This outing was the recommendation of the owner of our B&B, and a very good recommendation it proved to be! You can only visit Tyneham at the weekend, and in the school summer holidays; the rest of the time it is inaccessible because it is situated on Ministry of Defence land used as for military firing ranges.
Until 1943 Tyneham was a typical small English village, with a church, school-house, cottages and a nearby manor house. But in November of that year the army requisitioned the village and surrounding land to use for preparations for the D-Day Landings, and the people were forced to leave. As most of them didn’t own their land (it belonged to the Squire) they received compensation only for the produce in their gardens.
At the time, the residents fully expected to be able to return to their homes after the end of the war. They left this notice pinned on the door of the church:
“Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.”
However, the end of the war came and went, and the village remained in army possession. There were various meetings organised to lobby for its return, and a public enquiry, but the government produced a white paper setting out the need for land for military training etc. and arguing that in those circumstances they didn't need to honour their pledge to return the land.
Today’s Tyneham stands as a testimonial to those who once lived there and to the sacrifice they made (albeit not through choice) in giving up their homes for the country’s “war effort”. The cottages are all ruins, in each of which a moving plaque tells the story of the families who once lived there. The church has been restored and commemorates the lives of all these families. It also has a timeline giving the full history of the village set against the national and international events that affected it (see my photo 5 for an extract, or http://www.isleofpurbeck.com/tynetime.html for the full timeline).
Also restored is the old school-house, which for me was the most fascinating of all Tyneham’s buildings. It is laid out as if for a nature lesson, and visitors are asked to imagine that the children have just gone out for a nature walk, leaving exercise books still open on their desks. I particularly liked seeing the teacher’s comments in the books, and also the row of coat-hooks by the door. We met a local man there who was filming a DVD, and he told us that two of the children whose essays were on display were still alive and he hoped to bring them to the school to film them there and capture their memories – what a wonderful idea!
As the timeline in the church says:
“Whether you agree with the Army's continuing presence or not, the Tyneham Valley has escaped the unsightly tourism developments, only too prominent along the adjacent coastline. It has been untouched by modern intensive farming practices and is a haven for wildlife, supporting many rare and threatened species.
Tyneham is a valley frozen in time.”
The website below lists opening dates for Tyneham and the various walks in the surrounding area, and gives much more detail about some of the people who once lived here.
Directions: Drive south from Corfe along the A351 and turn right at the sign for Church Knowle. Beyond the hamlet of Steeple go left up on to Creech Hill and left again through the MOD Firing Range gates down to Tyneham village. There’s a large car-park charging £2 on an honour system.
- Historical Travel
From Corfe Castle it is an easy drive to some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in England - the so-called Jurasic Coast. This is a designated World Heritage site, a status achieved because of the area’s unique insight into the Earth Sciences. It gives a clear picture of a geological “walk through time” covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The rocks record 185 million years of the Earth's history, and a visit here is likely to get even the least scientific traveller reaching for a geology text-book, or if not, at least pausing to study the rock formations in awe.
We spent a wonderful day at and around Lulworth Cove, and if you'd like to explorre that part of the coast I have a separate page dedicated to it. As well as Lulworth Cove itself there is nearby Stair Hole, and little further away Durdle Door and Man of War Bay (all of which I preferred as they were much less crowded than the Cove itself). I've included one photo of each of these here to give you a flavour of what to expect.
You'll need to be reasonably fit to get the best out a visit here, as the cliff paths are steep in places, but a little effort will bring real rewards!
I’d remembered the Blue Pool from a childhood visit, and was keen to visit while in the area. The pool is actually an old clay quarry, and it is the very fine clay particles suspended in the water and diffracting the light which gives it its distinctive colour. You will see photos of it as a deep turquoise, but the rather dull weather on the day of our visit resulted instead in a soft green colouring – still attractive, but much less dramatic.
The main attraction is here are the many paths that wind through the surrounding trees and give glimpses, or sometimes longer views, of the pretty pool. A simple walk around the pool, stopping now and then for photos, will take about 20-30 minutes, but you could spend longer exploring some of the side paths or simply sitting on one of the many benches provided to enjoy the tranquillity of the water. The high point for us though was spotting this pretty little vole down at the water’s edge.
The tea room here serves light meals and snacks. Its terrace offers nice views of the pool, though we ate inside as rain was threatening. Two fairly ordinary toasted sandwiches and cold drinks to accompany them cost us just under £8.00.
A small museum showing the history of the clay industry in the area, and a collection of plants for sale complete the attractions here. All in all, it makes for a pleasant couple of hours, but isn’t in my view the “must see” attraction that leaflets claim.
The Blue Pool is open in summer only, i.e. 1st March to 30th November, from 9:30am to 5.00pm (later at the height of the summer season). Admission costs £5.00 for adults, £2.50 for children 5-14 (under 5s go free) and £3.80 for seniors and concessions. I think these prices are a little steep for what you get, but we had a “2 for 1” voucher from Corfe Castle and only paid £5.00 for the two of us.
Worth Matravers is a pretty village a few miles to the south of Corfe Castle. It has a duck pond, a church, some pretty cottages and a great tea-room, where we enjoyed an excellent Dorset cream tea – the perfect place to sit out a summer shower. Strolling around the village we also came across a little artist’s studio (really just a converted greenhouse) where we bought a couple of greetings cards, reproductions of water-colours of local scenes.
The main feature in the village is the Church of St Nicholas, which dates back to Norman times and is one of the oldest in Dorset. In its churchyard is the grave of a local farmer, Benjamen Jesty, who in 1774 developed a smallpox vaccine based on cowpox inoculations, which he used to protect his family from the disease. This was 25 years before the more famous Dr Edward Jenner developed his successful vaccine in a similar way.
Near the car park north of the village is the Square and Compass pub, an idiosyncratic local institution which also houses a mini museum featuring locally found fossils and items from shipwrecks. And a short drive beyond the village is a parking area from where you can walk to St Aldham’s Chapel on the headland, but I’m afraid the rain defeated us and we returned to the village for the aforementioned cream tea, so I can’t describe this walk for you.
Directions: From the A351 just west of Swanage follow signs to Acton and from there to Worth Matravers. A Pay and Display car park is signposted just north of the village centre.
While visiting Tyneham we also took one of the walks in the area, an easy 20-25 minute stroll to Worbarrow Bay. The path runs between woodland on one side and a hill marked out for firing targets on the other. A little before you reach the sea you pass a row of cottages, all that remain on the one-time village of Worbarrow (like Tyneham requisitioned during the war). The path emerges at the eastern end of Worbarrow Bay, and a short downward scramble takes you onto the pebble beach. Here you can walk by the sea, look for fossils (I thought I’d found one but now I’ve got it home I’m not so sure!) or simply relax and watch the waves come in. The bay is much less crowded than popular Lulworth Cove and its neighbours, but on the downside was a little scruffy and rubbish strewn. A sign when we visited was advertising a “rubbish pick-up” the following weekend, which seemed definitely needed.
At the point where the path ends there are a couple of picnic tables, and signs describe the village as it once was and the lives of those who lived there. You can return to Tyneham by the same path, or follow a slightly longer route along the ridge of the hill to the east. A leaflet on sale in the church (50p) describes this and several other walks in the area.
By the way, I’ve also seen this spelt as Warbarrow but I think I’ve used the more usual spelling of the two
Directions: From Tyneham car-park follow signs away from the village towards the farm, then turn right and follow the gravel path