Purbeck – a Paddler’s Paradise

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Durdle Door bay

I had forgotten just how good the Purbeck coast of Dorset is for sea kayaking. It manages to squeeze in just about every type of scenery, from white-chalk cliffs to sludge-filled creeks, in a coastline ofnot much more than forty miles.

The clear placid water of Studland Bay was the venue for my first ever venture out onto the brine in a kayak many decades ago. One of those awful uncomfortable fibreglass craft that used to go round in circles no matter what you did with the paddles.

It was also here I landed my first ever kayak-caught fish, a mackerel, from the same meandering  kayak, using a cotton reel and line with a single hook and silver-paper lure. Forty years ago probably.

This time I started off with a nice downwind paddle from Swanage to Shell Bay, with the superb white cliffs and stacks of Ballard Down and Old Harry as the major highlight. Chalk cliffs always look sensational when the sun is shining on them.

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Swanage’s superb chalk stacks
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Old Harry Rocks

My entire body recoiled in a sort of primitive terror reflex as a Hercules roared over the clifftop above my head with absolutely no prior warning (although, I accept, I wouldn’t really have expected any), and then swung round over Studland Bay with its cargo door open. A heavy object attached to a parachute was thrown out (looked like a dishwasher on a pallet, but probably wasn’t) and was retrieved by a couple of very high speed splashy craft in a suitably professional manner.

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Hercules doing its stuff

There were a lot of Mediterranean Gulls feeding along the shore in Studland Bay, a species which was completely absent from this area (and the UK, I think), until recently.

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Mediterranean Gull

I paddled over Studland Bay’s areas of eel grass which provide a home to a variety of seahorse, amazingly. I lifted my rudder so as not to mess it up because the tide was very low.

Possibly more remarkable still was the nudist sitting all alone on the sand on what wasn’t really a sort of day for sitting around on a beach, with or without any clothes.

I just managed to dodge in front of the Sandbanks ferry before it landed. Paddling around it would have meant battling into the stiff tidal flow coming out of Poole Harbour, which is avoidable by sneaking along the shore only a few feet out.

On Day two I circuited Brownsea island which sits in the middle of Poole Harbour. Usually a nice sheltered paddle but on this occasion there was a stiff NW wind and the very big Spring tides made for some fairly dramatic (drastic) ferry glides across the channels. There is plenty to look at but mainly relating to humans e.g. hundreds of moored yachts and the most expensive real estate in the world on Sandbanks peninsula. It might actually be the second most expensive after somewhere like Malibu, I can’t remember exactly.

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Sandbanks
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Sandanks real estate

The armed forces were using a Chinook to entertain the hoardes of dog-walkers along Studland beach this time. It was carrying around a speedboat which seemed more appropriate to the needs of frontline troops than the Hercules’ Hotpoint.

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Chinook takes the strain

Day 3 was the best. Clear blue sky and fantastic visibility. Perfect for the classic paddle from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door, one of the most photographed coastal features in the UK. You can’t really claim to be a sea kayaker until you have paddled through the Door.

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Durdle Door

I had a bit of a chat with the guide from Jurassic Tours who was leading a posse of sit-on-toppers through the arch of the ‘Door’.

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Jurassic Tours

I couldn’t resist paddling all the way along the Bay and then punching  right through the buttress at the other end using the conveniently positioned doorway of Bat Hole. I then paddled back to Durdle Door along the line of four rocky islets with the excellent names of The Calf, The Cow, The Blind Cow and The Bull. I spent quite a long time trying to work out exactly what feature made the second cow blind, but eventually gave up none the wiser.

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Bat Head and Bat Hole (and little me)

Becky and my sister Juliet had walked along the cast path from Lulworth taking a few photos, wisely turning back  before the alarmingly named valley of Scratchy Bottom. I joined them on the cliff for a quick pic.

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Me ‘n my sis

The water in Man O’ War cove was satisfactorily turquoise and would not have been out of place on a June day in the Maldives, let alone early October in England.

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Man O’ War Cove (with me in the middle)

I paddled back to Lulworth Cove and had to dodge surprisingly large numbers of milling burger-eaters/ ice-cream slurpers while trolleying my kayak back up to the carpark.IMG_0155

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