Around the Purbecks (Dorset)

This 46-mile day tour is recommended by Jack Thurston, in his cycling guide ‘Lost Lanes West‘. It is the second tour from the book that I have ridden (I described my first – Hardy’s Hills – in an earlier post). The Dorset coast is a varied landscape, combining geologically-stressed rockforms with green valleys full of pastoral activity.

This tour of the Purbecks takes the up-and-over approach to a number of steep-sided hills, with one notable elevated section – Povington Hill – offering extensive views of the ‘Jurassic’ coastline, from Poole Harbour in the east to Portland and Chesil beach in the west.

The ‘Lost Lanes West’ book includes links to online resources for each tour, including .gpx files that you can download to your phone or sat nav, plus printable route cards and overview maps. This was the first time I had used Komoot for navigation, downloading the .gpx file to my cheap and cheerful Nokia 1 (possibly one of the cheapest ways to get a 4.5″ colour screen sat nav).

The route starts in Wareham, striking south-west towards Swanage. You are soon crossing heathland, on the only ‘off-road’ section of the tour. This continues for about a mile or thereabouts, of which only a couple of hundred metres of soggy grass were enough to defeat my Brompton’s tyres (it would probably be fine in the summer, but this was in late December). Fortunately, Bromptons benefit from the latest push technology, so that’s what I did.

Heading across Rempstone Heath
Heading across Rempstone Heath (also National Cycle Route 2)
Rempstone Heath before the going became a little soft
Rempstone Heath before the going became a little soft for my Brompton’s tyres

There is no mention – in either the book or the route card – of the views you obtain of Poole Harbour, about nine miles into the tour. In the summer an ice cream van is usually stationed at the viewpoint, but I suspect that trade in December is commercially unviable! I was last stood on the same spot a few months earlier, when I had cycled around Poole Harbour – it was nice to connect the two tours together, if only for the short section of minor road that was common to both routes.

Looking north-east across Poole Harbour
Looking north-east across Poole Harbour

I enjoyed being guided along minor roads, in what was a near circumnavigation of Nine Barrow Down. I spotted the steam of the Swanage Railway locomotive down in the valley to my left, while at the same time doing my best to avoid potholes in the road.

The Swanage steam railway
The Swanage steam railway
Corfe Castle from across the Swanage steam railway tracks
Corfe Castle from across the Swanage steam railway tracks

The climb out of Corfe Castle is gradual, bar the last sting in the tail to gain the top of Povington Hill, from which the views east and west are superb. I recommend stopping at Whiteways viewpoint, from which you can also see the cliffs at Kimmeridge, which is halfway between Swanage and Lulworth Cove.

Kimmeridge cliffs (middle of picture) from Povington Hill
Kimmeridge cliffs (middle of picture) from Povington Hill
Lulworth Cove
Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Cove is somewhat of a tourist trap, but avoids being too tacky. West Lulworth, set back from the sea, is the more picturesque. Geology geeks could spend a day here and not get bored.

Rock folding and erosion at Lulworth Cove
Rock folding and erosion at Lulworth Cove
West Lulworth
West Lulworth

The climb out of Lulworth Cove is sustained, especially if you’re still digesting a good lunch. A final climb awaits you north of Chaldon Herring (Jack Thurston describes it a ‘short and sharp’, which it most definitely is). When you reach the top, the majority of the remaining route can be traced out in the lowlands to the north, which are now spread out in front of you.

Moreton tea rooms, which used to be the village school, provides a suitably decadent tea stop, about ten miles from the end of the tour. This is a favourite destination for cyclists riding out from Bournemouth and Poole, although on a Saturday afternoon in late December I seemed to be the only patron recently arrived on two wheels (in the summer, the tea room’s garden is a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by, hopefully warmed by the sun).

Jack mentions that a track on the other side of the ford can be followed to Clouds Hill, which was TE Lawrence’s precious bolthole – a sanctuary of calm away from public gaze – before he was killed in a motorcycling accident on local roads. However, do be aware that this would be a diversion from the Around the Purbecks tour, not a section of it (one of the other tours in the book does go past Clouds Hill).

The remaining miles of the tour are on easy-rolling roads and very pleasant, passing picturesque streams, fields and farms, eventually returning you to Wareham.

When I stopped I was delighted to see that, in the five-and-a-half hours that I had been on the move (of which about four hours had been actually been spent cycling), my phone’s battery had only dropped from 100% to 57%, even though Komoot had been running the whole time. Impressive.

In conclusion, this was a very pleasant day out, with plenty of variety in the scenery, enabling anyone completing it to obtain a good feel for the geography and geology of coastal South Dorset, and the Isle of Purbeck in particular (Purbeck isn’t actually an island, but the geology of the area and its coastline give it a distinct island feel).

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