PERCHED on my city office-stool,
I watched with envy, while a cool
And lucky carter handled ice. . . .
And I was wandering in a trice,
Far from the grey and grimy heat
Of that intolerable street….
So said the poet, Wilfred Gibson. Well I am not on a stool and I’m not in a city but I am in my office that looks out onto my very green garden on a dull day and my mind wanders back to the one sunny day last week and a wonderful walk.
It started on the famous Sandbanks peninsula, said to be the forth most expensive real estate in the world with properties valued in millions. It is just my parking place though and I am quickly transported to another world. The transport is a chain ferry that runs to and fro across the entrance to Poole Harbour, apparently the second largest natural harbour in the world. The journey is but a few hundred yards but it saves a drive of around 30 miles and it takes me from urban to country in a matter of minutes! And it is an interesting experience to boot!
The Sandbanks Ferry
I’ve been travelling on this ferry all my life but it never fails to give me a kick. There is something magical and escapist in this ferry, maybe because it takes me back 60 years to when I was a child and we went to the beach, our wilderness area to explore and lose ourselves in…..ah, the wonder and simplicity of childhood! The Sandbanks Ferry is one of those quirky things of Dorset and something to be blogged separately but for now, it’s on with our walk.
The ferry takes me across to Shell Bay, in my view one of the loveliest and most unspoilt beaches in Dorset. It marks the start (or finish) of the 640 mile walk around the South West Coast of England – but my walk will cover just a few of those.
Stepping onto the beach brings back very fond memories from my childhood. We used to walk the 5 miles from our home in Parkstone to spend the day on the beach, and when I say ‘we’ I mean the whole family, my parents, me and my 4 brothers (apart from when I was in a pram of course), grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – we all used to go to the beach regularly. We would spend the whole day there and then walk home again – well, we had no cars and with such a large family my parents often couldn’t afford the bus fare.
The Dorset Rambler and family (I’m the baby of the family and that’s my pram behind)
The sand dunes became our mountains to climb and whoever reached the top first would sing out, ‘I’m the king of the castle, you’re the dirty rascal’ ! We would then kneel down and pulling ourselves along with our hands, make grooves like railway lines all around the beach. There were great football and cricket matches, lots of sand castles and my father always took an old lorry inner tube that was either rolled hoopla fashion down the dunes or became our boat for further adventures! It amazing how creative we were and how the simple things could become such an adventure. I think that sense of wonder and excitement that we had as children is something to be treasured and carried with us even into old age, even if it does take more effort. So many people lose that as they grow up and they are all the poorer for it!
In the sand dunes today
For this walk, I didn’t linger on the beach – that was to be my way back. My way out was along a very quiet path known as the Heather Trail. This is a lovely route that winds through the heathland behind the dunes and it can be a very colourful walk at the right time of year. This is the Egdon Heath of Hardy novels such as The Return of the Native. With the accompaniment of the skylarks, it is a lovely place to be.
The Heather Trail
It also skirts past swampy areas of heath with decaying trees – when we were younger, we used to imagine crocodiles and all kinds of snakes here. There aren’t any of course – the adder is the only ‘dangerous’ snake we have and they don’t usually live in swamp areas.
Eventually the path comes back out onto the beach again…..and a part of the beach that needs care! This is Studland Beach and part of it is noted for being an official naturist beach. Walking this part, the camera usually stays firmly in its holster, although on this occasion, the skies were so amazing that I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures! Clearly someone inland was getting wet but where I was, it was sunshine all the way !
Heavy skies but the sun shines on the righteous
Having passed through Hardy country, the walk took me on to another famous author as Studland is very much Enid Blyton territory. Most of her novels were based here with the Famous Five and Secret Seven having their adventures around this coast. In fact, with her husband, Enid Blyton owned the local golf club. It seems strange that such an iconic children’s author once had her work banned by the BBC who described her on occasions as a ‘tenacious second rater’ whose books were ‘stilted and long winded’. She was also felt to be racist and sexist! Ah but we as children didn’t care what the critics said, we loved her books! In the two pictures below, I’ve tried to create something Blyton-esque – pictures that might perhaps have appeared in one of her novels.
One goes on an adventure!
The coastline at Studland is interesting and varied. As you can see from the pictures above, the cliffs are sandstone with a beautiful array of warm colours, tones and patterns, and a few shallow caves too. Later, this sandstone turns to chalk as we reach the start of the famous World Heritage Site – the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, so designated by UNESCO in 2001. Perhaps that is a subject for a future blog too. It is an amazing coastline and one which I never tire of visiting.
Walking along the beach, I am always struck by the peace, the gentle lapping of the waves, the calling of the gulls overhead, the lovely sound of the children playing in the distance, but it has not always been so peaceful. There are several reminders of less peaceful times. One is above the beach and one that we will pass later in the walk but one is right on the beach – it is an old Second World War pill box which nestles at a crazy angle on the sand. This is a feature in many places along the coast and is perhaps a stark reminder of what our ancestors went through to bring the peace that we now enjoy.
The pill box – with a robin on the top
It was as I was walking along this part of the route that there was another reminder of both war and peace, it was the faint drone of a plane’s engine growing louder as it came closer. This was a troop carrying plane that often flies over this part of the coast, plying its trade to and fro, dropping paratroops out of the back – it looked like some giant insect giving birth as it flew with its new-born offspring gliding to earth. I often envy the troops their view as they glide slowly and effortlessly down in the silence just carried by the warm air and breeze. I’m not sure though that my envy would be quite so evident if I was stood at the back of the plane and about to leap out into the unknown!
The next stage of my walk took me away from the beach and up onto the clifftops….and to an altogether more agile flier than the cumbersome troop carrying plane. Walking along the beautiful grass covered cliff top, I decided to rest and just enjoy the scene. I sat on the grass and watched hundreds of martin’s wheeling through the air with amazing skill. In fact I tried to watch them through the binoculars but they were just so fast, constantly changing direction, that I couldn’t follow them. I guess they were making the most of the sunshine and having their dinner on the wing, swerving here and there to catch insects in flight. It was a wonderful sight! And the wild flowers were amazing too, almost as if someone had planted them – but then, I guess the great gardener himself did just that !
On the cliff tops
It was time to move on and it wasn’t long before I reached Old Harry Rocks, the point at which Ballard Down reaches the sea. There is some debate over how it got its name – some say Harry is named after the devil who took a nap there, and others say he is named after Harry Paye, an infamous local smuggler. Either way, it is a beautiful and breathtaking place.
Old Harry Rocks
It is impossible to get onto the stacks themselves but with care you can go down that slope to reach the tip of the ‘mainland’, a point known as St Lucas Leap – this was named after a greyhound who went over the cliff whilst chasing a hare. Hmm, I can feel another blog entry coming on there too !
St Lucas’ Leap
On the way back down the coast path, the memories from my youth and the remembrances of war came together. I passed the cottage in the picture below – it sits right on the cliff top with fabulous views over Studland Bay. It reminded me of a day in the 1950’s when I passed it whilst out (grudgingly) walking with my parents. My father recognised the owner who was working in his garden and fell into conversation with him. During the war my father was in Italy for three years as a driver in the army and this man was the colonel that he used to drive around. He hadn’t seen him for many many years! As an aside, I never knew what went on in wartime as my father never talked about it!
The way back