The Purbecks and the South West Coast Path

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The Purbecks and the South West Coast Path

Transvulcania is still 7 months off but starting training yesterday seems like a good idea and I'm upping the hills, long runs and trails.  I should have been running Berlin today but I pulled that for lack of a hope in hell of a pb and decided on the spur of the moment run the Purbeck Hills from Swanage to Weymouth. 

Not entirely sure where the idea came from.  I've only been to Swanage once before when the Datchet Dashers organised a club away weekend and ended up in the pub with almost a clean sweep of the prizes at the local half marathon.  I've also only been to Weymouth once, for the less wholesome experience of a 45-pint 3-day stag weekend where the stag ended up handcuffed to a lamppost butt naked.  He was also handcuffed to a lot of other things come to think of it but at least he got to keep his undercrackers.  I still have nightmares about the deep sea fishing 'activity'.  6 hours in a tiny boat with a massive hangover as all sight of land disappeared, the horizon lurching alarmingly and everyone throwing up over the side. But.. no chance of that this time!

I thought a straightforward run along the South West Coast Path would do the job but the night before by chance I read about the firing range halfway (why do they always get the scenery and not Hitchin or somewhere?). That was fortunate because when in action it closes the path, leaving you a 14-mile detour, an about turn, or a TANK ROUND TO THE FACE.  That was a bit much so I was up til gone 2 reworking a path over the Purbeck Hills, dropping to the Coast Path down the Western limit of the range at Lulworth Cove.  It's the same 32 miles and apart from a chronic lack of sleep I was good to go.

I'd booked the Sunday night in a Swanage hotel and arrived in time to fit in a 10k livener up to Old Harry's Rocks in the most beautiful late afternoon sun.  There was a taste of the hills to come and some practice climbing steps as the path rode the headland around the bay where a couple of tall ships were anchored.  Just lovely and I wished I'd time to go further and that I'd brought the camera out.

Monday dawned and the run was nearly over before it began as the previous night's suspiciously vivid-orange mushroom stroganoff played havoc.  Fortunately it passed and I set out for Corfe Castle, with a climb up to the ridge of the Purbeck Way.  Lots of walkers were coming in the other direction which made me wonder whether they knew something I didn't, but they were almost non-existant past Corfe and from then I had almost the whole trail to myself.  

It's so still and silent on the ridge. Very striking. And from the high point there's easy, flat running before the path descends down to the 900-year-old Castle after 5 miles or so.  
Several more miles of great trails followed; open fields one minute, winding over fallen leaves through woodland the next, wildlife everywhere and the weather just right at about 20 degrees C with clouds taking the edge off the sun's heat. 

I got pretty lost a couple of times past Blue Pool.  Once in what was basically a swamp and another thanks to the whole trail being so overgrown it took 15 minutes of being slashed to ribbons by gorse to find it again. It looks totally barren on Google Earth.

There's about 4 miles of road around the Northern extremity of the range through West Holme and East Stoke which is kind of shame but unavoidable, though I saw a grand total of 3 cars and one cyclist .

The trail turns back South again towards the coast here down the Western side of the range. I'd been kind of tempted to ignore the closed signs and run the coast path anyway but I gave myself points for conforming with the Man as it sounded like a war was going on.  It's disconcerting to have tank rounds and heavy machine-gun fire as background noise as the trail climbs back over the ridge towards Lulworth Cove around 20 miles in.  I really enjoyed this section with the exception of the last few yards to the Cove which should have been easy but the cliff edge trail was shut due to a rock fall or something and every alternative way down I tried ended up in someone's back garden so eventually I gave up and used the main road in.

From seeing almost no-one for the past couple of hours, suddenly every man and his dog were out as this is a tourist trap.  Not a single other runner though which was a surprise.  I paid a vast sum for a couple of bottles of water to refill the backpack bladder (the Ultimate Direction SJ, just the right size for a trip like this) and a bottle of Coke because I needed the sugar. 

I took a few photos but they really haven't done the place justice and I failed miserably to capture the light.  Or even get them in focus for that matter!  I had a quick look around before heading on up the sod of a climb to the cliff edge above Durdle Door about a mile and a half West.  During this stretch some of the finest scenery known to man was pushed past my retinas.  But for the rabble of school trips it would have been sublime, though in reality there weren't that many of them.  It just felt that way having seen nobody for so long. 

The bay was Mediterranean turquoise-blue and despite being up high on an exposed bluff there was still this all-pervading stillness and silence (the kids long since left behind). 

There are another 3 miles of very steep gradients past Durdle Door, many of the climbs too steep to run without a break or a walk.  In fact even walking is tough in parts.  I dropped my water bottle at one point and it immediately plummeted back down the trail like a gamboling Spring lamb as if I'd chucked it down a well.  I think anyone who litters is no better than the trash they leave behind but there was an oh FFS moment having to redo one of the steepest climbs of the run having retrieved it.

The last high point was the cliffs at White Nothe, 150 metres above the sea. Every time I see an altitude now I can't help but work out how much higher the peaks at Transvulcania are and how much more effort will be needed to climb them.  This just a 16th of the height of Roque de los Muchachos.

But for a few more lumps to keep it interesting it's a long descent into Weymouth from here.  I got temporarily lost just the once more as the route my watch said use through Osmington Mills led straight into the sea.  As far as nutrition went I'd travelled very light.  Just two gels and a flapjack and that coke at Lulworth was all I took.  With a mile to go the glucose ran out and I walked the last bit along Weymouth promenade so I just about got it right but I'll take more next time!  The Ambit had given up a couple of miles earlier which was disappointing - that was 6 hours of battery life at most.

Normally I'd have headed straight for food and a pint but I had to get back to Swanage on public transport using a train and a bus, both of which were in short supply so I had all of 20 minutes enjoying the seafront before catching the first train out of there with a terrible sandwich courtesy of a corner shop.  There turned out to be a lot less buses than I'd imagined running between Wareham and Swanage but luck was on my side as the last one for two hours pulled up just as I arrived on the train and the whole journey was painless.  Fortunate as it was getting dark and I only had a 3 thin layers.  I also had a 2-hour drive home from Swanage so that could easily have extended into Tuesday but as it was the village curry house was still open when I made it back and proved irresistible.

I really loved that run and I'll be doing more of this kind of thing.  I really enjoy these long runs - a journey where you don't know what's around the next corner.  There's something exhilarating about travelling long distances across the landscape under your own power.

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