Words and Pictures by Kristian Price
So this was it, the weekend of the Purbecks camping trip, or as the Top Gear boys call it, ‘tenting for medieval peasants’. The last time I had been camping was over 20 years ago, and whilst I had a few bits of camping equipment, it was time to go shopping and buy a new tent, sleeping mat, cookset, etc and seek the advice of Kat & Pete. Thank you for the loan of the stove and equipment guys. Looking at the pile of gear in my lounge, it seemed like a case of #AllTheGearNoIdea#. How on earth was I going to fit all of that and a mountain bike into the back of the car?
Having been to the Purbecks before, I reckoned it would take about 2 hours to drive in the Friday night rush hour traffic through Salisbury and Blandford Forum to Corfe Castle and my estimate was quite good. I hadn’t accounted for the very talkative campsite owner, and so after half an hour in the shop booking in, I finally arrived in the camping field that Tony & Margaret Holmes had set up their 5 star accommodation for the weekend in the form of a VW California, complete with heating, double glazing, fitted fridge and gas cooker! ‘That’s definitely the way to do camping,’ I thought as Tony helped me set up the tent in the dwindling daylight.
After a few hours both Nicky and Ann Marie arrived, and with tents set up, we gathered in the VW for a brew and chat about the riding in the area, looking at the OS Map to see the area that Tony & Margaret had covered that day, with a visit to the Square & Compass pub at Worth Matravers. More on this pub later!
We rose early on the Saturday morning to the sound of the cows in the neighbouring fields. With breakfast sorted and the use of the shower facilities (which were brand new and quite good), and with our bikes prepared, we set off shortly after 10am to ride into Corfe, avoiding the busy main road by using a bridleway opposite the campsite entrance. Today’s plan was to meet up with the Dorset Rough Riders, a local mountain bike club, and have a guided ride around some of the best singletrack and cliff top riding in the area.
We had a little time to kill before meeting them at 11.30, and so Nicky guided us through the Norden Farm campsite along a great section of singletrack in the woodland before climbing up onto Knowle Hill. I’d forgotten how steep the hills are around here. The rewards however are great: fast descents, though a little loose, wet and rocky at times. There are usually fantastic views in the Purbecks, but being in such close proximity to the sea, sea fog often affects the area and visibility can be very poor. We descended Knowle Hill to the rear of Corfe Castle and this is one of the best views of the Castle unaffected by telegraph poles and cables.
Our lunchtime stop was at the Corfe Castle Model Village and Tea Rooms and this was our rendezvous point with the Dorset Rough Riders. Clearly they are no strangers to this place, and huge cakes were ordered and polished off in short time. Today, Nigel, our ride leader from DRR, was going to lead us up to Swyre Head, the highest point in the Purbecks, with views over Poole Harbour, the Isle of Portland and across to the Isle of Wight. From Corfe, the route is very definitely a lung busting and leg burning climb to the south of the village towards the coast. Unfortunately, today, it was so foggy that visibility was down to about 30ft at times and we did not get the sea views that this area is renowned for. The descent
from Swyre Head is a very long bridleway towards Kimmeridge and as it steepens it gets very fast, but in the day’s fog I definitely did not want to hammer down there!
From the road above Kimmeridge, we rode a bridleway towards the Lulworth Firing Ranges which eventually turned into a steep, wet, rocky gully. With some Dorset Rough Riders taking a tumble ahead of us and another day of riding ahead, the better decision was to walk down and get to the bottom in one piece. There was no traction at all on those rocks under the trees. Sometimes, these things just have to be done.
Having ridden here before, I knew that we had to ride up Ridgeway Hill soon and I was determined to do this in one go as last year it was a very definite GOAP moment – Get Off And Push! I was not quite successful this time – it gets steeper towards the midway bend – but I only walked a few yards to find level ground to start again!!
Similar to our Wiltshire downland rides, we rode along the top of the ridge past Grange Arch and back towards Norden. As this area is very popular with walkers and well grazed by sheep and cattle, the grass is very short up here and consequently very fast to ride along. The last descent back to the road was great!!
We returned to the Norden Farm campsite visited in the morning via the same singletrack through the woods. It was a much better route in that direction!
Thanks must go to the Dorset Rough Riders. That was a great ride over amazing terrain!
Earlier on in the week, Tony & Margaret had visited the Square & Compass Inn at Worth Matravers, and so we returned there on Saturday night for our pasty and pint. This pub is well known in the area for its award winning beers and ciders and there is a good selection to choose from. The only food they serve is a pie or a pasty. It’s very, very popular and was already busy by the time we’d arrived. People queue well outside the door to be served here! After all that riding today, I’m sorry to say that the first pasty did not even touch the sides, and so another one was well deserved and polished off!! As Tony said, “this was a 2 pasty ride!!”
Sunday dawned a little bit clearer than Saturday. Not as much fog as the day before and definitely very warm. Temperatures in double figures that early in the morning was unusual for this late in September. Today Margaret and Ann-Marie were going to have a look around Corfe, whilst Nicky was going to lead Tony and me up onto the Purbeck Way and towards Studland Bay.
We were going to follow the route of the Wiggle Hill-O-Saurus Event, held in November last year. Starting along the same lanes as the previous morning, we rode into Corfe an
d started the long climb up the Purbeck Way, with views behind us of Corfe Castle. This climb must be 3 miles long, reaching the highest points on the Purbeck Way before descending Nine Barrow Down. With a reasonable pace, this is really good riding. Nine Barrow Down is a rocky track, stepped in places and choosing your line is important. More so to avoid the other users of this bridleway but still retain an element of fun on the descent.
A small amount of road riding is required to link up the next section, before a very steep grassy hill to the Ballard Down Obelisk. I have usually walked up this in the past – it’s steep!! I’m pleased to say that we all rode it, though very slowly! We were now truly on the coast, and follow the bridleway along the cliff top, descending towards Old Harry rocks. The speed is great and good fun. The Old Harry area is very busy, and it’s no surprise really. Good riding courtesy goes a long way here in negotiating the walkers on the cliff top and on the way back into Studland.
In Studland, we stopped at the Middle Beach Cafe for coffee and cake. Slices of cake down here are massive! Dorset Apple Cake is amazing – plenty of fuel for hungry mountain bikers! I have now made this cake and must say it’s great, and sorry but there’s none left.
Leaving Studland, we rode onto the heathland to the west of the village. This is generally a very sandy bridleway, with lots of gravel and this can be very difficult to ride. Certainly very tiring!! As we passed the golf course, we gained a little height and left the gravel behind. Here the singletrack starts proper and this is great fun, eroded gullies with a choice of lines, small sections of woodland with rooty descents and small drop-offs. We paused at a local landmark known as Frank’s Tank or more recently named Thomas the Tank. It’s origins are unknown but here’s a great little video of the type of riding on You Tube in this area. It’s easy to get disorientated whilst riding on this heathland, but by following the small rock written signs to Rempstone you will return to the Corfe area and more familiar territory.
Our legs were nearly shot by the time we rejoined the Studland road, but this ride had one more sting in the tail in the form of Brenscombe Hill. This climbs back up onto the Purbeck Way and is very steep and quite slippery under wheel as it winds up through a woodland across the natural chalk and limestone. No traction at all at times. At the top, we were now looking down upon Corfe Castle and descended down the same path we climbed in the morning. Finally it was a much clearer day than yesterday and we could see most of what we rode the previous day!
Thank you to Tony, Margaret, Nicky & Ann-Marie for a great weekend’s riding. I hope to do this again next year with more club members. If you feel the urge to ride down there sooner, the Wiggle Hill-O-Saurus takes place on 17 November this year.