Friday, 20 August 2010

Worbarrow Bay (Dorset)

Worbarrow Bay lies close to the village of Tyneham, now a ghost village since the military requisitioned the village and bay in 1943. The bay and village are now used extensively as a tank practice range, which may account for the bays lack of visitors, or may be it's the half mile trek from the car park which deters many. Having said that, the bay is open to the public when the army are not busy wasting tax payers money playing war games and learning how to kill people.

A Smugglers Haunt

Worbarrow Bay became a popular nocturnal landing site for smugglers during the 17th 18th and 19th centuries, as did several other coves and caves along the coast which make up Britain’s Jurassic Coastline. Worbarrow Bay was ideally located, dominated by imposing chalk cliffs which offered cover during darkness and the deepest and calmest of waters, which enabled ships to anchor a few meters offshore, ensuring quick passage of illicit goods from ship to beach.

It was on one such night in 1680, that a lone smuggler was spotted by a team of Revenue men who had been tipped off that there were smugglers operating in the area. As the smuggler unloaded his contraband on the stony beach, he was suddenly alerted by their approach. Curtailing his illicit activates, he panicked and foolishly made what he thought was his escape. He ran headlong towards the cliffs and unfortunately for him a dead-end. Cornered and in desperation he ran into the sea hoping to make his escape by swimming the dark waters. The Revenue men soon caught up with him and yelled instructions from the beach that he should turn back and be held accountable, which he apparently ignored. With nothing left to do, they fired their pistols fatally wounding him.

There is another more gruesome version of the same story, which describes the Revenue men dragging the bedraggled smuggler from the sea and stoning him to death where he stood, using the abundance of pebbles that cover the beach.

The official account of that night tells how, as the Revenue men approached the smuggler, he panicked and opened fire on them whilst trying to make good his escape along the beach. In retaliation, the Revenue men issued the order to “halt in the King’s name!” which was ignored, forcing them to open fire with dire consequence for the hapless smuggler.

Whichever story you favour, there is no getting away from the claims by those who would swear Worbarrow Bay is haunted by the very same individual who perished on that fateful night. It is said on clear still nights, his ghost can be seen running along the beach as if pursued. Some say as he reaches the point where cliffs meet shoreline, he abruptly turns and dashes into the sea. Chilling screams accompany this spectral “imprint,” screams thought to be his tortured soul as it writhes in agony whilst being cut down by a hail of bullets or possibly stones. The screams are said to eventually fade on the wind and are carried out to sea. Some people describe seeing a man standing in the water looking to shore but when spotted abruptly vanishes.

Worbarrow Bay, as mentioned earlier, is now a World Heritage site and part of Southern England’s Jurassic coastline. I spent time there recently just absorbing its rugged charm, listening to the sea as it lapped against the shore and enjoying the feel of the lightest of breezes on my face. It is not difficult to find yourself lost in the moment and imagining visions of a ghostly smuggler. Worbarrow Bay is unspoilt, free from “Kiss-me-Quick hats, Punch and Judy shows, candy floss and swarms of tourists battling for a place on the beach the size of postage stamp. It is a peaceful place, a place where you can walk beside the shore with someone special or in quiet solitude if you prefer, either way, it is a place of tranquil contemplation, fascinating history and eerie legend.

No comments: