Wednesday, 31 October 2018

South West Coast Path Section 58 Swanage to South Haven Point

Swanage Promenade
This was a day of mixed emotions for me.  On the one hand I was in celebratory mood for this marked completion day on the South West Coast Path, while on the other I was sad that not only would I be finishing with this walk but that I wouldn't actually be doing any more UK walking for quite some time as only a week from this day I would be emigrating.  Regular readers may have noticed that my only walking for the last few months has been on the SWCP and it was for the very good reason that I was anxious to finish the path before leaving the British Isles, for who knows if I might have another opportunity?  More about my destination in the next blog entry.

Lunch Stop
We had long discussed my last short stretch of the path (this section is only 7 miles) being a family affair and as agreed my wife and two daughters came to celebrate completion with me and walk the last few miles.  It promised to be quite an easy section for them to do, especially compared with the preceding few miles from Weymouth, which is up there with the most challenging sretches of coast along the whole path.  We took the Sandbanks ferry over from Poole and parked immediately the other side at South Haven Point.  As we got on the ferry my worst fears were realised when I saw not one but two of the buses heading to Swanage ahead of us.  I knew that we were most likely going to miss both of them and face a lengthy wait for the next one.  We struck lucky though when we managed to be directed off the ferry ahead of both of them, in with sufficient time available that we were able to get parked up and run for the bus.

Climbing Ballard Down
We sat on the Swanage Breezer with the wind blowing through our hair when a horrible thought struck me.  Had we closed the car door in our haste?  Too late now I thought - by the time I would have got back the damage would have been done.  I decided that hopefully one of us had shut it and we continued on our way.  We got off at Swanage station to enable us to have enough time to go and get some refreshments before getting underway.  We were blessed with another glorious day and unlike the last time I was here a few weeks previously Swanage was incredibly busy.  School holidays do that to a place - suddenly the best places become overwhelmed with visitors when families start rolling in.

Ballard Cliff
We grabbed some pasties and drinks and headed off along the promenade.  The beach was rammed - Swanage is clearly even more popular than I imagined.  It isn't surprising - it is a beautiful location and provides everything a family could wish for.  For so many of the families it looked like the perfect day out and the kids were clearly loving being free from school.  My two were happy to be following their old Dad though - they weren't too bothered about the beach.  At the far end of the promenade we started to the climb to Ballard Point.  Although it looked somewhat daunting it was nothing compared with other climbs along the South Dorset coast and as I reminded my girls it was the only one of the day.  Once at the top it would be downhill until the end - a rather gratifying thought!

Walking to the Isle of Wight
After passing through 'New Swanage' we resumed course along the coast, finding ourselves a rather pleasant place to sit for our lunch.  I think I wore a perma-grin for the day.  It was perfect in every way - blue skies, warm, breezy and a pleasing amount of cloud bobbing overhead which meant for constantly changing light.  The view from our spot over Swanage was quite superb and even the walk ahead wasn't daunting.  I reflected that I had done a good thing by leaving this short stretch to the end rather than trying to tack it onto the section from Chapman's Pool.

Old Harry Rocks
We took the climb up to Ballard Point slow and steady and discovered that it actually wasn't nearly as bad as it looked from below.  As we wandered up we could hear the whistle from the steam train, which sounded as if it were heading up the line towards Corfe Castle.  The view along the Purbeck Ridge was something special too.  One day I will walk it - have been thinking about it for a very long time.  At the top of the hill the path flattened out and proceeded along a ridge above Ballard Cliff to the Point bearing the same name.  Our view right was very special indeed - this section for me was probably the best of the whole day.  

Old Harry Rocks
At Ballard Point the height was suddenly lost as the Isle of Wight came into view.  This was to be expected for Ballard Point is like a mirror image of the Needles which it faces.  Instead of the Needles this headland has Old Harry Rocks, a rather similar if less celebrated feature.  As we got down to view them closer it was clear that many people had been drawn from the car parks at Studland to come and look at them  too.  Cormorants seemed to love them too - there were plenty on evidence clinging to the sheer faces.

Studland Fort
For us that was the end of the high part of the day - the path now continued along the level path around Studland Bay.  Initially this was a very well walked path along a grassy strip between Studland Wood and the sea but we eventually hit a short stretch of road at Studland village.  The path diverted seawards away from the village and at Redend Point we passed by a large hotel that was in the throes of having a garden party - looked very pleasant.  At the seaward side of the path was a rather different kind of structure built for war rather than pleasure.  This was one of the wartime defences; still looking very robust and in good condition.  Studland Bay was considered to be quite vulnerable during the war for it was somewhere that could easily have served as a landing site.  When the imminent threat passed it then became one of many beaches that was used for D Day training exercises.  Looking at its visitors today it is hard to believe that such a short time ago it had tanks and troops using the bay.

Studland Beach
The last three miles took rather longer than expected as we traversed Studland Heath nature reserve.  Indeed we weren't even sure which path to take at times.  We started at the back of the dunes as initially the going was easier but eventually the path ran out and we had to go along the beach.  As we wandered along the back of the dunes we became aware of a naked man posing on top of the dunes and I remembered that this is a nudist beach.  A walker behind us was clearly quite embarrassed at the prospect of going along the beach and he disappeared into the heathland while we decided to front it out.  The reaction of my two children to walking along a nudist beach was quite entertaining.  One decided to walk head down and not look at anyone or anything around her until the coast was clear.  The other had a sneaky peak with much interest and trying to disguise a smirk the whole way.  We were pretty relaxed about it although I did feel a tad overdressed at times!  She got a good biology lesson I suppose...

Sandbanks Ferry
The last stretch along the beach wasn't terribly interesting although the number of people that we saw increased significantly as we got closer to the ferry.  Our pace quickened too as we started thinking about the car door.  I also wanted to see about getting a celebratory ice cream at the end.  Sadly that last part didn't happen as there wasn't anywhere to buy one.  I lingered for a photocall at the sign at the end of the walk but otherwise I thought this was a slightly anti-climactic end to what has been an astonishing walk.  So after 12 years, 3 months and 23 days I finally conquered the challenge of the path and just in time.  I was helped considerably by the beautiful summer weather that allowed me such good conditions to complete the walk.  Eight days later I left the UK and have not been back since.  That wasn't a script I expected at all!  My new whereabouts will be revealed in my next blog entry.  As for the car door?  Turned out my daughter had closed it!