Walk 36 Alum Chine-Swanage

Walk 36
Saturday October 30th 2010
Alum Chine-Swanage

So back to Alum Chine once more and the novelty of a westerly walk. We made this decision mainly because the Kent stretch is now too far to go without staying overnight. We also want to stay in Dover for a few nights, do some walking and see the sights and that will have to wait until next summer. So, westwards it was for the final walk of 2010.

We set off very early to Bournemouth and arrived just after nine thirty. A quick visit to Asda at the bus station for lunch, loos and cash took no time at all and soon we were inside a fetching yellow taxi for the ride down to Alum Chine.

Amazingly the lamppost beside which we had taken the final picture nine years ago was still there and a beginning photo was duly taken.

Bournemouth_Swanage (01) Alum Chine

Across the bay we could see Old Harry Rocks shining in the morning sun and the route we would be taking around the edge of the bay. The first couple of miles were along Bournemouth’s famous prom, busy with dog walkers, cyclists and families out to enjoy the half term sunshine.

Bournemouth_Swanage (05) We're in Poole!

At the end of the prom was the Sandbanks Hotel, very Art Deco and white and blocking our way. We turned inland then nipped through the hotel car park to emerge on Sandbanks Road with the waters of Poole Harbour in front of us. The road here fronts the harbour and there is a lovely path along the edge crossed by slipways and access points for water sports enthusiasts. On the water were many small craft, including wind surfers, kite surfers and canoeists.

Bournemouth_Swanage (10) Poole across the bay

The houses on the other side of the road are famous for being some of the most expensive in the country and they did not disappoint. They were beautiful and with their views out to sea on both sides and private moorings at the back it is easy to see why they command millions of pounds. The path continued to a road junction with some local shops, one of which furnished postcards and an OS map. From there we had to follow the road as far as the ferry slipway. It was quite easy to find as there were signs all along giving the waiting time for the ferry from each point. At the ferry, I bought some take-away coffee while Jen went to investigate tickets. When I emerged from the café, she had bought the tickets and the ferry was about to leave! Cue a quick scurry to get aboard and up the steps to the pedestrian area.

The Sandbanks ferry has been making the short crossing over the entrance to Poole Harbour since 1923. It can carry 48 cars (and lorries and buses) and the journey takes just a couple of minutes. It is attached to chains to prevent it being swept out to sea as the currents here are particularly strong. The ferry is taken out of service for overhaul every two years and for four weeks starting tomorrow there will be no way across here.

Bournemouth_Swanage (18) Sandbanks Ferry

It was such a quick trip that we sat on the sea wall on the other side to drink the coffee as it was still hot when we disembarked. We wanted to linger here for another reason. The Swanage side of the ferry marks the beginning of the South West Coast Path, which runs all the way from here 320 miles to Minehead on the north coast of Somerset. A sculpture marks the beginning, so we had to take a photo or two.

Bournemouth_Swanage (20) Start of the South West Coast Path

Then it was on with the walking and a few miles we had not been looking forward to tremendously as they involved beach walking. As we are not fond of walking on sand or shingle, we thought it would be hard going. However, the sand proved to be quite firm and we tramped along happily. Also happily, the nudist beach was deserted, probably because it was still none too warm. But as we walked along the sun came out and by the time we reached the National Trust visitor centre at Studland, it was pleasantly warm. The beach near the centre was very busy with families playing on the beach, flying kites and kicking balls and generally having a good time. We decided to stop here for lunch and had a good long break, all the while eying up the climb ahead of us to Old Harry Rocks, now a lot nearer. The visitor centre furnished water, postcards and a nice clean loo which set us up nicely for the afternoon ahead.

A little further along the beach the path climbed up a lane then onto a shingle path signposted Fort Henry and Old Harry Rocks. It was a very busy path, again with lots of families walking and enjoying the weather. We stopped at Fort Henry, a World War Two observation post looking out over Bournemouth Bay. Then it was on and steadily upwards until we came out on a road in the centre of Studland village. Luckily this section was just a few hundred yards of road walking before we turned up another track and soon out onto a wide grassy area. The views from here over the bay were fantastic. We could see all of Bournemouth’s white buildings shining in the sun and almost the entire route we had taken so far. At the top of the bank we were looking down on Old Harry Rocks which were quite spectacular close to.

Bournemouth_Swanage (40) Old Harry Rocks at last

We had a break here to admire the view before setting off again. We had tuned a sharp corner now and were heading south west and climbing all the time. There were fewer people about at this point as the cliffs were high and steep and the path narrower. Soon we reached Ballard Point, the highest point of the cliff and were buffeted by the wind. Back from the path was an observation point and we stopped there to get our breath back and look out over the sea. The end of the Isle of Wight was just in view in one direction, Bournemouth in another and Poole in another. Some cyclists stopped for a chat before we went our separate ways down the hill towards Swanage.

The next part of the path was very precarious as there was a barbed wire fence on the inland side and the track was only a yard wide. The wind was so strong it moved us along and we were very glad it was blowing off the sea so that it pushed us into the fence rather than over the cliff. Soon the track widened and began to snake inexorably downwards. In the lee of some bushes we stopped to put on gloves and zip up jackets before tackling the final descent. Soon we began to go down with the aid of steps hacked into the hillside. These sort of steps are often a problem for people like us with short legs as the riser can be higher than a stride length but we managed all of these without resorting to sitting down then sliding off!

Finally we reached a footbridge over a stream at the bottom. Here the steps continued down to the beach and we knew that if the tide was out, we could walk along the beach into Swanage. It was in however, so we had to find our way through the streets to emerge twenty minutes later on the prom.

Bournemouth_Swanage (46) Swanage beach

It was still windy and cold even here but it was lovely to be back on sea level again. We visited the tourist information centre and had a hot drink in a café overlooking the sea. Then we wandered up the high street to find the bus station, which was next to the steam railway station which just had to be inspected.

Bournemouth_Swanage (60) From the bus window - Waiting for the ferry

The trip back to Bournemouth was a real treat. The bus followed the route we had taken, though inland and around the hills, back to Studland and across on the ferry. We had seen buses on this route earlier in the day, all of which had been open-topped but we did not expect the last run of the day at 5.30 at the end of October to be open but it was. But these are rather special open-topped buses as the front of the upstairs is roofed and there are doors half way down to the open section meaning the front is protected from the weather. We thoroughly enjoyed the ride back to Bournemouth station and watched the sun going down along the way. Another quick Asda stop for sandwiches for the train and we were on our way north again after a fantastic day’s walking once more.

Alum Chine                                  Swanage
Time: 10.15                                  Time: 16.30
Steps: 1816                                  Steps: 30304
Miles: 0.7                                     Miles: 11.95

11.25 miles
Running total 247.5