A ride of two distinct halves with plenty of interesting spots to stop and two off-road stretches.
The logistics were always going to be complicated. Fifteen members of my extended family and I were due to gather at three holiday cottages for a week in Dorset to celebrate my mum’s 80th birthday and most of us wanted a bike ride. To add to the challenge, we required a variety of ladies’ and gents’ bikes, two with child seats, and we wanted to start from where we were staying – at Studland – which was some distance from the nearest bike hire centre. The final criterion was for a route that would enable the birthday girl and other non-cyclists to link up by car with the cyclists at one or two family-friendly points of interest along the way.
Detailed scrutinisation of maps (never a hardship for me) and some Googling followed. I identified a route that took in Corfe Castle, a picturesque pool and RSPB reserve and found a bike hire centre that would deliver any configuration and number of bikes to one of our cottages. Bingo!
After several anxious confirmatory phone calls and emails, the bikes duly arrived in a trailer at 10am on the day of the big ride. The weather forecast was promising too which was just as well as there was about the same chance of rescheduling our trip as there was of changing D-Day. After matching up the right bikes with the child seats, adjusting saddle heights and the obligatory cheery team photocall we were off – but not for long. At the bottom of our lane we faced the first of several sharp inclines that were to characterise the morning ride.
We took the first turn left and then swooped down to Ulwell. The outgoing route essentially follows the minor road that runs along a ridge formed by Nine Barrow Down and later Brenscombe Hill. We had great views across the steam railway line all the way towards Swanage where it terminates. The views came at the inevitable price, though. We were up and down like a yo-yo which, while tiring, wasn’t too much of a problem for me but proved particularly challenging to my brothers who were both weighed down by a three-year-old sitting behind them. Progress was slow and we were delayed further by a puncture. It was, therefore, something of a relief to finally see the gaunt ruins of Corfe Castle come into view. The final descent into the village – which plugs the gap between two ridges – was a joy.
Corfe looks just like a castle should. Proud and prominent on top of a mound, it dominates its surroundings. The village, which has the same name, is as quintessentially British and old fashioned. A steam railway completes the scene and, from the viewpoint of the castle, makes the place look almost like a model village.
Unfortunately, the only option to continue north from Corfe is an A-road but the incline was very gentle so we had no complaints and it wasn’t long before we headed off-road. A bridleway took us initially past a campsite and then into the edge of a wood where the surface deteriorated. What was an adventure and provided variety of terrain for those without passengers was a trial for those with them especially as it had been fairly wet the preceding days. Sometimes we had to get off and push our bikes through the mud. I would certainly recommend a mountain bike for those following in our tracks as the bridleway seems more like a footpath in parts.
Our determination was rewarded by our destination, the Blue Pool. This is a lake which formed in a pit created by clay mining in the early 19th century. The iridiscent blue results from fine particles of clay suspended in the water. Surrounded by pines and with a playground and café, the Pool provided the perfect lunch stop – and rendezvous point where we met up with the motoring party who had set off after us and had completed the nature trail around the pool while awaiting our delayed arrival. We also had a look around a small museum that tells the story of clay mining in the area.
The second part of the ride could barely have contrasted more with the first. After a short stretch of the main road we headed out in between the gorse bushes into the wonderfully flat open heathland that typifies northern Purbeck. Ah, that was better! It seemed such a pity that those with the small children had decided to head straight back after the Blue Pool. Most visitors to Purbeck gravitate towards Swanage and the south coast which meant we had the road to Arne largely to ourselves. We’d left the motoring party to linger longer at the Blue Pool but made such surprisingly quick progress that we were waiting for them rather than the other way round. At Arne we parked the bikes so that we could all walk together to the viewpoint at Shipstall Point within the RSPB reserve. (We could’ve cycled as the track is a bridleway). To the east the view extends across Poole harbour to Bournemouth. In the foreground are the intriguing Long and Round Islands which, covered in trees and with just a jetty between them, look like they belong in Scandinavia or the pages of Swallows and Amazons. To the north-west the sea worms its way into the saltmarsh.
At this point the motorists set off home and the cyclists – now consisting of just my brother, nephew and I – began the final and largely off-road leg of our journey. The route on the map looked complicated and just the sort that might add several unwanted extra ‘lost’ miles. To our delight and surprise, though, it was very well waymarked and my map remained folded in my pannier. The track dives in and out of the forest and – much as we loved their company, of course – we were glad to be free of the children as they would’ve slowed progress especially on the sandy bits. A family ride had turned into a lads’ ride and we were rather enjoying it.
The route did have one last sting in the tail. We finally emerged on the minor road leading back to Studland – but didn’t reach journey’s end quite as swiftly as we were expecting. The last few miles were hard work up one of those inclines that never seems to end – and feels all the longer and steeper when tackled late in the day. Each now cycling solo at his own pace, we finally burst back into the holiday cottage at 10-minute intervals from 6pm. We had plenty of notes to compare as all of us squeezed around the dining room table that evening to wolf down bangers and mash. It had been a birthday to remember.
Distance: 25 miles.
Time: Full day.
Leave Studland to the west on the B3351. Take the first turn left (a fork) signed to Ulwell. Turn right into the village (signed to the Village Inn), follow the road as it bears left and then fork right. A t-junction turn right (unsigned) then follow this road along the side of the ridge all the way to Corfe Castle. At the junction with the A351 turn right and around the castle. Continue ahead at the roundabout then turn left off the main road to and through Norden Farm. Pass through the campsite to enter the wood in the far right corner. Continue in the same direction as before through the wood initially on its southern edge. Emerging at a road, turn right and then take the first track on the right to the Blue Pool. Leave the Pool following the exit signs for cars which brings you to the A351. Turn right and then, at the Halfway Inn, left onto a minor road across the heathland. At a t-junction turn right (unsigned) to continue to Arne. (The bridleway to Shipstall Point starts opposite St Nicholas Church). Retrace your route to the first junction at which bear left. After about 1½ miles look out on your left for a fingerpost with the first in a series of blue waymarkers for the cycle route. They take you off-road along a bridleway to Studland (also Route 2 of the National Cycle Network) initially over an old stone bridge and then in and out of forests. Eventually, you emerge at the ferry road. Turn right to return to Studland.
The Bankes Arms, Studland, BH19 3AU. Tel 01929 450225. Highly recommended.The Village Inn, Ulwell, BH19 3DG. Tel 01929 427644.
Good choice of pubs and cafés in Corfe Castle.
The Blue Pool Tea Room, Norden, BH20 5AR. Tel 01929 551408. Closed in the winter.
The Halfway Inn, Norden, BH20 5DU. Tel 01929 480402.
Recommended family accommodation: