West Lulworth

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News - 2003

Daily Echo, Bournemouth - 22 April 2003

Celebration of Lulworth

TRAGIC soldier-poet Rupert Brooke called it "the most beautiful place in England"; Hardy was a regular visitor and Keats spent his last happy day on English soil clambering over its rocks.

The exiled King Charles X of France held court at the Castle and it was long believed that Napoleon himself once stole ashore in the Cove to check its suitability as a starting point for an invasion of England.

Today, we know it as one of the Dorset coast's most popular tourist attractions with its crammed car park, visitors bottlenecked to the sea along Main Road and then scattered over the stony beach and cliff faces in the Cove itself.

Lulworth - whether East, West, Castle or Cove - can still spark the imagination and with due cause according to a new book celebrating the famed Purbeck villages.

The Book of Lulworth* charts Lulworth's lengthy history from the formation of the spectacular geological grotesques at Durdle Door, Stair Hole and Dungy Head; to the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001.

The book is littered with the robust names of the coast's many features - Hambury Tout, Bull Rock, Bat's Head, Man o' War Cove, Scratchy Bottom, Arish Mell - but, as ever in such histories, the most fascinating episodes involve the ordinary folk of the villages.

Farming, fishing and smuggling form a large part of the story of their lives and there is no shortage of tales.

Illustrative artist Molly Brett, whose work appeared in Enid Blyton's books, captured the eight-year-old Brian O'Hare showing his prowess with a shrimp net in the 1930s. Somewhat more seditiously, the Lulworth Millers were known as both great fishermen and great smugglers and these family traditions were proudly upheld, apparently with the tacit approval of the local gentry and landowners.

Another common factor in bringing small, rural communities to life is the faintly benevolent presence of a little myth and mystery. Lulworth has its Phantom Army seen marching across what are now the Army firing ranges in 1678. Legend has it the appearance of a ghost army is the presage to a war, but the Monmouth Rebellion did not flare up for another seven years. Even in recent times, fog-shrouded ghostly forms have been spotted, and according to the spinster Loader sisters, who collected folklore for West Lulworth WI in 1932, on nights such as these "no rabbits run and no dog will go near".

Lulworth soil has been trodden by royalty many times since James I became the first ruling monarch to visit. Charles II fled the Great Plague of 1665 to take refuge at Lulworth Castle; while Maria Anne Smythe, widow of landowner Edward Weld, went on to marry the Prince of Wales - later George IV. The wedding went ahead without the consent of King George III (himself a visitor to Lulworth) and was duly declared invalid as the Prince was married off to Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Not that his dalliance with Maria was to end, the couple relaunched their most public affair shortly after the marriage.

And the villages continue to exert their charm on visitors and locals alike. Comic actor Arthur English recalled his posting to Lulworth as an instructor at the Armoured Fighting Vehicles School: "It's nice to think the boys at Lulworth still remember me," he said. "A lot of water's passed under the bridge since I was there - some of it pretty chilly. But I don't have to run to Wool to catch the passion wagon to Bournemouth any more; and it seems a long time since I had a pint in the Castle."

The Book of Lulworth by Rodney Legg, £19.95, Halsgrove. ISBN 1 84114 141 0


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