Hardy’s Hills (Dorset)

Hardy’s Monument, Dorset (Hardy, of ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ fame … Admiral Lord Nelson died in his arms, on the deck of ‘Victory’.)

This 35-mile tour is described in ‘Lost Lanes West’, a guidebook describing thirty-six cycling tours, which cover many of the most scenic places in the southwest of England. The guide is written by Jack Thurston, who has written other guides covering both the south of England and Wales. By all accounts, more will be in the offing in due course. I do hope so. Jack also produces The Bike Show, which is an excellent cycling podcast.

The ‘Hardy’ of the title refers to the writer Thomas Hardy, who lived in Dorset and drew inspiration for his writing from it’s landscape. The tour visits places that Hardy himself would have explored, including Dorset’s rugged ‘Jurassic’ coastline.

I had planned to take the train to Dorchester, but on this particular Sunday trains were to be very infrequent, due to engineering works elsewhere on the network. Therefore, I drove to Dorchester and parked on its outskirts, about a mile from the railway station, on the route of the tour.

The first landmark was to be Maiden Castle, an immense Iron Age hill fort, whose earthworks dominate the skyline as you approach them from Dorchester. I was a little confused when I arrived at its northern side, since I was at the dead end of a road. However, I then realised that the route was to now follow nothing more than a farm track, for a mile or so (I had not yet started using a sat nav for my bicycle tours, so I was following Jack Thurston’s comprehensive step-by-step route cards … but I had not appreciated that I should be looking for a track at this point).

The farm track below Maiden Castle, looking east
The same farm track looking west (and quite entertaining on a Brompton)

I was fortunate that there had been no rain to speak of for some time, since the far end of the farm track proved muddy despite the dry spell. Nevertheless, aside from some clearing of mud from under my front mudguard at one point, I was able to cycle through it all and head for Winterbourne St. Martin, on the road once more. From here, the only way was was up, and Hardy’s Monument soon dominated the skyline – and my thoughts – as I climbed!

Hardy’s Monument can be seen from sixty miles away at sea

Bromptons are not great on steep hills, but in lowest gear it is possible to wind your way up most of them. Sure enough, after a steady haul uphill, and with one brief pause to catch my breath, I arrived at the foot of the monument, and stood there enjoying the expansive view in all directions.

It was now obvious why they had built it here, and why it could be seen from so far away. My reward for my exertions was to be a fast descent westwards, towards Burton Bradstock, following the River Bride for much of the way. This descent was a delight, although a little chilly at speed. At one point Jack’s route card threw me, because it suggested that there wasn’t a signpost at a junction when in fact there was; it did look like it had been erected quite recently though.

I passed I number of other cyclists on road bikes as I made for the coast,, many of whom looked bemused by the approaching bloke on a Brompton. Everyone smiled as I passed them, dressed in my somewhat conventional shirt and trousers, and kept warm by a fleece gilet. This wasn’t quite the mamil garb that most of those out for a ride were used to seeing.

About to descend from Hardy’s Monument, with only sheep for company

The wind had picked up by the time I reached the Hive Beach CafĂ© at Burton Bradstock, where I stopped for a hard-earned hot chocolate, surrounded by people out for their Sunday walk and/or lunch. After half an hour or so I headed north, through Shipton Gorge and then up Eggardon Hill. Oh boy, what a hill – requiring five brief stops on the way up to catch my breath – but the views from the top made the effort worthwhile. The Roman road heading for Dorchester beckoned eastwards and, as I cycled along it, Hardy’s Monument reappeared on the horizon to the south.

At the top of Eggardon Hill, looking south
At the top of Eggardon Hill, looking west
Looking south from the Roman road, with Hardy’s Monument on the distant horizon

Rather than continuing along the Roman road all of the way back to Dorchester, the route now headed north and down into the River Frome valley. A few ups and downs provided a sting in the tail for the tired pedaler that I was, but the run in made for a very pleasant conclusion to a fine route.

Having started on the south side of town, I finished off by weaving my way through the centre of Dorchester, passing the railway station en route to where I had left my car, such that I had completed the entire route covered by the guidebook.

All-in-all this was a fine day’s cycling, which would probably be even better in the summer, if the sun is shining. And especially if you were to incorporate a walk along the beach at Burton Radstock. I will return there on my bike one day, for sure.

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