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The year’s first cycle camping trip doesn’t go quite to plan…

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Having waited for what seems like an absolute age to find a slot in both our work schedules when we could take some time off, we booked a short cycle packing trip last week just to get us back into cycling fitness in readiness for longer trips hopefully throughout the rest of the year.  Of course, we picked the wrong week – it should have been the previous week, which had wall-to-wall sunshine and reasonable temperatures! Never mind, we packed our gear and battled against the wind to head for the Purbeck Hills, on the Dorset section of the Jurassic Coast.

We cycled to the Sandbanks Ferry in Poole, by which time the strong blustery wind was accompanied by light rain. We alighted from the ferry and began the long, slow climb up towards the Purbecks. We were heading for the campsite at Langton Matravers (Tom’s Field), just outside Swanage, which is located conveniently close to the many different walks in the area.

Fortunately, we were too late to get caught up in the ‘Jurassic Beast’, a local cycle sportive arranged by Wiggle, the online cycle store, that goes up and down the steep Purbeck Hills. Although, while I was waiting for Chris – who by this time was pushing her bike – one of the marshalls who had stopped to take down a sign, looked at me slightly quizzically and asked if I was riding in the race. As if – loaded up with all these panniers, you must be joking!! We duly arrived at Tom’s Field, slightly damp and somewhat windswept but looking forward to a few days camping and walking the coastal paths.

Tom's Field Campsite

Tom’s Field Campsite

The following day dawned sunny but still windy. Fortunately, we had tucked the tent in behind the wall, so were out of the worst of the wind. We spent a leisurely morning soaking  up the welcome sun rays and generally chilling out. We were visited by a very tame Mr and Mrs Blackbird. Mrs was the braver of the two and actually took a few crumbs from my hand. She also inspected the inside of the tent and afterwards removed any remaining morsels left on our plastic folding plates.

Mrs Blackbird clearing the plate

Mrs Blackbird clearing the plate

After lunch, we took the short walk across the fields to Dancing Ledge, on the coast. We crossed the Priest’s Way, which is an old track that winds its way from Swanage to the pretty village of Worth Matravers. In the old days, this track was used by the local priest as he trudged his way back and forth between the churches in his care.

Stone sign on the Priest's Way

Stone sign on the Priest’s Way

Looking along the Priest's Way

Looking along the Priest’s Way

Signpost and drystone wall

Signpost and drystone wall

After following the footpath across several fields, in which the sheep had tucked themselves behind the drystone walls to keep out of the wind, we arrived at the cliff tops above Dancing Ledge. The gorse bushes above the cliff tops were in full bloom and looked absolutely stunning. About the only time of the year that gorse bushes look attractive! They even smell nice too!

Ewe, ewe, ewe and ewe!!

Ewe, ewe, ewe and ewe and ewe!!

Gorse in bloom and smelling of coconut

Gorse in bloom and smelling of coconut

Dancing Ledge was once one of the many local quarries used to provide high-quality limestone for building.

View above Dancing Ledge

View above Dancing Ledge

Old quarry workings, Dancing Ledge

Old quarry workings, Dancing Ledge

There is a small swimming pool on one of the rocky ledges that the quarrymen cut into the rock at the beginning of the 20th century so that the local children could swim there. The edge of the swimming pool can be seen in the bottom righthand corner of the photo.

Swimming pool (bottom righthand corner)

Swimming pool (bottom righthand corner)

The ledge is also used by climbers and we saw a group preparing to climb one of the rock faces.

Climbers at Dancing Ledge

Climbers at Dancing Ledge

Climbers at Dancing Ledge

Climbers at Dancing Ledge

The whole area comes under the stewardship of the National Trust and we noticed that they had put up some new signs after a recent spate of major landslips further along the South West Coast Path.  The unusual weather patterns of the past couple of years have had a massive impact on the stability of some parts of the coast, which have had to be closed off due to the damage caused and the danger of further cliff top collapse.

National Trust warning sign

National Trust warning sign

Walking back to the campsite, we crossed a field to get on the leeward side of the wall to shelter from the cold wind. Unfortunately, I stepped into a slight depression in the ground and jarred my back. At the time, it wasn’t that painful but later in the evening my back started complaining. After a very uncomfortable night, I could hardly walk the next morning.  Realizing that this would take more than a few days to settle down and would not be helped by crawling in and out of a little tent, I reluctantly decided to call for help. My brother-in-law has a long wheelbase Landrover and is able to transport us, the bikes and all our panniers. Luckily, he was free and able to come to our rescue – for which I was very grateful.

Our plan to visit the Square and Compass at Worth Matravers had to be put on hold. This is a very interesting old inn that has been in the same family for over 100 years. Inside the pub itself there is a museum with some dinosaur fossils, as well as some other interesting artefacts such as prehistoric tools and bits of 18th century shipwrecks. If you are ever in the area, it is well worth a visit. And the ale is good, too!

Hopefully, our next trip will be slightly more successful!

Author: Mike McEnnerney Photographer PhotoLink Images

I've had a passion for photography for as long as I can remember and have been running my own photographic business for many years (www.photolinkimages.co.uk). This also carries over into my personal interests: I love the great outdoors and enjoy nothing better than to be outside taking photos and combining this with my hobbies of cycle touring, camping, backpacking, canoeing and just being out in the wilds, or as the Australians say "beyond the black stump" farther into the outback than the city lights.

3 thoughts on “The year’s first cycle camping trip doesn’t go quite to plan…

  1. Now come on Mike….How many times have I told you that ‘walking can seriously damage your health’… I thought every cyclist knew that :-))

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