The Independent, Sunday 21 November 1999
When the shooting stops
Bob Jenkins discovers Dorset's Lulworth Range -
From Monday to Friday, the six-
But most weekends -
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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."
News from 1999