Dark Deeds In Deepest Dorset

As I pack away the tent for the last time this week the sun is out, there is birdsong on the air and it seems I have awoken to the perfect day, pure and incorruptible. How I would come to rue these foolish sentiments as dark deeds sullied the hours to come…

Senseless Death

I’m driving to the start of today’s walk and already it is going wrong as a catalogue of misery plagues Swanage in my wake. I’m barely out of the town when an elderly pigeon hops across the road in front of me. Surely it will fly away as I near. The view from my rear mirror tells another story.

Injured Bystander

Reeling from this act of madness I am no more than 50 yards on when an elderly lady takes a tumble on the pavement. Her family pick her up and dust her off but the omens are portentous. Have I angered the local deity?

I drive oh-so-carefully to the start of my walk, white knuckles gripping the steering wheel lest more suicidal wildlife attempts to dash underneath my new Hankook 205/55 R16’s. Shell Bay is a sand peninsula that forms the lower half of the “jaw” around Poole Harbour – the largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney. This land spit extends about 3 miles out and consists of unspoilt sandy beach, dunes and small lakes.

Shameless Nudity

Hiking gear adorned I set off down the beach back towards Swanage. The perfect sand is whipped up by 30mph gusts that create an ankle high dust storm. I imagine a martian storm must look something like this when viewed from space. The English channel laps at my feet and today it is teeming with activity with pleasure craft, sailing boats and jet skis weaving their way around a cross channel ferry destined for Poole.

Shell Bay
Shell Bay

A solitary figure approaches. As it nears I realise it is a man. He is naked! Resisting the urge to vomit I consider my options. Two people passing on an otherwise empty endless beach. You can’t just ignore each other. What is the protocol in this situation? A manly nod avoiding eye contact suffices. Signage further on confirms that I have just left a section of nudist beach.

A nudist beach?
A nudist beach?

Today is not the day for nudity but dressed appropriately it’s turning out to be a very rewarding walk and different to anything of the miles previously covered this week.

The seemingly endless beach ahead looks as if it has been transplanted from Australia or any number of other more exotic locations. You can sometimes forget the scenery we have on our own doorstep. There is the matter of the weather however. I wonder what this area is like when the sun is ablaze and the wind at bay.

Miles of sand
Miles of sand

Eventually the beach comes to at end at the rocky headland of Studland. The sand dunes here are home to a variety of specific plant life I have no names for these species but here’s some of the shoreline colour on display…

Colour in the dunes
Colour in the dunes

…not to mention the sun bleached seaweed – an important part of the local ecosystem.

A carpet of seaweed
A carpet of seaweed

My attempt to take a shortcut back onto the coastal path is only half successful – ie: I only got my left foot wet.

Wet & Dry
Wet & Dry

Boozy Celeb Loses It In Public

Before I started the drive down south I surfed a few walks and printed them out and todays walk is one from the list. It tells me I must take a minor detour inland from the path to visit a delightful ivy-strewn pub, the Bankes Arms in Studland. Do click on the link and take a look – there is an interesting history and it would make a fantastic place to stay for a weekend with the beach nearby and some great Purbeck Brewery beers on offer.

It’s busy at the bar with a heaving queue of tourists waiting to place lunchtime food orders. The bar staff are doing their best but it is no help when one mouthy southerner who looks a little bit like Karl Howman from brushstrokes starts to complain about the wait. Some of these so called celebs are happy to take the licence fee payers money but give them a drink and their doppelgangers want special treatment. It makes me sick.

...still angry about Emile Heskey...
…still angry about Emile Heskey…

I’m deep in thought about something. But what?

The walk resumes up past the Fort Henry wartime observation bunker. It was built as part of a top secret operation that saw Studland Bay used by allied forces to practice for the D-Day landings. This massive exercise using live ammunition involved a great many ships, men and vehicles, including a number of tanks that sank in the exercise and remain beneath the waves. A number of soldiers died in the course of these simulations and a memorial stone laid in 2004 remembers these young men.

The main draw for many visitors to this headland soon comes into view. The stacks and arches of “Old Harry” are a major landmark in these parts and apparently the mainland used to be joined to the Isle Of Wight via this headland although you can barely see the IoW today.

Old Harry
Old Harry

The path winds back down into Swanage from the north and there’s a good view despite the sub-optimal visibility.

Vista over Swanage Bay
Vista over Swanage Bay

Public Drug Menace

Back at sea level I walk along the sea front to find there are a lot more people out than when I left. There’s a man paddlesurfing (ie: stood on a board vertically with a paddle) to great effect. Some young people are stood watching and I’m shocked to smell narcotics on the air. What to do? There is no bobby in sight and I can’t perform a citizens arrest against 4 of them – a scuffle might break out. There’s only one thing for it. I resolve to write a letter to the Daily Mail on my return home.

They walk on water in Swanage
They walk on water in Swanage

Fraudulent Intent

Feeling understandably fragile after the day’s series of shocking events I might be forgiven for thinking that my ordeal was over but one more sickening episode plays itself out as I board the open top bus back to Shell Bay where I parked the car. A retired couple attempt to use an invalid bus pass in order to secure their passage to Bournemouth. The driver is alive to this act of fraud and a long drawn out dispute about the validity of the pass results in the driver ringing the local authority for advice. This plucky young driver is correct in his beliefs and the shamed criminals are forced to offer payment for their journey. I say – well done bus driver!

Death, injury, naked indecentness, vulgar celebrities, street drugs and fraud. Needless to say I can’t wait to leave this wretched place and be free of its destructive influences.

Evening Glory

The MET office lied again. By the time I’m repitched at a Swanage campsite (this one thankfully has grass instead of stone) the threat of rain has departed. There’s another 10 mile walk I had in mind but is it too late to embark at 3pm? Nah.

My ambivalence stems from the knowledge that today’s jaunt will be less challenging than Mondays affair, but also there is a pub I am gagging to visit. The coastal trail winds south out of Swanage with the climb rewarded by views over the bay.

Swanage Bay
Swanage Bay

The walk is never challenging but never dull. The path hugs the cliff tops passing a dolphin observation hut (no – I didn’t see any) a functioning lighthouse and a succession of old quarries sliced angularly into the shoreline. I wonder how many old buildings I have walked past might have been hewn of stone cut from these quarries 200 years ago.

One of many quarries
One of many quarries

A wonderfully engaging couple from Kansas share a few travel stories with me. They want to point out that they live in an enlightened university town – an enclave of academia surrounded by the all-pervasive bible belt the area is better known for. Next stop London and then onto Venice, Florence and Rome. Americans suffer a tenuous reputation at times but whenever I have met them they have been courteous, knowledgeable folk. On the news we mostly tend to hear about the Sarah Palin types who fail to see beyond their own back yard.

Purbeck coast path
Purbeck coast path

As the coastal leg of my circular walk nears its end my stride pattern matches that of a fellow walker. It turns out that Steven is a fascinating guy. He has come over from Germany to visit his retired father who lives in Bournemouth and now has a couple of weeks to walk the coast according to whatever schedule he feels like. He has booked lodgings in the village of Worth Matravers and I’m also headed that way. His walk started at Poole this morning so he has a good 8 mile start on me and is lugging the world on his back but seems not to feel it.

The much anticipated Square And Compass Pub exceeds my expectations. This old timber beamed inn reeks of history but there is nobody inside because the quirky beer garden affords beautiful views across the countryside to the sea. I choose ale and a home made pasty (that’s their only concession to food) and Steven opts for one of the many ciders.

Square And Compass pub
Square And Compass pub

Over the course of our conversation I learn that Steven lives in one of my favourite cities – Berlin – on the central Friedrichstraße nonetheless. He bids farewell but not before handing me his business card and offering me a roof next time I visit the city.

Coastal trail
Coastal trail

The sun is in descent over the ripening fields and their stone enclosures. The effect is simply inspiring and I only wish I had the skill/equipment to truly capture the spirit of this moment on my camera. (Note: my new blog header was snapped shortly after I left the pub).

Sunset over Purbeck
Sunset over Purbeck

It’s an easy flat 4 mile jaunt across the fields along the ancient Priests Way back to my campsite and in the middle of nowhere I stumble across a few people with some serious photographic kit. What are they doing here I nosily enquire. It’s a Sebastian Faulks photo shoot for a forthcoming BBC2 feature. I know of him – he occupies a good tranche of the top 100 books in Waterstones – but I have never read any of his stuff and don’t recognise him.

Road to nowhere?
Road to nowhere?

I think I’m almost home when I find myself in potentially dangerous situation. Cows are streaming out of one field, along my path and into the next field. There are hundreds of them and I can’t wait forever so I slot myself into the queue a respectful distance behind Ermintrude in front of me. All is well until a bottleneck ahead causes the procession to stall and then Daisy behind becomes a little distressed and starts to moo. This spooks Ermintrude who tries to stare me out. I’m trapped.

Daisy. Probably.
Daisy. Probably.

Rambler found trampled – business card suggests German tourist” is the headline that comes to mind. It takes a little bovine negotiation to ensure my safe escape from this corridor of uncertainty. I return unscathed and resolve to eat more beef.