantly the position obscured other photographers from my frame. Eventhough, the winds had subsided a bit, it was still quite ferocious. We were soon on our way back to the cottage in the hope that I managed to get some usable pictures of the trip. For the next morning, it was time to check out and return home.
The next day we reached home at around 2pm and suddenly it was time to plan the New Year festivities. When the group got together later that evening, we were quite pleased at how the weather turned out the way it did - even the day at Portland and Weymouth was only splotchy for a few minutes. We knew the weather could have been a lot worse. The entire holiday could have been washed out by the rains. We had, atleast, seen through our plans to a greater or lesser extent barring a couple of sights in Portland.
The Intrepid Travellers The next holiday could be with the larger group with a thoroughly planned itinerary and to a place where the weather is more predictable. The flip side of planning British Holidays is the fickle nature of the weather. Could the next one be in Spain? or in Malta? - be sure to watch this space!