Swanage isn’t just for climbing

Pete and Louise find other challenges

Louise Krug – July 2009

The weather forecast for last weekend was grim – certainly grim up North where the planned IMC meet was to be. After scanning the forecast all week we decided at the last moment to head for Swanage – not to climb as it’s a bit too scary for us – but with bikes and walking boots and an intention just to get out and do something whatever the weather.

We set off mid-morning on Friday, which is clearly not early enough to avoid the bulk of the London escapee traffic. Still we were able to get a pitch in Tom’s Field and headed off for a short walk down to the sea. The ground was muddy chalk and extremely sticky. By the time we reached the shore, we were both modelling mud sculptures of snow shoes – much heavier I suspect than the original! We headed back a different route, which was good because it went past a barn that we could shelter in as the rain pelted down!

Saturday dawned much brighter so we set off on the bikes. We had one bike route gleaned from a back issue of MBR. Although it officially started in Corfe Castle, the route passes within a few hundred metres of the camp site, so we joined it there on the Priest’s Way. It’s a lovely ride through very pretty countryside, mostly off road. After an hour of so we ended up at Old Harry
(famous tourist spot). I lost some of the fun as the cycle track was heading fast towards the cliff edge so I pulled up short and walked the last bit till I got round the bend! Then a 3km road section (quiet) before a big old pull up to the Purbeck ridge. I walked a lot of that as well- I was no slower than Pete who rode it all and it was a lot less effort! Then another delightful section along the ridge ending with a sweet (fast as you want but not scary) section down towards Corfe. Here we deviated from the route description and used back roads and bridleways to join up with the route a little way out of Corfe. This was slightly longer, but avoided a long section of main road. Next began the grimmest section. Most of the route is rideable by most people (a long blue rather than red for those used to MTB grades) but not this section. Steep uphill, rubble and nettles. We both pushed/hauled the bikes, and needed a sweetie break in the middle to keep up going! Then we reached what should have been delightful gentle downhill single-track. Only it started to pour down, and chalk is slippier than limestone when wet! Still, it brightened up after about 1/2hr and we decided to make the short diversion to St Anstells head, to give us time to dry out! Stunning views and the weirdest church I have ever seen. All
that then remained was to find the Priest’s Way and campsite again. At this point I noticed some steering trouble. I put it down to tiredness so we stopped for another snack. Picked the bike up to go again and the front wheel remained lying down. Easily fixed (phew) and we finally  collapsed in the tent.

The next day was very windy, so we were happy to leave the bikes and set off on foot. We walked through the Lulworth ranges (military ground, sometimes shut), along the coast to Lulworth Cove and onto Durdle Door before returning over the higher ground. Extremely pretty, grand coast line, dramatic in the high winds. Extremely tiring for a coast walk – dropping to sea level and then rising to between 150 and 200m a total of 6 times. We could have bagged a Munro with that! And we missed the opportunity to drop down a final time to the ghost village of Tyneham, abandoned during the second world war.

And then it was 6pm and time to return home. The travelling there – round London – makes it a relatively hard place to get to given how close it is, but for non-climbers there certainly is plenty of interest. All the footpaths and (almost!) all the bridleways we encountered were well maintained, and well signposted. The scenery is fantastic and you still get a good deal of exercise even though nothing is terrible high! There is a (serious level) climbing trip planned for the 19th/20th September, but I would seriously recommend it also to non-climbers. For the record, the Lulworth Ranges should be open that weekend.

Finally, on no occasion did we make it to the famed Compasses pub, being too scared of the rain on Friday and too tired on Saturday.

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