Purbeck perfection with a backpack

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.

Corfe Castle

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.

towards Ballard Down

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.

Seas edge

Fish and Chips of justice

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.

Durlston cliffs

perfect sea

Anvil point lighthouse

trekking on

r n r

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.

bunnies innit

Toms field

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.

Corfe Castle in the distance

trekking home

Puffing up the landscape

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….

slightly red.......

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.

Lulworth Cove to White Nothe beach along the South West Coast path

Lulworth Cove to White Nothe beach along the South West Coast path

OK, I’m feeling a bit of a fraud after last nights post, but in my defence, stuff got cancelled tonight, so I have had a rare opportunity to sit down and blog. It’s been a funny old summer though, I’ve not had the chance to get out and about to do as much walking as I would ideally like to, but a couple of weeks ago, my friend Chris and I finally managed to head out for a stroll. We’ve got plans to do the Gritstone trail later in October, and Chris was worried about his fitness, so we decided to get a solid days walking on along the SW Coast path. Not only was it a good test of fitness, but Chris had not even heard of Durdle Dor, so I was quietly looking forward to seeing his reaction when we came to it.

Chris wanted a heavy rucksack to test the fitness thing, so I kindly offered to help out packing his rucksack. As a result, he ended up carrying a sack of potatoes, and several gas cartridges I had lying around the utility room. He didn’t realise that until the end, at which point he thanked me with a long, cold hard stare. “It’s OK” I told him, “It’s what friends are for.” He didn’t even thank me, I mean that’s just rude you know?

The day started out with a little drizzle and it was heads down to get up over the first hill, strolling on in silence. The rain seemed to keep some of the tourists at bay and it wasn’t long before Durdle Dor was in front of us, and Chris had a huge grin on his face. It’s a classic sight, and I will never tire of seeing it.

Durdle Dor

click to make any of the photos bigger m'kay?

Leaving the crowds behind, we carried on along the path, and soon had the track to ourselves. It has a fair amount of up and down, so we stopped on Bats Head for a spot of lunch and a breather. There were few people on the path and we felt privileged to have such a beautiful environment to ourselves.

Bats Head for lunch

The weather forecast had been for a cloudy, rainy day, and although we could see the clouds inland, the day gradually brightened to reveal a child’s picture of what the coast should look like with cloudless skies, a rich blue sea and white sailing ships dotting the waves. There wasn’t much talking, but the grins came readily and easily to our faces. Reaching White Nothe Cottages, we spied the smugglers path down to the sea and set off down a seriously steep path to the beach. It’s not for the faint hearted, but if you do trek down there you will be rewarded by an abundance of wildlife, and at the bottom, a stunning beach that we had to ourselves.

picture perfect

View back towards Durdle Dor

natural treasure

smugglers path - watch your step!

Taking a rare opportunity for this summer with the heat, we stripped off for a skinny dip and then basked in the sun to dry off. Kayaks came and went off shore, and we sat and watched the sailing ships heading back to Weymouth before struggling  up the long hard slog to the top. The stroll back to the car was across the top of the fields affording us a larger vista of the coast, and a flatter journey for our tired legs. I hate travelling back on the same route you have headed out on, and it was great to see the coast laid out as a whole.

White Nothe beach

Butterfly's aplenty

end of the walk - lulworth cove

Most of my walking encompasses hills and mountains and I need to make more of an effort to visit our coast. I always complain about Dorset being too tame and agricultural, but the Jurassic coast has that feeling of rawness I want in my outdoors. The feeling of space, along with the challenge of the inclines along the SWC Path made it a day to remember. For more photos, check out my Flickr set from the whole day here, and of course, the Social Hiking map of the route is listed below as well.