Sandbanks to Swanage 01.08.13

Not wanting to subject my friends to the dark side of coastal walking I have cherry-picked today’s walk. We are a group of four – my old friend Sharon, her daughter Flo, sister Helen and dog Mitzi. The forecast is promising but on the train from Portsmouth to Poole I am already worrying about whether it will be a bit too hot for my friends to walk the eight or so miles to Swanage. Getting off the bus at Sandbanks we head for the ferry which we are told takes about 5 minutes and costs a pound.

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I had read about this ferry running on chains to stop it being swept off course by the strong current across the mouth of the harbour and I wanted a photo. Unfortunately the timing was wrong so this photo is taken from the Internet.

The sea breeze onboard is cool but deceptive so when we step off the ferry on the other side the heat hits hard. To make matters worse, it seems like half the population of southern England have decided to spend the day on the beach and the sign at Shell Bay says no dogs. After a few minutes trying to come up with an alternative we realise there isn’t one, so acting on advice from a local we brave the crowds, keeping to the dunes first and then opting for the slightly easier option of wet sand close to the sea. Blinded by the midday sun it takes me a while to realise that there are naked bodies scattered about, both men and women, and to realise that we must have reached the part of Studland Beach where nudism is allowed. A healthy looking blonde haired woman with large breasts is playing beach volleyball with her son – an image reminiscent of Hitlers’s idealised vision of an Aryan master race.

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Picking our way through sandcastles, shrieking children and determined sunbathers we soldier on, trying to find alternative paths – front of the beach huts, back of the beach huts, through the woods, until finally the beach stops and there are only the large rocks of the headland. Flopping down onto a small grassy bank we decide to stop for an ice-cream and a rest before making our way up the hill to the start of the cliff walk. A panting Mitzi looks on, pink tongue hanging out, I hope we can give her some water soon.

Twenty minutes later we are on our way up and then down the tarmac road to the start of the cliff walk. Here, there is room to breathe, quite a few walkers but nothing compared to the ferment below – time for a photo.

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From left to right this is me, Helen and Flo.

After a while we come to Handfast Point and the dramatic Old Harry Rocks. These consist of a stack and a stump of eroded limestone that now stand apart from the cliff and form part of the Jurassic Coast.

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As teenagers do, Flo immediately skips off along the narrow path as far as she dares, which is way too far for me – but I am not good with heights.

By now we can see Swanage twinkling in the sunshine below and as we stand staring rather despondently at another packed beach we catch sight of some paragliders trying to manoeuvre themselves into launch positions from the cliff edge. Eventually one of them catches the wind and gently takes off towards Swanage, swooping down to what to me looks like a sea landing. But of course he knows what he’s doing and expertly directs himself down into a green field behind the beach. “I want to do that” says Flo – and perhaps she will.

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By now Mitzi’s eyes are rolling with thirst and Sharon has a headache – water is needed. So down we go following the stony path until we emerge into a residential area and find a corner shop to buy more water. Wine gums and mints appear but there’s nothing for poor old Mitzi – the rule bound shopkeeper cannot help. So she must wait until we reach the beach where Sharon and I go swimming and we all sit round the table on the terrace of the beach cafe, drinking lager and eating chips. Sleep comes easily on the train back to Waterloo – I hope a good day was had by all.

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