Day three – Hordle to Weymouth
I had a rather impromptu start to the day, mainly due to my premature night. I awoke disturbingly early but from the tiny gap in the blind I was enthused by the weather, eventually the summer had arrived but would it last.
The ride from the campsite to Christchurch was enjoyable and event free, the temperature was continuing to rise. I negotiated New Milton with ease, the town is a substantial size with a good array of shop and amenities. I briefly envied Sarah, who was lucky enough to spend a lot of her childhood in this area with her grandparents. Along with the surrounding areas of Milford on Sea and Barton on Sea which all afford some wonderful panoramic vistas of the Isle of Wight.
My legs were feeling no negative effects from the battering they took the previous day and I pushed on towards the delights of an early morning in Christchurch. I pedalled over two lovely bridges to the east which provided a glorious seductive introduction to the town, the experience was only enhanced as I encountered the haunting image of the Castle ruins, ably assisted by the sun continuing to rise so vibrantly. I opted to pedal into the grounds of the adjoining park with its mood setting tree cover and finally arrived on the Quay. The silence was stunning and I happily sat immersing myself in the watery surrounds. The aroma of the sea and the soothing sound from the abundance of bird life was so relaxing.
I briefly paused in the grounds of the Priory before accosting a local for advice on the best route to Bournemouth obviously avoiding the busy A35. She pointed me towards the sea before mentioning a steep climb near Southbourne, oh joy!, she did try to reassure me that it would not be of concern for a “fit looking chap like me”, her actual words and I was grateful for her belief in my abilities and stature but ultimately i hoped her trust would not be misguided.
Thankfully the incline created minimal exertion and the associated panting and eventually I had arrived in Southbourne which offered my first real views of the sea and the promenade. I initially followed the Overcliff road at a good pace, my legs were working well and I was enthused by the views of the water. I decided to descend down to the beach at Boscombe. The surfers man made reef was closed and the promenade was deserted apart from the occasional jogger or fellow cyclist. The wind had picked up slightly but was not a concern and after an uneventful ten minutes I was sat in the comfortable surrounds of my usual fast food chain supping coffee and devouring pancakes. My only company were a group of slightly unwashed down and outs relishing in the comfortable and importantly warm surroundings. What a wonderful life I lead, I thought!, if only they could experience it.
Bournemouth is a contrast of completely different lifestyles, it’s sits comfortably on the fence between the traditional delights of candy floss, ice creams, arcades, bingo, buckets and spades, old folk and families and the urban vibrant lifestyle of the modern high earners with the associated high end properties and their inflated prices but its heyday was definitely in the Victorian era. Nowadays, on most weekends the town is over run with stag/hen parties and the associated drunken pandemonium but I was pleased to read that a survey in 2007 revealed the town had the happiest residents in the UK.
I had read that Mary Shelley, the author of the gothic horror Frankenstein was buried in the centre of town, in the graveyard of St Peters Church. I was intrigued so after my coffee stop I rode off in search of her tomb, unfortunately I got horribly lost and eventually succumbed to my incompetence at sufficiently researching the facts before setting off on these fruitless tasks.
Rant over I headed back towards the seafront.
I freewheeled through the Lower Gardens and its beautiful floral displays which lead up to the bustling shopping area and as I passed Bournemouth Pier en-route to Poole I glimpsed a slightly Manic looking lady walking her dog. She then bizarrely shouted something in my general direction before tossing down her jacket directly in my path. I swerved and responded with an observational comment similar to ‘what the hell, you crazy lady’. Actually, if I’m honest my words may have been slightly more graphic!
The wind had picked up quite significantly as I rode along West Undercliff Promenade and appeared happy to push me back towards the pier, my progress was slow but I wasn’t going to be disheartened. I stopped briefly for a respite from the incessant pounding by the entrance to Alum Chine and it’s strategically placed pastel coloured beach huts.
Eventually I reached the shelter of Poole Harbour, the sea was out. The harbour is usually a magnet for wind surfers but you do obviously need water so the area was deserted apart from the occasional jogger or dog walker.
I pedalled off in the direction of the Sandbanks Ferry which would be my transport to the joys of the Isle of Purbeck and the Jurassic Coast. The Dorset coastline is one of the best preserved in the country and I hoped it would provide me with a breathtaking glimpse into 185 million years of geological history. The 95 mile stretch is so important that its classed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Jurassic Coast officially begins from Old Harry’s Rock in Dorset to Orcombe Point in East Devon.
As I awaited the ferry I got chatting to a friendly young couple who were also out to enjoy the Jurassic coast by bike. The lad enthusiastically informed me he was taking part in the Lands End to John O’Groats challenge next summer and did I have any advice. I was possibly the least qualified person to give advice but I provided him with an insight into my indepth knowledge of long distance cycling and offered in my actually words ‘eat lots’, that was it, my chance to inspire, motivate, enthuse and all I could manage was ‘eat lots’, pathetic but he appeared bizarrely impressed with my slightly useless information.
The ferry journey from Sandbanks was extremely short but it did give me the briefest of glances of Brownsea Island which is located in the middle of Poole Harbour, it has an abundance of wildlife and wonderful diverse surroundings. It’s most famous for the being the location of the inception of scout movement by Lord Baden Powell in 1907 and its association with scouts is still evident today as they are still officially the only people allowed to camp on the island. Sandbanks is reportedly the most expensive place to live in Europe, figures from 2009 show that a plot of land was being advertised for around £10,000 per square metre.
I left the confines of the ferry and stopped by the beach in Studland, the remoteness was amazing, the sand was golden and thankfully the sun was shining. The isolation provided me with my very own Robinson Crusoe moment, obviously minus the insanity that is. Studland Beach and Nature Reserve is a wonderful section of the natural coastline and the beginning of the jagged Jurassic Coast. The beach is famous for its naturist section and is interesting home to all six of Britains reptiles. I passed a sign informing me that there was a high possibility I might encounter naked people beyond this point, the point of no return. Oh joy, I wasn’t keen on seeing an array of crinkly prunes and saggy mounds, I apologise for my graphic image provoking words. Actually they were still probably tucked up nice and warm in a motorhome back in the New Forest. To be honest I was really apprehensive I might stumble upon a liberal minded individual with minimal inhabitions happily sat with legs akimbo enjoying the weather. The area was also used as the backdrop for Coldplay’s video for their song ‘Yellow’. The beach is owned by the National Trust and stretches for over three miles and is completely enhanced by the glorious heathland and stunning sand dunes. As I pedalled away I decided I would prefer to bump into the singers and not the swingers! (I would like to point out that my suggestion that naturists are swingers is for comedic purposes and not a reflection of my opinions or beliefs)
I had officially left Southern England and was now firmly entrenched in South West England. The Isle of Purbeck and Jurassic Coast with its evocative sights lay ahead, Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove and a plethora of fairy tale ruins. I couldn’t wait so I pedalled on..
I continued to follow the Ferry road and then the road split, Swanage was to the left and Corfe Castle to right, I chose right and was immediately faced with a steep gradual incline. I breezed past the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club and its stunning atmospheric views before I approached the outskirts of Corfe Castle.
Two miles out of Corfe the heavens opened and the rain was horizontal, I sheltered under the largest tree I could find and waited for the deluge to subside. Thankfully it was only a passing shower and I set off pedalling the short distance to the mystical village of Corfe Castle. As I entered the village I glimpsed the smoke and accompanying evocative sound of the Swanage Steam Railway which provides a six mile trek through the wonderful scenery between Swanage, Corfe Castle and Norden. I was now deep in ‘Famous Five’ country.
Corfe Castle is a magical and mysterious village which is completely dominated by its iconic Castle ruins set ominously on the hill looking over the quaint main street. I locked the bike outside the nostalgic railway station and went to investigate. There was plenty on offer, tea rooms, gift shops and some wonderful traditional drinking establishments. It was busy with sightseers but wasn’t intrusive. I was drawn to the delights of the Ginger Pops Shop which is dedicated to the world of Enid Blyton. The building I read was amazingly constructed from recycled castle, that’s quality green ethos but be warned you may miss it as it shares it’s entrance with the local Post Office. It is believed that the castle in the village is the inspiration for Kirrin Castle which features in the much loved ‘Famous Five’ series of books. The shop proudly claims to stock all the books every written by the author. There is also a wonderful array of memorabilia, souvenirs, toys and games.
I enjoyed a lovely coffee in a quaint cafe conveniently opposite Ginger Pops, the weather was now gloriously sunny. I spoke with my support crew and arranged to meet them in Swanage as I was desperate to take a trip back in time on a lovingly restored steam locomotive so I set off on a journey through the Dorset Countryside on the Swanage Railway. The service does allow the transportation of bikes but I wanted to return to Corfe for two reasons. It was a convenient location to access the next part of my journey and selfishly it gave the chance to experience the nostalgia for a second time
My brief experience of steam railways are they always evoke so many traditions and passions but once you are on the train, I find it irrelevant if it’s a steam or a diesel locomotive. Or is that just me? Ok there is the lovely aroma of the smoke (who cares about the carbon footprint) and the glorious heart melting sound of the engine but I feel the best way to experience its full glory is from the platform, bridge or anywhere but not from the train. I promise you I am not reverting to the dark side of the dreaded train spotter. The train left the village as the weather appeared to change again, angry dark clouds had materialised. The route took us through Harmans Cross, Herston and eventually we arrived in a sun drenched Swanage 22 minutes later.
This part of the world was like a second home to me when I was growing up. We frequently set off from home when the urge was strong and decamped at my Uncles and Aunties who were always most welcoming. The idyllic surroundings have been the inspiration for many passionate writers and artists, especially Blyton and Hardy and it its easy to see why they were in total awe of the beautiful and stunning countryside and associated views. I wanted to replicate my childhood experiences, rock pooling in secluded inlets and eating jam sandwiches covered in salty sand. Obviously not the days spent in bed recovering from the effects of sun stroke.
Swanage is an endearing town, it oozed a wonderful rustic charm but it also rumbled with a surprising modern and vibrant core. The place was packed with tourists. I visited the towns small but interesting and informative museum gloriously set on the seafront looking over the pier and cliff tops of the Isle of Purbeck. There were some lovely displays about quarrying and the history of the town which succinctly explained how Swanages tradition was for stone mining and local quarries have proudly continued in the area for 2,000 years. The idyllic surroundings appeared to provide a stream of local artists with inspiration as they utilised their easels and brushes enthusiastically in a bid to demonstrate their creative skills with an annoying assured confidence.
I met my parents who had also utilised the services of the Swanage Railway. We stopped for a cheap coffee on the seafront, chatted animatedly about nothing in particular before the topic of my bike came into the conversation. My mother was extremely concerned that she could not recall seeing my bike in the designated parking area of the station. She became agitated, it must be her age. It transpired that my parents had in fact got on the train at Norden, just north of Corfe Cartle so no wonder the bike was not in situ. Crazy lady!
All three of us travelled back together, the train had its own separate carriages which reminded me so much of The Hogwarts Express, I’m not sure which of us was supposed to be Ronald Weasley. I alighted at Corfe and waved my companions farewell whilst holding my bike aloft to appease my mother.
I left Corfe Castle feeling positive of what lay ahead. I pedalled passed the Castle enroute to Durdle Door. I would have to negotiate East & West Lulworth. Hindsight is a great thing but I now recall seeing but at the time it didn’t register that I had read a sign stating the roads around Lulworth were closed due to firing taking place by the MOD. It wasn’t until I had trekked up the rather substantial Creech Hill that I established the route down to Durdle Door was blocked. Those peaky squaddies! As a minor consolation the views were stunning and peace was only sporadically interrupted by the surprisingly loud, vivid and thought provoking sound of gunfire. It was so similar to what I had heard on the TV coming from Afghanistan or Iraq but to experience it firsthand and not from the confines of my sofa was slightly unnerving. My only option was a considerable detour north towards Wareham before retracing my way back to the sea via West Holme. Time was now ticking on.
As I approached Durdle Door, I was apprehensive, I didn’t want to experience the annoying feeling of disappointment or deflation. I had read several passionate accounts on the natural phenomenon but I wanted to experience it and ultimately decide for myself. If you were to ask a primary school child to describe Durdle Door from a picture, they would state ‘its a big rock with a big hole that sticks out into the sea’, and in simple terms that’s what it is, but trust me it’s so much more than that. After a steady climb out of West Lulworth and a rather rapid descent through a holiday park, I was sat happily on the cliff top above the evocative sea and Durdle Door. My initial reaction was astonishment, the aesthetics of the view were unmatchable, the glorious golden hues wonderfully complimented by the brilliant, vibrant blue sea and the evocative shadows cast by the stunning jagged rock formation which could easily be attributed to Gaudi. Astonishing was so apt but the good weather helped. It was a strange and mysterious place. The track down mapped a precarious intricate line into the jagged coastline. I clambered steadily down the shaded rocks to the enticing beach and stripped off, only my socks and shoes, (you will be glad to know), as I had an uncontrollable urge to admire it from the wonderful watery surrounds. The sea was calm, translucent but slightly chilly but that was all irrelevant as I paddled out and glimpsed back towards the jagged atmospheric coastline. The experience was mesmerising but also I had managed to successfully tick off another task, Rosie would be pleased but I needed proof. There was a lack of people so my only option was to stand in the salty, indigo layered water, with camera at arms length and snap away. I hoped Rosie would be pleased but more importantly convinced! As I clambered back up the rock face I stopped to admire the Man of War Bay which was located on the other side of the headland. It was another awesome geological sight, the stunning cove was wonderfully enhanced by the vibrant Portland stone creating a warm golden from the rays of the sun. It officially called St Oswald’s Bay but the Man of War Bay is so much more appropriate.
I continued my journey by negotiating Winfrith Newburgh before I turned onto the A352 and pedalled west, next stop Weymouth. Near the village of Osmington I passed a white horse set into the hill, it was sculptured in 1808 and depicts the figure of King George III. The figure actually stands 280 feet long and 323 feet high, and was significantly restored by the ‘Challenge Anneka’ TV show in 1989. I stopped on a lovely plateau which afforded me a glorious panorama of Weymouth and it’s bay.
It appeared that Weymouth had received a rather substantial amount of money since securing its position as a host venue for the 2012 Olympics. A lot of regeneration work had taken place especially this year as the Weymouth Olympic Relief Road opened and now provides easy access to the town amenities and obviously the Olympic sailing venue. I followed the lovely associated off road cycle path alongside the busy bypass with its elevated views into the bustling town.
I pedalled onto the promenade and stopped by the statue dedicated to King George, the surrounding buildings were wonderfully majestic with glorious iron balconies, sash windows and ornate canopies. It gave me a brief glimpse into the towns heyday when the King happily frolicked and partied in the lovely seaside air. The seafront was clean and presented a wonderful vibrant persona. The Olympics was evident everywhere, on the lampposts, in the windows of shops and restaurants. It was obvious the residents and the town were proud of its selection as a venue. I left the bike securely attached to railings on the beach and went off to explore. Just a short distance down the promenade was the stunning colourful Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock.
It’s believed Weymouth was the actual point where the dreaded Black Death entered Britain in 1348. The town has definitely moved on since then, the harbour and quay area are both stunning and beautiful. The harbour was alive with lots of charter boats which I could only imagine would be a wonderful alternative way to experience the jurassic coast.
Up until this point I had made no definite plans to attend any of the Olympic events. The TV was the nearest I was prepared to get to the games, but after my brief immersion in glorious Weymouth, I was feeling the need to rethink my strategy. The town had definitely made an effort to grasp the Olympic ethos and use it as a tool to regenerate the whole area and it’s services. It definitely empowered me to get more involved, ok not physically I wouldn’t be setting the pace for Cavendish on Box Hill, regardless how many times I imagined it. It’s good to have dreams. But depending on my meagre cash flow and availability I might consider attending an event. Ultimately I realised I liked the sentiment of the games, Countries from across the globe, some even unknown to me, happily send their best athletes to take part with absolutely no chance of success but the national pride they display is totally awe inspiring and reflects their commitment to their individual sport and their Country. From what I had encountered in Weymouth the town, its facilities and infrastructure will not disappoint and will provide a fitting and memorable spectacle in honour of the dedication shown by all the athletes. Unfortunately due to time constraints I didn’t manage to get down to the Olympic sailing venue as planned but I wish them luck and I hope the games is a truly fitting event which puts Weymouth firmly on the World map because it truly deserves it.
The campsite was located a couple of cycle path miles west of the town centre. I got lost which appears to be the norm but I did allow me to see the lovely slightly eerie church in Fleet. Another early night was greatly appreciated as I was expecting some arduous climbing tomorrow. Well there’s a surprise