There’s a great thing about walking in the English countryside. The tea-room. All good walks should begin or end at one.
At Worth Matravers, deep in Dorset, next to the duck pond on the miniscule green is the quintessential, quaint English tea-shop. Full of antiques and mismatched china, embroidered knick-knacks, sugar basins with cubed sugar and tongs, old advertising posters, – and people. We could just squeeze ourselves into places at one end of a large table for six. Telling ourselves we needed strength to face the hills, but showing admirable restraint, we ordered the ‘sharing’ cream tea. Two warm, soft scones – one plain, one fruit, apple and blackberry jam, served in a tiny jug bearing the faces of Charles and Diana, and clotted cream in a little shot glass. Strong black tea was served in a teapot almost too heavy to lift. The cafe dog, ears almost as large as it’s little body, jumped up and down at the foot of the table. You’d think he’d be sick of scones living there, but he seemed to have acquired a taste for them.
Suitably fortified, with a backward glance at the slab of coffee-and-walnut cake that the man at the other end of the table was tucking into, we tore ourselves away, thinking we’d better get on with the real business of walking.
We were heading for one of my favourite places on earth: Dancing Ledge. The very name is a delight. It’s the sea that does the dancing – over the ledge, and when the waves are high, over the rocks, where we always sit to eat sandwiches. Maybe it’s the tea shop, maybe it’s the timeless landscape, but at the ledge, time does that weird thing of compressing and stretching, standing still while running forward and back. Before me couples waltz over the slabs, men clutch women around the waist; coy looks,clasped hands, and love fill the air. It actually happened. William Masters Hardy, in his book of 1910, tells of a picnic where the Swanage Brass and Reed Band played, and there was a lobster tea, ‘liquid refreshment’ and dancing until six. Heavenly!
Nowadays people are pulled by the pool cut into the ledge. With cries of ‘It’s perfect’, a large family placed themselves at its edge. The young lads jumped and belly-flopped into the salt water, the first admitting to the others that it was ‘a bit nippy’. Even grandpa clambered in, and lay floating on his back, arms and legs splayed star-fish style, while he watched the rolling clouds above. Their excited black spaniel ran non-stop circles around the perimeter, wanting badly to join in but lacking the courage to make the leap. We gazed at the cliff, the cracks in the rock, the colours, the clouds and the sea, and tried to decide if the tide was coming or going. Time stood still and we lost ourselves in a plethora of moments.
We walked back, following the cliff edge. Long grass waved dreamily in the breeze, fragile, feathery tops weaving back and forth. Ridiculously purple thistles stood proud, and creamy lacey cow parsley rolled across hilltops. The music of the sea sounded far below. The smell of salt and marsh wrapped around us. Up and down, past old quarry workings, more ledges and a lone man, exploring rock pools. The last couple of kilometres were never ending – inland, away from the sea and always up, hard on the calves and the mind.
There was one consolation – after such a work-out, I’d be able to have another scone tomorrow.
There is also a great pub at Worth Matravers, serves only traditional pies and cake!