Start: All Saints Church – Wyke Regis
Finish: Wyke Village
Distance: Approx 5km
Terrain: Mainly flat but can be muddy, pebbly and slippery along the beach
Directions from Weymouth: Head southwest on B3155, turn left onto Westwey Road/A354, continue to follow A354, turn right onto Wyke Rd, turn left onto Portland Road/B3156, at the roundabout, take the 2nd exit onto Portland Rd/A354 and here is Wyke Regis.
Parking: On street
This walk takes you through the charming old village of Wyke Regis and a short section of the spectacular Fleet Lagoon, which is part of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast.
Wyke Regis is a village that used to be 1½ miles south-west from Weymouth but with modern development the two have now merged together.
Wyke Regis takes its name from the old word ‘wic’ and there are various opinions as to its meaning – it may be ‘dairy farm’ or harbour/fishery. The ‘Regis’ indicates royal ownership dating back to the 13th century, when the village is named as ‘Kingeswic’ in some documents. The earliest written recording of Wyke is the charter of Ethelred dated 968A.D.
But it is even much older than that. Iron age hearth constructions have been located. Roman occupation is evident and there are suggestions that there was a saxon village layout.
A church has stood on this site since as early as 1172.
As the port of Weymouth grew so did pressure for a larger church to be built at Wyke Regis to accommodate the growing number of parishioners. The church you see today, All Saints, was built between 1453 and 1455. It acted as the mother church for Weymouth until the building of Holy Trinity Church on North Quay in 1836.
All Saints Church architecture is described as “Perpendicular,” meaning more regular and mechanical designs. It was designed is way as it required less skilled craftsmen to build, which was an important factor after the Black Death of 1348 which had wiped out about half the population of England.
The type of stone used to build the church was brought from quarries at Upwey and Portland. But money was scarce so stone was used from the previous church and thousands of oyster shells were used as packing behind the mortar.
Some of the gargoyles around the outside of the church are eye-catching, with the one on the south-west corner of the tower holding a recorder-like instrument whilst the central one on the north side of the tower is of a woman with a monkey peeping over her head-dress.
In 1552 the bells were confiscated by the Crown but they were all gradually replaced by 1723.
Enter the church through the south porch which retains its 15th century door.
The corbel heads in the aisles and tower were nearly all taken from the previous church.
On the first two pillars of the nave are two stone carved heads of King Henry VI and his Queen, Margaret of Anjou, who were on the English throne in 1455 when the Church was built. The remaining nave corbels were carved when the church was built.
There are many memorials inside the church. The painted Royal Coat of Arms on the north aisle west wall, which commemorates the restoration of Charles II in 1660, was put up in 1714 by order of George I and displayed his Coat of Arms. On his death the church officials economised by simply adding another stroke to make it represent George II. On the accession to the throne in 1760 of George III they repeated the exercise and simply added another stroke – but unfortunately they forgot that the Coat of Arms of George III was different to that of George II.
Take a look at the large Earl of Abergavenny Memorial. It was erected in 2005 to mark second centenary of the sinking the Earl of Abergavenny. Out of 400 passengers and crew 250 died including Captain John Wordsworth, who was the brother of the famous poet William.(Please take a look at my blog for more information on this shipwreck). John Wordsworth is buried in the church graveyard in an unmarked location.
In early times many of the pew seats were allocated by the church wardens to particular individuals or families living in the Parish. Some of the pews have carved on them the badges of the 3rd Battalion Dorset Regiment, who were billeted in Wyke during the First World War.
There is a long list of incumbents of All Saints, but there are two that especially stand out. Firstly, Rev.George Chamberlaine, the incumbent from 1809 until 1837, who was responsible for the building of Holy Trinity Church at Weymouth. Chamberlaine Road in Wyke Regis is named after him. Secondly, Humphrey Henchman. Henchman joined the Kings forces in 1643 during the Civil War and gave his name to the expression “henchman” – reputedly because of his firm commitment to the cause of the King.
As you leave the church take a while to explore the graveyard. There are some fascinating headstones to ponder.
Amongst those buried here are some local well-known names. One of the most famous is the 19th century artist John William Upham. The Weymouth architect James Hamilton is also buried here, as is the scientific pioneer William Thompson who took the world’s first underwater photograph in the locality.
One of its most notorious burials is that of the smuggler William Lewis. In 1822 he was on board his ship the Active when it was approached and given chase by the Revenue men on Pigmy. Ordered to lower her sails, the crew of the Active did so, but a shot was fired from the Pigmy and struck Lewis, killing him. At the inquest into the death of Lewis, the jury concluded that he had been murdered and that the shot had been “wantonly and maliciously fired”
On the upper part of the headstone a picture is engraved representing the sea, with two vessels upon it (a schooner with two masts, and a cutter with one mast); and also a part of the coast, with a small tower upon it. His bitter wife had this epitaph carved on the stone
Of life bereft, by fell design
I mingle with my fellow clay
On God’s Protection I recline
To save me on the Judgment Day
There shall each blood-stained soul appear
Repent, all, ere it be too late
Or else a dreadful doom you’ll hear,
For God will soon avenge my fat
Whilst in the graveyard look across All Saints Road and you will see what was once Manor Farm. Thought to have originally been built around the same time as the church, it was an important part of life in the village until 1980s.
Leave the grave yard via the lychgate. “Lych” is an old saxon word that means corpse. In medieval times the dead would be carried to the lychgate where the priest would conduct the first part of the service.
Turn right down Portland Road and then turn right again into Chamberline Road until you reach the village square connecting to Shrubbery Lane.
Wyke Regis has many beautiful and old buildings. As you walk along Chamberline Road look out for No 10 as it survives from the late Elizabethan era. No 8 is Georgian.
Be careful not to take a quick dip in the horse trough.
Opposite the trough, on the corner of All Saints Road, was once situated the Church school. It was established from two converted cottages and there was room for around 65 children. It was built to accommodate the increase of population due to the building of The Whitehead Torpedo Factory. The building was pulled down in 1907 having been replaced by a new school in Victoria Road. The present Memorial Hall is erected on the site.
The centre of village life in Wyke Regis was always the square, which is in Chamberlaine Road at its meeting with Shrubbery Lane.
The picturesque General Store dominates the square. To the left is the Old Forge where the Blacksmith would have shod the horses from the local farms. Nearby once stood the popular Swan Inn but is now a private residence. Next door to the Swan is Hamilton House which was once the home of the architect James Hamilton.
Turn left into Shrubbery Lane – there are some pleasant houses located along this street, such as Baytree Cottages. No 1 was in the family for four generations and had an outside toilet until 1985. The land opposite these cottages was redeveloped into a housing estate. This land, enclosed by a tall wall, was formerly the site of Wyke House. Take care with the tight, blind bend. Once you have finished exploring Shrubbery Lane turn back to the Square.
Positioned on the old High Street is Albert Inn, which is now a listed building. It was a popular drinking hole for 160 years but unfortunately pulled its last pint in 2014. The name honoured Francis Albert the husband of Queen Victoria. It was used as a mortuary after the sinking of the Earl of Abergavenny. Some say that the inn exhibits ghostly manifestations including both a sailor and a soldier which are thought to be victims of the Earl of Abergavenny.
Running next to the Albert is Westhill Road. This will take you into the direction of the Fleet. There are some pretty houses along this road including Burgundy House which is a much altered 17th Century building. Near this house is the hard to miss Wyke Castle. This Victorian nonsense was built around 1855 in Portland stone by French exile Andrew Chadwick Fenoulhet. In the early 1920s it was brought by Edmund Selous and his wife Fanny Margaret Maxwell. Selous was a naturalist and once decorated the glass roofed with his collection of butterflies. During their time at the castle, Fanny Margaret Maxwell founded the local branch of the Women’s Institute in 1923, and became its first president. It is a private property and not open to the public.
Turn down Pirates Lane which starts beside the castle. Follow it until you reach the South West Path and the Fleet. Turn left, either walk along the path or beach.
Chesil Beach is a pebble beach 18 miles long and stretches north-west from Portland to West Bay. For much of its length it is separated from the mainland by an area of saline water called the Fleet Lagoon. The Fleet stretches from Abbottsbury in the West to Ferrybridge in the East, where it opens in to Portland Harbour. The waters of the Fleet are tidal, being filled and partially emptied twice each day by the ebb and flow of the sea under Ferrybridge and through the harbour. But the lagoon is also fed by fresh water streams along its 8 mile length. Because of this, the water of the Fleet is brackish, neither fresh nor as salty as the sea. Its width varies from 900 metres at Littlesea down to just 65 metres in the Narrows. The deepest part is 4-5 metres deep, but most is less than 2 metres deep.
Chesil Beach and the Fleet provides a unique habitat for a vast range of fauna and flora. The Fleet is listed as a Ramsar site, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation Interest.
The mudflats and shallows waters attract wading birds such as Oystercatcher, Curlew, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank. Cormorant’s fish for eels and flounders on the Fleet, and are often seen sitting in poles. Gray Herons and Little Egrets are also common.
In the winter you may spot Brent Geese from Siberia and Wigeon from Russia who come here to escape the freezing temperatures of Eastern Europe.
In spring the fleet welcomes the Common and Little Terns, who have flown over 5,000 miles from West Africa. The Chesil Beach side of the Fleet Lagoon is an important breeding ground for the protected Little Tern. To prevent nests being disturbed some areas of the beach are closed off during the nesting season. It can be noisy at its breeding colony where courtship starts with an aerial display involving the male calling and carrying a fish to attract a mate which chases him up high before he descends, gliding with wings in a ‘V’.
There are also important populations of Gadwall, Pochard, Red-breasted Merganser, Pintail, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Teal and Coot.
The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot a fox or hare, they live along the Fleet and can sometimes be seen running along the beach.
There have been 300 species of flowering plants recorded on Chesil and in the Fleet, the most obvious being the rugged coastal plant called Thrift(Sea Pink) which flowers between May and September.
Approximately 30 species of fish have been recorded in the Fleet including Bass, Grey Mullet and Two-spot Goby. But there is a policy of no fishing at the lagoon unless you have a permit.
There is now a commercial oyster farm on the sandbanks on the north side of the lower Fleet. The species farmed is the Pacific oyster, rather than the local oyster. The racks are clearly visible at low tide.
Past the oyster racks on the bank, partially hidden by grass, is a Second World War pill box. Until the 1970s, a string of World War Two pill boxes stretched the length of the Chesil as part of defences to prevent the beach being used for German troop landings. Today, just a few remain.
It was here also that some of the early prototypes of Barnes Wallis’s “bouncing bombs” of the Dam Busters fame, ( used to destroy the industrial and domestic centres of Germany during the Second World War) were first tested. A Wellington bomber plane had been converted to accommodate a dummy bomb and, with Mutt Summers as pilot and Barnes Wallis as observer, the plane set out along Chesil Beach towards Portland. The whole exercise was very ‘hush-hush’, so much so that the anti-aircraft batteries on Portland hadn’t been told of the test flight and, on spotting the now unrecognisable shape of the converted Wellington, they opened fire. Fortunately, they were not very good shots, so the crew, bomber and bomb survived.
As you walk along the Fleet (and Weymouth in general) see if you can spot any boundary stones, which identify the start of a land boundary.
An unusual custom continues today along Chesil Beach. It is the Beating of the Bounds which recognises the importance of the parish boundary. It takes place further West near Littlesea but I feel it deserves a mention.
The ritual of “Beating the Bounds” dates back to Roman times. The custom involves the local inhabitants of a village gathering at their parish boundary to bless the crops, pray and at certain points beat the stone with sticks, switches and birches. However, more often or not it was the children of the parish who would be beaten to ensure that they remembered the exact location of the boundary.
Knowing ones parish boundaries has little significance these days and therefore the importance of the custom has diminished over the years. The inhabitants of the Isle of Portland confirm their boundaries with officials of the Court Leet and the Head Boy and Girl from the local school. They gather at the Bound Stone on Chesil Beach and the pupils are ceremoniously beaten – but only every 7 years. The next one will be 2016 on Thursday 5th May.
As you wander along this atmospheric stretch of the water it is easy to imagine the days gone by when it was a popular area for smugglers. Smugglers and smuggling were a way of life for many in Dorset in the 18th and 19th Centuries. If you weren’t actively doing it or enjoying its spoils, you were probably supposed to be stopping it as one of the King’s “Revenue Men”. Smuggling for many was a profitable business as taxes on imported goods like tea, brandy, gin and tobacco rose to help finance expensive wars with the French. Smugglers landing on Chesil beach in the pitch black of night were able to judge their position to within a mile or two by simply picking up a handful of shingle, and gauging the average size of the stones. At the Portland end, the pebbles are the size of potatoes, and then progressively slim down to pea-shingle on the beach at Burton Bradstock.
Smugglers would drag their stolen barrels over Chesil Beach, and sunk in the calmer waters of the Fleet for collection at a more convenient time.
Pass the caravan park. Keep walking until you reach Ferrybridge Inn.
In front of you, in the distance, you can see the Isle of Portland. Until 1839 the Isle of Portland was linked with the mainland only by an almost impassable Chesil Beach. The 16th Century antiquarian John Leland describes a ferry at Smallmouth Beach (the small beach opposite the inn) which consisted of a basic barge and a rope with windlasses poweredby a horse rotating around. Near Ferrybridge Inn stood Passage House where the ferryman lived.
In November 1824 Weymouth and Portland suffered a tremendous storm. Ships were wrecked, houses collapsed, and part of Weymouth Eslanade collapsed with the lost of life. Ferrybridge proved particularly vulnerable to the ravages of the storm. Passage House was ripped apart by the fury of the waves, whilst Richard Best, the ferryman with over thirty-five years’ experience, was drowned in his struggles to rescue a dragoon and his stranded horse.
After Best’s drowning a campaign was started to build a bridge and in 1839 a timber structure was finally built – ending centuries of isolation.
But the Great Gale of 1824 was not by any means the only storm to cause havoc along this coastline. Over the years numerous shipwrecks have occurred along this hazardous coastline. One such wreck was the Royal Adelaide on the 25th November 1872 which floundered on Chesil Beach near Ferrybridge. There were 67 on board and after a heroic rescue attempt all but seven were saved. But the following day four more died – not shipwreck victims but wreckers who had over indulged on the gin and brandy that had been part of Adelaide’s cargo. It was usual at wrecks for hundreds of people to arrive and salvage the cargo. The Church school that you passed earlier has a register showing many absences in November 1872 due to pupils salvaging the Royal Adelaide.
If you want to extend this walk continue along Portland Beach Road to the Chesil Beach Visitor centre, approx a ten minute. It is a centre for wildlife and environmental exhibitions and boat trip bookings.
Otherwise retrace your steps along the fleet until you reach the turning to Wyke Regis.
Follow the path as it cuts through fields with horses.
At the end of the path turn left along Westhill Road. You will pass a house named Smugglers Haunt, which is on the right hand side, on the corner of Bohay’s Drive. Believed to date back to 1750 this historic building retains its old world charm. It has been said that the three windows to the side elevation which face the Fleet, were used for signalling to Smugglers that the coast was clear to bring in their bounty!
Carry on along Westhill Road, past Wyke Castle, and soon you will reach Wyke Village Square.
I hope you have enjoyed this walk.