A pair of Chieftain Main Battle Tanks lead an engineer tank along the edge of the hill side on the Tyneham ranges. Once costing millions of pounds and a vital part of the British Army’s defence in Europe during the cold war, they are now little more than scrap.
Today they now provide training targets for Tank gunners not even born when the Berlin Wall stood. Older relics have been moved from the ranges, and there is often an out cry that part of military history can be so treated, but the Army needs ranges and targets. The local Tank Museum at Bovington www.tankmuseum.org.uk is the biggest and best in the world and has many restored examples saved from ranges, and if they were not placed on remote hill sides as targets they would have gone for scrap decades ago. Fascination with the wrecks is a problem for the Army as people risk death or serious injury to see them up close or look for mythical rare models from the war. A few Comet, Cromwell, Churchill and Conqueror tanks exist on other ranges, without any public access and long since little more than battered rusty hulks, but there are none at all on the Tyneham range. A dozen or more Chieftains can be viewed safely from the road and footpath on days when the ranges are open, to risk injury simply isn’t worth looking for ghosts.
The road from Lulworth Castle toward Swanage along the hillside affords spectacular views over Poole and the county from the coast. Not always open,ring to find out if it is safe. Dropping down over the ridge of the hill there lies the abandoned village of Tyneham. Like the tanks, battered but preserved. Commandeered in 1943 to provide a larger training area for the longer range weapons and greater size of forces preparing for the D Day invasion the public can visit at times and usually through August. A separate blog will cover my visit there in more detail.
View from a deserted house in Tyneham village, the tanks are situated on the other side of the ridge. And on a final note please remember that long after the war five young boys from the Forres School in Swanage found a tin of Spam on the beach 13 May 1955, and when they attempted to open it they were obliterated. Many mines and shells are still unaccounted for, in the fear of invasion in 1940 many were not properly recorded as they were laid in haste.
Starting out as a mock Castle and hunting lodge in the early 17th Century, the beautifully situated Lulworth Castle was fortunate to be purchased by Humphrey Weld in 1641. The Weld family were still in possession on the 29 August 1929 when the interior was destroyed in a massive fire which all but finished the Castle. Without a roof, and with the collapse of the floors it looked as though the the elements, and nature would turn what was left into a picturesque romantic ruin. In the 1970′s restoration began with English Heritage which did not finish until 1998. Today the interior is sparse with pictures of it’s former glory, and burned out walls that lets the visitor truly appreciate the hard work of the builders hundreds of years ago. From the Castle roof there are spectacular views along the Army ranges and the countryside all around.
The Arishmel Gap looking toward the sea from Lulworth Castle. In 1942 a Focke Wulf 190 ‘nuisance’ raider (which plagued the whole Dorset coast with attacks on civilians in village streets as well as the nearby Lulworth Army camp and major towns) misjudged his flight under the radar through the gap and made perhaps the largest explosion the ranges have seen.
Another good base point for walks in Dorset. Not just with the wrecks of Chieftain Tanks on the nearby ranges, which can be viewed from a path only when there is not live firing! (Best to ring 01929 404819 before setting out for open dates). Within the danger area, where it is essential that you adhere to the warning signs, you can also visit the deserted ghost village of Tyneham. Evacuated to provide a training area for the Army in 1943 as it practised for the invasion of occupied Europe. Difficult to find now if you rely on a Sat Nav as the existing village isn’t there! I shall cover that in a separate blog entry. Dorset is Tank County and you are not far from Bovingdon Camp and Museum if you want more armour.
At Lulworth Castle there is great food available at the Weld Arms pub across the road and the estate to explore, with the delightful chapel and 15 th century Church within the grounds. You are not far from stunning scenery anywhere on the Purbecks. Worbarrow Bay, Lulworth Cove Man of War Bay with the world famous Durdle Door along just one short section of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast.
Indeed now the Castle is not just a good base for a day out, much more than a romantic ruin you can also get married there. An excellent setting also for Medieval Fairs and Jousting, as well as the famous Bestival Music festival. www.lulworth.com is the estate website to give you the latest information and events and show some of the local Dorset delights. Listing local B&B’s, Pubs and attractions.
One of the carved faces on the walls of Lulworth, perhaps a Green Man. Not to be confused with the Dorset Ooser, (pronounced oss as in boss) the mysterious arch-fiend of which I shall return to in a later blog!