Newmarket Ramblers

Guided walks in the Newmarket area




Swanage on the Dorset coast was our destination for this year’s group holiday.

Swanage began as a fishing village called Suanwic but later, as it became the focus of the local Purbeck Stone industry, developed into an industrial port. The quarrying reached its peak in the nineteenth century and each year thousands of tons of stone from local mines would be shipped out to London and used for buildings, bridges and street paving. Two sons of Swanage, John Mowlem and George Burt made their fortunes in London from the Purbeck stone and Burt built himself Purbeck House, the most imposing mansion in Swanage. Purbeck House is now a hotel and it provided us with a very comfortable base for our week’s walking. The hotel and grounds are still furnished with artworks and items salvaged from famous streets and buildings in London. On our first afternoon we walked out of Swanage through the Townsend Nature Reserve to join the South West coast path near Anvil Point. On our way we passed bee orchids and wild gladiolus and large groups of guillemots were bobbing about in the sea below the steep cliffs. The ascents and descents were a bit of a shock to some of the group, a real contrast to our gentle Suffolk landscape. Durlston Castle, now the Visitor Centre for Durlston Country Park  was another of George Burt’ s  creations and the grounds are full of artefacts brought back from London. The café not only provided us with a very welcome cup of tea but the terraces outside gave us a wonderful vantage point over the beautiful coastline. We completed the walk by returning to Swanage along the coast path and sea front.

On day two those wanting to do the short walk, a leisurely 6.5 miles, caught the bus to Studland Bay a most beautiful sandy beach owned by the National Trust. In 1940 the coastline at Studland Bay was one of the two stretches of Dorset coast where a German invasion was considered most likely and it was fortified as part of British anti-invasion preparations for World War II. After a gentle stroll along the edge of the sea the walk followed the South West Coast path to Handfast Point and Old Harry Rocks. At one time this chalk headland formed a continuous ridge between west Dorset and the present day Isle of Wight. The Old Harry Rocks are three chalk formations that now mark the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast and they derive their name from the fact that Old Harry is the name for the Devil and legend has it that he once had a sleep on the rocks. After Old Harry the walk carried on to Ballard Point and then turned inland onto Ballard Down and the Purbeck Way. The Purbeck Way consists of three different sections. The short northern section starts at Wareham and goes to Corfe Castle where the route divides, one section going south to St Aldhelms Head and the other going east to Ballard Point. From the top of Studland Hill there were wonderful views of Sandbanks, Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island, home to the red squirrel. At the westerly end of Ballard Down there is an Obelisk commemorating the provision of a new supply of drinking water to Swanage in 1883.

From the obelisk a slope and a steep flight of steps provide a fairly quick descent from Ballard Down into the village of Ulwell and from there an easy route back across fields into Swanage. Looking back towards the Obelisk several members of the group were amazed that they had managed the steep descent. The longer walkers also arrived at Old Harry in time for lunch but their route took them out of Swanage and up on to Ballard Down before crossing over to Studland and picking up the South West Coast Path to Old Harry and Ballard Point. The descent into Swanage on the South West Coast Path at the end of the day was somewhat steep and uneven but everyone was rewarded with wonderful views of the coastline and sea.

On day three we woke to rain and a gloomy weather forecast and everyone arrived at the station clad in waterproofs. Swanage station opened in 1885 and suddenly the busy quarrying village was transformed into a seaside resort. In 1972 British Rail closed the line but it is now run as a popular steam railway by a regular group of enthusiasts.  Everyone enjoyed the twenty minute ride into Corfe Castle and after a visit to the castle and a look around the village the sun came out and we all set off to walk back Swanage. The longer walk avoided the more usual route along the Purbeck Way and headed north from Corfe Castle towards the small village of Scotland. On passing an old barn the group were invited in to view a variety of old carriages and wagons that were being lovingly restored by a group of volunteers. This proved to be a fascinating visit but time did not allow for too long a stop.   Setting off again the path then meandered alongside and through various woodlands until it emerged onto Godlington Heath and once again there were views across to the Isle of Wight and Poole Harbour. At last Agglestone Rock, our goal for the day, came into view. This is a huge sandstone block perched on a small conical hill about 1 mile from the village of Studland. Legend has it that the devil threw the rock from the Needles on the Isle of Wight with the intention of hitting either Corfe Castle, Blindon Abbey or Salisbury Cathedral. Fortunately he missed them all!  After a brief photo call, some bog-hopping and a certain amount of huffing and puffing everyone managed the fairly steep climb up onto Ballard Down followed by the descent into Swanage. The shorter walking group took the more conventional route along the Purbeck Way descending at Nine Barrow Down and then following farm tracks arrived back into Swanage.

On day four everyone set out together to walk to Worth Matravers, a small, picturesque Dorset village, west of Swanage and a mile from the sea. Soon the longer walkers headed off at a faster pace taking the lower coast path to Dancing Ledge, believed to have been named after the effect that the rocky ledge has on the sea at certain times and tides. The water  appears to dance. Dancing ledge is one of several quarries struck out of the limestone cliffs on this stretch of the Jurassic Coast. The frequent passage of ships also meant that vessels carrying smuggled goods could easily slip in and out unnoticed. After visiting Dancing Ledge the path then continued on along the coast to Seacombe Cliff making a fairly steep ascent up Seacombe Bottom to Worth Matravers. The two groups were reunited at the pub in Worth Matravers, The Square and Compass, where everyone tucked into home-made pasties and local beer. After that it was down to the centre of the village to sample the delicious ice cream. Everyone agreed it was a pretty good lunch stop!!  After lunch the shorter walk followed the Priest’s Way to Langton Matravers where some walkers decided to catch the bus and the rest of the group continued along the Priest’s Way back into Swanage. The longer walk returned to Swanage along the upper coast path. In the evening following an early dinner  we had a visit to the local Theatre, where we made up 95% of the audience, and watched Shakespeare’s Much Ado performed by students from Bournemouth University. Later back at the hotel it was petangue and wine on the back lawn until it became too dark to see.  Swanage certainly turned up trumps and provided us with a week of great walking, good weather, wonderful views, an excellent hotel and pleasant company. Where to next year they ask? Quite a difficult act to follow! 

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Saturday, July 21, 2018