I first struggled up to the summit of Golden Cap , after consuming a couple of pints of cider in the Anchor Inn at Seatown fifteen years ago. Nowadays my fitness and my drinking habits are very much improved and instead of a demanding challenge I can find the walk a pleasure. I have climbed it many times since, from both directions, on my own, with a friend and with T and it has now become rather a tradition that each time I am in the locality I make the pilgrimage to the highest point on the South Coast.
Probably like a lot of people I prefer walking when there are few others around and so this being Boxing Day T and I paid our £2 to park in the car park at Seatown early on Boxing Day morning, hoping to escape the crowds. Although why I should consider this as my “tradition” and not allow anyone the same opportunity is incredibly selfish of me!
No-one was around as we joined the well-trodden coastal path through scrubland and open fields and quite quickly began to climb.
One solitary runner passed us and amazed us with his fitness as The further we walked the more far-reaching the views became. Looking backwards down towards the 18th century Anchor Inn we could quickly appreciate how far we had climbed.
As we reached the summit at 188 m Charmouth and Lyme appeared to our west.
Someone had placed a Christmas decoration at the foot of the trig point and we breathed in the clear fresh morning air as we took in the spectacular views.
A Labrador wearing his Christmas collar was running joyfully across the summit and his owners took our picture before we descended towards the ruined church at Stanton St Gabriel. This is all that remains as evidence of a once thriving community of 23 families settled around a village green here in 1650. The population gradually shifted to nearby Morcombelake. This area is one of my “special places”. Somewhere that the air always feels stilled and the presence of God very close.
I have a great fondness for deserted and abandoned churches – I think because I don’t see the sadness, but I look at them as evidence of the faith of our ancestors – a faith which for me endures today. The sun was now rising further into the sky and we stopped for thermos flask tea.
I sat and thought generally about the concept of “tradition”. Particularly at Christmas time so many of us have our own ways of doing things. Perhaps cultural and family habits that have been passed down through generations and give a sense of comfort and belonging. Tradition can bring families together and enable people to reconnect with friends. Many of our memories of “special” times come from such traditions and they give us an opportunity to celebrate the things that really matter in life.
However, although this link with the past can be profound and meaningful there is always the space in our lives for new ways of doing things and new traditions to be forged. People pass away, but the empty space at the table is often replaced by a new baby in the family. (“One in; one out” – as my mother bluntly puts it!). How many “traditional” families are there around nowadays, anyway – we come together to find new ways of accommodating and welcoming people. Some chose to spend time alone. In particular, T and I enjoyed the peace and quiet away in Dorset this Christmas and chose not to take part in the commercialisation of the event.
I think also that establishing a Tradition (be it climbing Golden Cap, opening presents in a certain order, welcoming someone in a certain way) offers a certain simplicity to life and an excellent context for meaningful pause and reflection.
Onwards from St Gabriel’s it would have been possible to climb Stonebarrow further down the coast but we considered that we did not need to burn off anywhere near the 6,000 calories the BBC had claimed that people consumed on Christmas Day and so we decided to return skirting the edges of Langdon Hill. As we got near to Seatown it became apparent that everyone else had now got out of bed! So many were enjoying the fresh, clear weather to take their traditional Boxing Day Walk.
The Anchor Inn is excellent for refreshments but we had bought our own and were able to walk along the shingle beach and eat our sandwiches whilst listening to that wonderful sound of waves dragging shingle.
As a child I used to think that the sea stopped at night and remember being amazed at learning it was never turned off and that its movement was eternal. To borrow a friend’s recent thoughts – the seawater retreats to enable the waves to move forward – I like this idea. Sometimes we may retreat but we continue to move on and like those waves I will continue to return and climb Golden Cap for as long as I can.
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