Bob Holman recounts a day enjoying fabuluous swims along the Dorset coast.
“Let’s do something different” exclaimed Club President Ali Budynkiewicz. “Let’s spend a day swimming at some different and unusual locations”.
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My mind raced ahead of me as I thought of all the fabulous places along the Dorset coast we could enjoy and already I was being caught up in Ali’s natural bubbly enthusiasm.
“I’ll think about that” was my reply – and it was from this brief conversation our great swimming odyssey was born.
The great day arrived and forty members, family and friends of East Dorset Open Water Swimming Club assembled in the National Trust car park at Langton Matravers and an air of expectancy gripped us all. Andy and Mary had brought along one year-old Matilda in her baby carrier and of course there was Taz the dog!
I gave a short briefing, warning everyone of the roughness of the terrain and the dire consequences of jumping into unchartered waters but these were “swimming places to die for”. Did I say that?!
So off we strolled on our first walk of the day, south past Spyway Barn to Dancing Ledge. It had got its name because the stone cut out of it was the same size as a ballroom dance floor. As we descended the steep grassy hill to the cliffs below, the ledge stood out in all its glory. It was now around 11am and the sun was beginning to push through the cloud, heightening the senses. The climb down onto the ledge was, shall we say a little challenging, and a few people were content to stay on the top to enjoy the view.
This was a wonderful place to start our tour. There was a small pool which had been blasted out of the natural stone ledge in the early 20th Century for the local preparatory schools to use and some of our swimmers decided to swim in this initially. However, most of our party eased themselves off the ledge into the beckoning sea.
Wow! The water was so crystal clear and you could see the bottom with a forest of kelp and the occasional glimpse of the craggy outline of the rock formation below. It was awesome! Occasional fish darted to and fro to add to the majesty of the place.
I returned to shore early to view a sea of yellow EDOWSC hats bobbing excitedly in the distance. Emily said ” I thought the Dancing Ledge swim was incredible as you swam and the rock dropped away beneath you underwater, like swimming over a cliff edge!”.
Back to land they came and a quick change saw us negotiate the perilous climb up the precipitous rocks. Phil and Ray were there to give everyone assistance and the occasional push and prod.
Having climbed the hill a little way, we found the South West coastal footpath which was to lead us west and parallel to the cliffs to Winspit, an old disused quarry cut into the cliffs near Worth Matravers. We carefully made our way down the crag, over some jagged rocks to a ledge. A quick change saw our intrepid swimmers enter the ravine. Again we were able to look down on a whole new world. crabs crawling along the bottom and fish darting here and there, the kelp changing colour and texture glistening in the morning sun. This was a truly magical place.
Again a quick change and in our hiking gear we were heading off up the hill to the “Square and Compass” for a refreshing drink and pasty. Pies, pasties and Dorset apple cake seemed to be the only items on the menu! The Purbecks are full of interesting places to visit and this pub is no exception. Run by the same family for generations, it feels like it is in a time-warp back to the 1930s. It has its own fossil museum and runs a busy programme of entertainments throughout the summer.
A short drive took us to Renscombe Farm National Trust Car Park and another mile walk, firstly over cornfields and then a steep descent to Chapman’s Pool, a rounded grey shingle bay. Here our group decided to split into two with most people choosing to walk further around the bay to enter from the beach. A few of us chose to swim from the boat slipway, negotiating the very shallow water and swimming across the bay, eventually joining the others. As I lay back taking in the view, I could imagine all the smugglers who in times past might have used this secluded spot with its cliffs and rolling Purbeck hills on all but the seaward side.
Back to land we came, first one or two, then the rest ready for the steep climb back to our cars. Gerry was there to greet us “You’re ten minutes early he said “I thought you would take an hour and a half to do that”. Gerry was the real linchpin for the whole day acting as my transport manager and organising all the backup. Unable to do the heavy walking required for this trip, he was saving himself for the final swim at Durdle Door, an ambition of his ever since he came to Dorset a few years ago.
A short drive took us through Corfe Castle (an awesome sight as we descended the hill from Kingston) and the onto Tynham and a swim in Warbarrow Bay. As we walked to the bay I was reminded how the village was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence so that the surrounding countryside could be used for tank training during the second world war. The villagers were promised that they could return after hostilities had ceased. This of course never happened and the village remains in a time-warp, a magical but eerie place.
Warbarrow Bay is a wonderful place to swim and has a dreamlike quality. Here we had the backdrop of the Isle of Portland jutting out into the ocean.
Bob said later “This has always been one of my favourite swimming locations and to say this is a most beautiful place would be an understatement of Dorset’s natural gem. When floating out to sea I was imagining myself floating above the level of the shore”
Back to land for a quick change and another short drive to swim at Lulworth Cove and Stair Hole. This was to be a major challenge for everyone in the party. We were to change on the beach and swim out through the cove entrance, turn west and make our way the two or three hundred metres keeping close to the rocks until we found Stair Hole, a cathedral of rocks and crags.
Easy you might say, but not quite! The swim in the bay was straight forward enough but as soon as we emerged into the open sea it became a cauldron as the waves dashed against the rocks and threw the swimmers this way, then that. Everyone who had braved the open sea made the entrance to Stair Hole and the sanctuary of the water behind it. A few thought it might be better to scale the craggy cliff and walk back to the cove rather than brave the raging sea again but were persuaded to return via our outward route.
Swimming back through the entrance was a truly awe inspiring sight but I was reminded that Sergeant Troy in Hardy’s tragic tale “Far from the Madding Crowd” was supposed to have come to grief and feared to have drowned here in the current at Lulworth Cove only to reappear a year later. Poet John Keats spent his last night on English soil at Lulworth in September 1820.
Back on dry land, Annie one of our very experienced open water swimmers (channel and many other long swims) reflected “That was scary but great fun!”
We were now off up the hill for the descent into Durdle Door, the grand finale for our swimming odyssey. Having parked our cars at the top of the hill, we made our way down the gravel track. The sea sparkled in the evening light and a grey cloudy sky was by this time trying to reveal glimpses of the fading sunlight. Before us was the Door in all its majesty. This magnificent limestone arch was created millions of years ago when the sea eroded the weaker rocks behind it and formed a landmark of perfect form and beauty.
It was now past 8pm but around twenty hardy souls were left for our last swim of the day. Gerry had made it (good lad!) and we all set out through the Door. In the fading evening light with the Isle of Portland winking in the background, it was one of life’s unforgettable swimming experiences. As we swam through the Door itself, we kept going, turning left and swimming around the headland in the choppy sea until we found the shelter of Man of War Bay snuggling around the corner. A couple of seagulls watched our progress with a curious interest
Paolo had decided that he had enough of this wild water swimming and returned via the steep steps. “It’s been a brilliant day and I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it” he said later.
We returned back through the Door to the beach and the long trudge up the stone steps and then back to the car park via the gravel path.
This had been a truly wonderful day, rich in swimming experiences and I know that many of our swimmers are planning to return to some of the places we visited. We are already looking ahead to what we might do next year, West Dorset maybe, Hampshire a possibility, the world is our oyster as they say.
If you are down in the Purbecks sometime, I know where you can get a great pie and a drink and maybe a little walk and a swim………