A couple of weekends ago whilst nattering on the phone, my mate Chris and I suddenly realised we had a free weekend – at the same time. After the initial shock, we quickly hatched a plan for a swift weekends hike from Corfe Castle. It would have been nicer to go wilder, but as Chris was driving down to me he didn’t want to drive too far on the Saturday and rightly had the call as to where we went. Taking in the Purbeck hills before hitting the South West Coastal path through Swanage, we planned to come out the other side and follow it round the headland towards Dancing Ledge. We contemplated wild camping, but as we were unsure where we could get some water from (our last SW Coastal path stroll had been pretty dry), we decided we would check out the general loveliness reported at Tom’s Field. We then planned a sumptuous second day along the coast to Kimmerdige Bay before heading up to the downs and a stroll back to the castle.
Chris duly turned up fresh from worlds biggest Tractor racing track, otherwise known as the A303. We then spent far too much time gassing and drinking beer before realising we needed to get packed. End result was a bit of a late bedtime, not a good start from the hiking point of view but 10 out of 10 for fun. The Saturday dawned with a perfect mix of cloud and sunshine and we drove down in what was the beginning of the recent heatwave. Corfe Castle has to win the prize for most impressive silhouette. Nestled in a gap in the Purbeck Hills, it’s delightfully broken outline really takes your breath away when first sighted. We managed to find some free parking on East Hill which prompted my now customary “get-one-over-the-council” dance and off we trotted.
We started by following the path upwards towards Nine Barrow Down from East Hill. The gorse was in full effect, the intermittent sunshine bringing out the yellow beautifully. We soon had fabulous views over Studland towards Poole and Brownsea Island through the late spring haze. Mountains are still my favourite walking by far, but the sights, smell and vista that walking by the sea offers still uplifts me every time. A short sharp climb to the Obelisk on Ballard Down felt easy and I began to appreciate choosing trail running shoes rather than lightweight boots for the weekend.
The path flattened out pn top of the downs as we headed towards Old Harrys rocks before dropping down on to the SW Coastal Path and in to Swanage. We followed the beach in to town, along the front with intentions of marching straight through, when the smell of frying fish wafted under our nose. It’s not often hiking you get to stroll through a town at around lunchtime, so despite the guilty cry of the Peanut butter bagels from our sacks, it was time for some fish and chips, with sides of bread & tea. Champion.
After the lunch of justice we waddled towards Durlston Country Park and immediately things began to get quieter and brighter. Every time I have followed the SWC path the sun comes out and today was no different. Wandering past Durlston Head Castle, we passed the entrance to Tilly Whim Caves, sealed up since the 1970′s. I’m not sure what it is about long abandoned places, but they really give me an itch to explore. I resisted the urge to climb barbed wire however and followed around to Anvil Point Lighthouse. The final part of the days path was the most beautiful and remote, passing just one person on the trail. Chris was beginning to find it hard work as we approached the 15 mile point so we stopped short of Dancing ledge to recoup energy, whilst I tried in vain to find water that we could hear trickling underneath our feet.
I find it sometimes just nice to “be” when on a walk and the combination of sun, company that needed no conversation, a springy bit of turf and views out to sea gave me that in spades. After a break, we wandered on past Dancing Ledge. Chris had warned me before he came down that he had a stinker of a cold and it began to make itself felt as we headed uphill. It was a good time to be getting to the end of the first day but I was also glad as the lighthouse had competition for brightest light source on the SW Coastal Path – my face. Although I had hatted up earlier in the day and slapped suncream on, it was of the three year old factor 30 variety. Altogether it had proved about as much use as a surfboard with handlebars. My face was burning up and I swear I could feel the heat when I raised my hands to my brow.
We stumbled in to Tom’s field and the first thing that greeted us was bunnies – a whole field of them in fact. It was a good omen for a special campsite and we weren’t disappointed. A friendly welcome to a delightfully quirky shop complete with moisturiser for my battered face soon had me sighing in relief. As we strolled up the well kept site, we got nattering to one of the staff. He must have taken pity on my face as he lifted up a barrier stating “no entrance” to lead us up a slope to a totally sheltered & secluded space. It was our very own wild camp spot in a campsite where we couldn’t see a soul – bliss! Chris brewed, I pitched and it was soon time to go hunting for local pubs.
Chris was still worried about his fitness and how he was feeling, so I assured him we could cut the route short the following day if he wasn’t feeling right. I had already planned an alternate shortened route and I sketched an even shorter one straight back to the car over a pint of Badger. During the night, Chris’s coughing had me contemplating whether I should bring a pack in between us to save me being infected and turned in to a zombie. Being enclosed in a small tent with a bloke sounding like the starter motor of an Austin Allegro was no fun, but I guess it was even less fun for him.
The following day dawned cloudy and my ever so red skin celebrated in total joy. Chris still wasn’t well so we decided to head across country back to Corfe Castle. I’ve been in that situation myself so I know how it feels to have to bail, but it was the right call. Chris’ fitness and health meant 15 miles of up and down on the coast would not have been a great deal of fun. As it was, we had a gentle couple of hours or so across country watching the Steam train head back and forth to Swanage. I also got a half afternoon with the boys too which was a pleasant surprise for Cath, them and me.
All in all it was a legendary weekend. There were a couple of things I tried differently. Firstly, when it comes to trail shoes I’m now a convert. The feeling of water running in to your feet on a hot day is bliss compared to Goretex sweaty hotness. Provided I have poles, I think I’ll switch to them during spring and summer months. My only caveat is that when the mercury heads south, I will still stay with boots or waterproof shoes as my feet feel the cold. I have mild concerns about longevity as they do not last as long as boots do, so there is a financial consideration in switching. In terms of comfort & weight off your feet though, they are now my first choice. Secondly, replace your sunscreen each year folks! Well don’t leave it three years anyway, that’s a fact….
If you want to download the GPX files for the weekend, there’s the first day, the 15 mile 2nd day version, 12 mile 2nd day version and 5 mile shortened 2nd day (right click and choose “save link as”. I don’t know what you do for Macs :). I’ve also popped the Share your adventure map up below with planned route and the actual route we took. Oh, just in case the photos above weren’t enough, here’s the link to the Flickr set.