Bank holiday weekend, the sun is shining and the temperature finally climbing. There’s only one thing for it : head for the coast. I love being by the sea, but geography and lockdown have kept me away from it for far too long. In fact, I haven’t seen the coast or had a sea swim since my trip to Kent last summer. Too long!
Despite chomping at the bit to get to a beach, I knew I’d need to choose wisely. Who could forget the scenes last summer at popular UK beaches, with day trippers packed in cheek by jowl and social distancing not getting a look in.
I love the traditional British seaside but I fancied something a bit out of the ordinary. So when I found a beach accessed via an abandoned village, that you had to walk to because its not accessible by car and that you can only visit when the army isn’t live firing because its part of the military ranges, I knew I’d found the one.
Tucked in the hills at the top of the bay sits Tyneham village. I call it ‘abandoned’ but that’s not really accurate. The villagers didn’t abandon their home, they were forcibly evacuated. In December 1943, the village and 7,500 acres of land around it were commandeered by the war office. 252 villagers were relocated, believing they’d return after the war was over. For those who’d be using the village in their absence, a touching note was pinned to the church door ending with the line, ‘We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly’.
The church in today is one of the best preserved buildings in the village. It sits in a well kept (and recently in use, there were some fairly recent burials) church yard and is home to a small museum about Tyneham. In tribute, the interior church walls have been painted with the names of those who left.
The only other restored building in the village is the school house. Tyneham might seem small and secluded by modern standards but historically, home to a busy post office and nearby coastguard station, it was a vibrant community. It was also the centre of education locally, with the village school educating children aged 4-14 from Tyneham and outlying farms and villages.
The school house has been restored inside and out to give an idea of what life was like for those attending. Desks hold reprints of original school work from the school and rows of coat hooks at the entrance are labelled with the names of former pupils. I wonder what became of them?
Former pupils might have gone on to all kinds of adventures after their days in Tyneham, but the school itself closed before the evacuation. Dwindling pupil numbers led to its closure and the building briefly found new purpose as the village hall.
Elsewhere in the village , skeletons of buildings remain but none are restored or in particularly good condition. Some are so dangerous, access is forbidden. I can’t see the MoD working towards any kind of restoration so I guess for those buildings, it’s the end.
Of everything in the village, it was finding some old fireplaces in a row of former terraced cottages that tugged my heart strings a bit. Maybe I’m going soft but I think, especially in a rural village, the fire place would have been the heart of the home. To see hearth still standing while the home crumbles around them is a bit poetic, isn’t it?
The ruins of the terraced buildings is all that remains of Post Office Row. Tyneham Post Office started out life as a bakery, but converted when it was realised the village would be better served by a post office. The post office was home to the only telephone in the village until a Tyneham landmark was installed outside.
The Tyneham Telephone Box. In 1929 the villagers were given their own elegant, white telephone box in front of the post office. The telephone box survived WW2, the evacuation and being situated on military ranges… only to be destroyed in an accident in the 1980s. FYI, it wasn’t the army who messed up this time; it was a private production company making a film around the village.
The phone box standing on the edge of the village today is a bit of a Frankenstein creation with bits of the original box blended with an imported old- style booth. It still looks the part and has its own charm. It’s also the centre of some Tyneham folklore, it’s said that the telephone inside has been heard ringing. I’m not convinced that actually happened, but it’s a good story so… * shrugs *
I don’t think there are any ghosts roaming Tyneham but are faded glimpses of the people who lived there and the lives they led. In their names listed in the church, in the church yard where their ancestors lie and on the information boards dotted about the place. I love that there’s pictures and stories about the people of Tyneham for the visitor to find. It creates a tribute to the community of the ‘lost village’ and to a lost way of life. After all, places are just bricks and mortar. It’s the people that make them. Even seventy-some years after they left.
First things first, what’s in a name?
A twenty minute walk from Tyneham village through the military ranges brings you to a cliff top. A steep path delivers you onto a pretty shingle and rock beach that goes by two names. Tyneham beach (locally) or Worbarrow bay (officially).
Call it what you like, its beautiful. Being a little more difficult to access, it also tends to remain relatively uncrowded. Even on a bank holiday weekend there was ample room to keep a safe distance from other beach goers.
The walk from the village to the beach weaves past the gates of Tyneham farm and then down to the sea. If you look closely you’ll spot some abandoned military vehicles and targets out in the fields. Closer to the beach sit the remains of the cottages that used to mark the edge of the village as it petered out towards the sea. This is also where the darker side of village life used to happen, this stretch of coastline was prime smuggling country and history has it that some of the residents of the cliff top cottages were themselves involved in the trade.
If you like your beaches as they come this is one for you. There’s no road access, no facilities, no shade and no life guards. You are advised not to sit under the cliffs due to danger of rock fall and you can only really get there weekends and holidays when the MoD isn’t using the land. But if you can see past all that, the reward is a beautiful suntrap of a bay with clear water safe for swimming. Perfect.
Things to Know If You Plan to Visit:
The village and beach are part of the Lulworth Ranges, so access is restricted. The area is open most weekends and holidays, but check ahead to save a wasted journey. You can check when the range walks are open here or call 01929 404714 to hear the latest firing times. If the red flags are flying, it’s a no go.
Parking at the village is ample. There is a suggested donation of £2 per car.
There are portaloo toilets at the edge of the village. Take a packet of tissues and hand sanitiser. They aren’t for the faint of heart.
There are no catering facilities or shops, take a picnic. At the very least a bottle of water.
The beach has no facilities or lifeguard. It is safe to swim, at your own risk.
The beach is dog friendly, just keep in mind it is stone/shingle and there is no shade.
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