Ringstead Bay offers a tolerable anchorage in offshore and settled conditions where an overnight stay would be possible. But in any southerly component conditions, or in the event of any swell from that direction, the bay is entirely untenable. Although flanked by foul ground, on both sides, an approach from the southeast, in daylight, is straight forward.
Keyfacts for Ringstead Bay
SummaryA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 37.880' N, 002° 20.403' W
This is off the beach beneath Burning Cliff in Ringstead Bay.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- Locate the bay by its proximity to White Nothe.
- Approach from the southeast passing between the Ringstead Ledges and the foul ground off the cliffs leading in from White Nothe.
- Anchor according to conditions.
Not what you need?
How to get in?
Ringstead Bay is located 4½ miles north-eastward of Weymouth, 3½ miles westward of Lulworth Cove and close west of the headland of White Nothe. It is a small coastal bay in a rural area. The bay and its approaches are deep with the 5 metre CD contour lying about 60 metres out from its pebbly beach.
The chalky cliff face of White Nothe, ¾ of a mile south-eastward from the bay, makes a conspicuous sea mark for all approaches. Here the coastal cliffs change from clay in the west, to chalk in the east. Keeping at least a ¼ of a mile out from the cliffs in the immediate vicinity of Ringstead Bay clears all dangers.
The initial fix is set ½ a mile west of White Nothe, in about 7 metres, where a vessel may steer a north-westward course for a ⅓ of a mile to the centre of the bay.
This line of approach passes about a ¼ of a mile out from the cliffs that steeply ascend out to White Nothe. It leads about midway between the ledges and rocks that extend out from the cliffs and the drying Ringstead Ledges, which define the west end of the bay. The gap between these is a ⅓ of a mile wide, and the Lobster pot floats situated out on the ledges can usually be relied upon to indicate the position of the Ringstead Ledges.
Anchor according to conditions under the rise of Burning Cliff at the back of the bay. The bay is deep and 3 metres of water can be found close into the shore. Thoroughly check the anchor as the holding ground is said to be poor. Land by tender on the shale beach.
Why visit here?Ringstead Bay derives its name from the conjunction of the old English words hring and stede meaning a place near a circular enclosure. The bay was mentioned in Doomsday, 1084, where it recorded that a village stood there.
The medieval village of Ringstead, with its church, has long since entirely disappeared. It stood to the east of the current hamlet and it was said to have been razed to the ground by French Pirates. Fourteenth century coastal incursions were frequent but it is more likely that the village was deserted in 1348 after the arrival of the Black Death. After the village was abandoned the area remained a rural hinterland with little or no road access. This made it the perfect location for smuggling which became rife along this coast as it had many fine beaches and inlets for landing goods.
The staples of smugglers had traditionally been wine and brandy, but during the 1730s there was a shift away from kegs to tea and a new found trade in gin. At the beginning of the eightieth-century politicians and religious leaders were became increasingly alarmed at a ‘gin craze’ that had started to spiral out of control in London. It was seen as a national scourge that encouraged laziness, dissolution, and criminal behaviour, and the root cause for the poverty that plagued the city. The ensuing government crackdown came in a series of Acts that were targeted at reducing the consumption of spirits. The 1729 Gin Act increased the retail tax to 5 shillings per gallon. The Gin Act 1736 then imposed a high licence fee on gin retailers and a 20 shillings retail tax per gallon. Then, finally, the Gin Act 1751 restricted distribution and greatly increased alcohol duty.
All of these moves were deeply unpopular with the working-classes. The government and Revenue Men were seen as rapacious and riots broke out in London in 1743. Likewise, on the coast, it only served to further encourage wily local smuggling gangs to pit their wits against His Majesty's Customs in order to supply the deprived locals of their usual bibulous recreation. Virtually all the secluded coves between Portland and Christchurch enjoyed a burgeoning trade in smuggling. Amongst these, Ringstead Bay figured largely because of its inaccessibility which made it the perfect landing point where one could land goods and easily escape the Revenue Men should that be necessary.
Legend has it that the gorse was set on fire by a smuggling shore party in order to warn off approaching boats that the King’s Revenue Men were watching. In 1880 Robert Damon described the cliff fire… bluish flames rising at times so far above the cliff as to be visible from Weymouth.
But this was folklore as it was not started by smugglers and was instead an interesting geological event. Earlier the cliff had slipped, exposing a fresh band of oil shale that when fanned by a gale burst into flame. As Damon’ explains decomposition of the iron pyrites in the shale was supposed to have been the cause of the ignition… On acquiring fresh energy, it threw out volumes of dense and suffocating smoke, which from its specific gravity, seldom rose high in the air… Through the cracks spread over the surface by the ascending heat, the burning stratum beneath was seen. The fissures and other openings were covered with deposits of sulphur… The cliff continued in this burning state for several years during which period it formed an object of considerable interest. By the times the flames had subsided so too was smuggling on the wane in Ringstead Bay.
The construction of a row of six coastguard cottages on White Nott, homes at one point to 44 people, was a decisive blow. Emmanuel Charles, the landlord of the Smugglers Inn during the 1840s, was to be the last ringleader of the most notorious local smuggling gangs. He was believed to have earned a considerable amount of money in his day but at the time of his death, in 1851, he was impoverished. His extended family had also felt the weight of the Revenue Men’s focus on Ringstead with at least 27 of them receiving convictions for smuggling. In 1841 it was recorded that Ringstead Bay had five fishermen plying their trade there and little else. Close east, Osmington Mills, where the remains of a small stone pier can still be seen to this day, there was about eight fishing boats. Little has changed since that time and the bay and its surrounds have remained largely untouched.
Today unspoilt farmland still reaches down to the shingle beach, whilst being overlooked by the towering cliff of White Nothe, as it always has been. A few modern bungalows, that back onto its ancient cottages, are the soul development around the bay and a large section of it is now owned by the National Trust.
From a sailing perspective, Ringstead provides a nice anchorage in settled offshore conditions, the offshore reefs providing a measure of protection. It is worthwhile to land and enjoy the beach which still remains relatively inaccessible, and is largely overlooked by the holiday hordes. If one feels energetic you can walk up to White Nothe from the shore. The walk is worthwhile just for the spectacular views that can be had to the chalk headland of Bat's Head eastward, and the Isle of Portland southward. The line of coastguard cottages and a stone marker, indicating the old zigzagging Smugglers' Path, will be seen along the way.
What facilities are available?The small village of Osmington Mills, situated on the coast about 1.5 kilometres westward, has the Smugglers Inn that serves food and refreshments. There is a footpath along the cliffs, via Bran Point. Weymouth, approximately 5 miles south-westward of Ringstead Bay, caters for everything else.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur S/Y Whistler. Photography with thanks to Michael Harpur
Ringstead Bay Aerial
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