I’ve been a regular visitor to the Isle of Purbeck for literally all my life. My maternal grandparents, and now parents, have rented land for a caravan up the downs above Swanage, overlooking the sprawling town and its beautiful bay. Annual summer holidays took us to some of the local highlights so many times they now feel like part of home: Durlston Head and back for chips by the sea; stacks of 2ps to gamble in the arcade; long, hot days spent in the dunes and long stretch of sand of Studland Bay.
We were down for the weekend as Bryony was speaking at an Early Years conference in the nearby market town of Dorchester, allowing me some adventure time to hunt out some new locations to add to the list. A beautiful autumn day beckoned, so I planned a run and a later dip. Studying the maps around the town, I spotted numerous panaroma points clustered around the village of Cerne Abbas. To be honest though, I really decided to choose this point of departure in order to see the famed giant on the downs. Having ran to the suggested viewpoint, I couldn’t recommend a trip just to see him; a paraglider or drone would be necessary to see it from its best angle.
The valley itself proved to be a fantastic run location however. The dog and I managed to lose the path early on, necessitating some crawling under low trees and commando rolls under barbed wire, but we soon reclaimed our path and gained some spectacular views. Classic English countryside spreading in both directions, plenty of hedgerows breaking up the green fields, tall trees framing the bucolic landscape. We trotted past well manicured manor houses and prosperous farms, the grey beauty of the stones so sympathetically embedded in the landscape. The hills are steep and long, one climb leading eventually up to a glimpse of the rolling hills spreading away across this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We slogged our way back along part of the Wessex Ridgeway long distance path, sad as always to be restricted to a narrow strip of land, while the most geologically interesting parts of the landscape (and therefore funnest to run) kept from us by barbed wire and gates. Dropping back down into the valley through steeply sloping woods and through fields that felt like parkland felt like finishing on a high though, all in all an excellent place to stretch the legs.
We collected Bryony with a few hours of sunlight left, rushing round town to get the necessaries for the evening. The ever-useful Wild Swimming website had pointed out Chapman’s Pool as a local swim highlight, so we headed back toward home, turning off towards Worth Matravers just after rounding Corfe Castle. The carparks were still heaving with visitors, but most seemed to be heading home. With the sun fading behind low, thin cloud, we crossed recently ploughed fields, before dropping down the side of the hill through brambles and hawthorns. It’s a clear but challenging path and there’s even an option of a shortcut climb down a rope if you’re feeling particularly energetic.
Eventually we got down to the pool, pleasing circular, with a boat house off to the left and precarious trees high above us on the cliff to the right. The temperature was dropping quickly, so I matched its pace and entered the water, careful to not slip on the smooth, polished rock beneath me. The water started off clear but soon became cloudy, with plenty of Bryony’s nemesis, seaweed, to avoid. It isn’t steeply shelving and there were big barnacle covered rocks to avoid, but still a remote and peaceful spot to swim in the dying light of the day.
Carefully stepping back to shore, I noticed the tell-tale swirl of an ammonite, the spot I had chosen covered in the fossils of a variety of ancient lifeforms; the best wild fossil experience of my life. The size of some was spectacular, with the incoming tide covering and revealing them to our garbled delight. We spoke of deep time and the majesty of life as we slowly trudged back up the cliff. Devon is a beautiful county that has many secrets still to be revealed, I’m sure we’ll be back to find them soon.