Does the traveller choose the road, or does the road choose the traveller?

13/02/2017 – Swanage to Dancing Ledge

Click for 3D map of today’s walk – on laptop or desktop, Click on 3D and use the Ctrl key to manipulate the map and scroll to zoom in or out.

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It was a cold, blustery day, but all in all not too bad. At least it wasn’t raining or snowing, it was just cold because of the wind. There was a lot of wind, but I wouldn’t call it a storm. I parked up on the large public car park in Swanage, which was at this time of year almost empty. I set of towards the beach and decided to start exactly from where I had my picnic half way through my last walk. This meant walking  along the promenade and then coming back again. The sea wasn’t as flat as it had been last time and the cold February wind was especially strong here, with the vast expanse of water in front of me.

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On my way back I proceeded along the promenade and through Swanage shopping street, which also was fairly deserted. I couldn’t blame people for not going for a walk, but it suited my purpose of going for a walk and not finding the town and the coast path overcrowded. When I reached the other car park, the one that is half up the hill, I noticed the same lack of cars there. I continued on along Peveril Point Road, enjoying the beautiful views across the bay and back to Swanage on my way to Peveril Point. As I walked up, I got more and more of a view of the cliffs I had walked on last time and Old Harry Rock and its companions standing proud in the sea, slightly away from the cliff face. I reached Peveril Point and it was beautiful up there. It almost felt like it was completely separate from the town, just like Portland feels different somehow to the mainland and Weymouth. I took in the view, especially the maelstrom of different currents around the little peninsula, whipping up the water into a contained frenzy of brine and foam, which I’d found myself in with my kayak at one time. I had found it difficult to get out but finally managed, and took away the learning it was trying to instil in me. There was a coast guard station right there on Peveril Point, making sure people were safe and I had felt the two people looking at me with their binoculars. This was a couple of years ago now.

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I found the coast path and followed it along cliffs that got gradually higher and that took me to the outskirts of the town again. I found my way along the couple of roads along some more modern buildings and flats. The last road swung slightly left and straight on to Durlston Country Park. I decided to turn in to a more appealing path on the left which lead through a forested area. This was more or less deserted and mostly blocked the view along the sea, sometimes allowing the walker a stunning view back over the Peveril Point, Old Harry Rock and Bournemouth in the far distance. From here you could clearly see how the wind was pushing the sea water up into white crested waves that bashed against the cliffs once it had reached them.

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After a while I passed another car park and continued on to Durlston Castle where I re-joined the coast path down the left of the building. Quite a few visitors had made it to the Castle, or there was some sort of function going on. Apparently this ‘castle’ had always been intended to be a visitor attraction and restaurant. The path was easy to walk on but quite steep with some mud at the bottom after which it sharply swung round again. After a short while I came across The Great Globe, a giant stone globe which is well worth walking up to and inspecting more closely. From a distance it looks like this precariously balanced 40 tonne stone sphere is about to roll downhill and into the sea. I walked around the globe, reading the plaques and then down the path again, towards the cliff, to continue my walk. Turning right I had a partial view of the cliffs and the path ahead again as the cliffs jutted in and out, as if another bit of land had been ruthlessly torn away.

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The next stretch along the cliffs was in parts very enjoyable, when I was able to stay out of the wind, and in parts bracing. I was skirting around Durlston Caastle keeping close to the cliff edge and at times returning back to the comfort of the trees felt really appealing, but I pressed on. It was February after all, and I had chosen to come here today. The path itself was very comfortable and well laid out with a few well built and impressive view points along the way, from where I could see Anvil Point Lighthouse in the distance, bathing in the glare of a low winter sun. It gave the lighthouse an air of mystery and a longing for the walker to get there to discover more.

A few other walkers were joining me in my discovery but they soon turned back to the safety of the car park near the castle behind me. Coming closer to the lighthouse and Anvil Point, the path dipped into a little gulley, as if it didn’t want us to reach the lighthouse. Looking back there are some caves, manmade, from the time there was a lot of quarrying going on, such as at Tilly Whym Caves. You can see traces of this in different places along the path here. Even though there is a clear sign to keep out, two walkers managed to ignore this and clambered over the wall to take a closer look.

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The road then got wider again and the green hillside gradually opened up in front of me. The wall around the lighthouse with the now defunct fog horn tower standing guard were a welcome reprieve from the wind. Anvil Point lighthouse is beautifully white, not too high. It doesn’t need to be since it’s at the top of a cliff, with keeper’s cottages with four black chimneys poking their potted heads above the roofline, as if to sample the air around them. I went round to the green and white gates and sat down for a well deserved cup of tea and lunch, if for nothing else, to warm up. The gates are slightly set back and they offered enough shelter to make my break really enjoyable. The sun was out and I was comfortable and warm. I bet this walk is very crowded in the summer months, when it’s really warm.

After my short break I pondered whether I should walk on to Dancing Ledge, and since it was still fairly early and the weather was lovely, I decided to go for it. I could always turn back if I felt it was too far. There are two routes to take here. Either you walk up the tarmacked road for a while and then turn left to follow a parallel path up higher on the hill, or you continue along the cliff face. I chose the latter. The coast path ambled along, more or less at the same level but now and again slowly descending or going up again, to follow the contours of the landscape. The whole route was exposed but somehow it didn’t matter as much anymore, or the wind had died down somewhat. Sometimes I turned away from the cliff face and sometimes it took me right next to it for a while. I never felt too close, however. This was what walking the coast path was all about. More than once did I come across an opportunity where I could turn right and up the hill to join the other path, but I never felt tempted. Looking back at one point, it was astonishing how far I’d come. First the lighthouse was like a toy building in the distance and then it disappeared from view altogether. The views along the cliffs were stunning and the path was relatively easy to walk.

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After about 2 miles, I came across another wide path coming straight down the hill from an area called (brace yourself) Scratch Arse Ware. On the right was a fence with wooden steps in several places to let walkers, but not cows, continue along. The area was really muddy but I realised this must be near Dancing ledge. I clambered over the fence and continued down the cliff when suddenly, the rock face around Dancing Ledge came in view. I took the steep path down and I was there. There is another car park nearby and I wasn’t alone. In fact, it was quite busy with some rock climbers trying to scale the cliff. This doesn’t begin to compare how busy this place is in the summer months with climbers and outdoor activity organisations vying with space, as well as the usual walkers and visitors. Even though today was not very warm, it’s great to be able to visit outside of the main tourist season.

When I walked to the edge of the top ledge, I could see the tide was out and the pool hewn out of rock for the benefit of local schools a century ago. I bet health and safety would have something to say about this if it were used now! The rocks around dancing ledge allow the water to dance in and out of some of the cracks when the tide and weather are right. If you’re lucky to see it, it’s quite spectacular apparently. To get down to the pool you need to be quite fit as it’s very steep to get down as well as to get up. Even so, a lady with a dog seemed to have managed it. I had a long rest there and more tea and it was easy to forget all concept of time. Before long I realised I really had to get back as the sun was starting to dip towards the horizon. Most of the people had left already and realising how far back I had to go, I set off in a relative hurry.

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I decided to walk up the hill now, a bit further up from where the main path up Scratch Arse Ware was and I soon lost track of where I was. I realised that going up, I would come across the path going along the hillside. To my surprise, half way up, I got very close to two deer who scurried off when they suddenly noticed me. I was aware that the sun wouldn’t be out for hours still so started to traverse, rather than go straight up. There was no real path to speak of and I wouldn’t recommend it. Soon I had climbed a long way up and could see the cliff path way down. Finally I encountered the path I was looking for. It was muddy and with it being way up the slope, quite windy. Fortunately I had dressed for the occasion and before long, the lighthouse on Anvil Point came in view, just as I started to wonder whether it had disappeared altogether. When I reached it, it was starting to get darker. I took the shortest route back to the castle, following the tarmacked road to make sure I didn’t get lost in the dark. I decided against taking the cliff path as that would be too dangerous now. I reached Durlston Castle when it was just about possible to see where I was going. Again, I followed the shortest and most secure route along the main road to the car park and down into Swanage. Walking along the sea front, I was glad about the decisions I had made and to make it back now it was completely dark. That’s the downside of walking in winter, the really short days. I turned left from the promenade towards the car park and found my car in a completely empty car park. A very satisfying day and another leg of my walk enjoyed and finished.