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Discovering Dorset

After a lie-in and two delicious cups of tea in bed (our own beds) we wondered down to The Quay and enjoyed a full English breakfast. With neither of us knowing where to catch the ferry from – to begin our adventurous hike: walking from the ferry to Swanage, we ventured forth to the information centre.

Now I’d like to say that they were knowledgeable and helpful, but anyone who sends an innocent walking from Poole to Sandbanks, along the sea-front, with very vague directions in a positively howling gale – instead of encouraging them to take the bus – should be made to sit in the naughty corner.

Despite the practical clothing, wind, like sand, tends to get everywhere.  And when you’re crouching down to get that photo it’s not just the mangy-dog with an inquisitive nose that you need to worry about, but balancing on two feet at that angle can make tight-rope walking look easy. The wind was so strong that the several miles of diversion we took through the town, with various tar and concrete distractions, was a delightful reprieve from the buffeting seafront surges. Somewhat similar to trying to walk against a sheet pulled tight.  

Misery loves company

Kite surfers

By the time we’d reached the ferry at Sandbanks, gulped down a refreshing beverage, bought our tickets and scurried down the jetty to jump aboard, we both had a feeling that the hike to Swanage (along the coast) was going to be indefinitely postponed. Instead we found the first (and only) restaurant – conveniently located a few hundred yards from the ferry – and ate fish & chips by the sea.

Most delicious mushy-peas - great for dipping chips into!

After a bottle of bubbly we were suitably restored, and able to endure the whipping sting of the sand blasting against our legs (well mine actually – Practical Barbie had decided to wear her active kit, including ¾ trousers; Impractical Barbie (PLW) stuck to jeans) while we waited for the returning ferry.

From the ferry we caught the bus back into Poole. Almost the wrong one, which in our current - even though half revived - state would have been catastrophic, especially because the cab company wasn’t answering its phone. PLW wanted a book, I wanted to visit the Purbeck Pottery Shop. Through very intermittent signal we’d googled closing times – it was going to be close – of course the bus driver didn’t know this – perhaps it was because we didn’t know how much the ticket cost, or maybe our accents – but he gave us the scenic tour, winding in and out of unnecessary streets. We divided and conquered. It turns out that the Purbeck Pottery Shop is open till late during ‘summer’. And with it being a treasure trove of delights – not something to be done in 30 minutes – PLW joined me.

A room full of delights

One very restrained fish-platter later we wondered the mile-and-a-bit back to our B&B. Well, just B (bed). &B was not on the menu anymore. A restorative shower and segment of Titanic watching later we headed out to the recommended Bakers Arms in Lytchett Minster for dinner. We’d asked around and wanted something that had charm – a fire-place, comfy chairs and good food. We got all of these (if you count an unlit fire) and to complete the evening through in a close game of scrabble! Who could ask for more?

Sunday was to be our ‘activities’ day. And after Saturday we were determined to fit in as much as possible. We bought a post-card, primed the sat-nav and got knowledgeable with the twists and turns in Dorset’s roads.

By 9:00 we were in the car, slightly doubtful as to whether we’d get use the sunglasses perched on our coiffured locks. We were going to Corfe Castle, and were going to get there by taking the ferry from Sandbanks. My nose may grow if I try to deny slight excitement at driving onto the ferry. Or if I don’t admit to spending a fair amount of time pondering the workings of the chain ferry – other boats used the channel, including keel-boats, so the chain either lies on the ground, or is slackened when not in use. I was a fan of a combination of the two, after observing that in the wind the ferry did veer slightly off course, suggesting the chains were not completely taught. Further confirmed by a keel boat that flashed its bottom at us – dashing in front of our ferry as we began our trip. Or the really big sea faring ferry that needed a guide-boat with a flashing yellow light to clear its path before it crossed out into the open ocean. However, there was also a winch attached to each chain... I was reluctant (and lacking signal) to google, and on that note we’d reached the other side (well maybe a bit before!)
We arrived at Corfe Castle with time to explore the early-opening sweet-shop. The odd post card, a couple of bars of fudge and nougat-covered-in-chocolate (an odd strawberry nougat, reminiscent of pink fizzers / artificial pink milk / no nougat I’ve ever tasted before!) later and the Tea Shop was ready for customers: time for a breakfast of home-made scones with jam and cream.

On that day (and very possibly others) The National Trust were offering a special reduced fee membership. Always loving a deal and of course to support a good cause, PLW and I became members. We now have the very cool stickers for our cars and a file full of reading material informing us on everything National Trustish.

One of the wonderful ‘things’ about visiting a ruin is that your imagination is able to run wild while you picture life as it used to be. And Corfe Castle is a fantastic ruin for fantasising. There is just enough left to be able to climb in, out and about. To be awed by the architecture – or what remains – and to be inspired by the dedication and precision that went into building it.

Corfe Castle ruin

As the wind whistles through where long-departed doors once stood and I steady myself on the solid, but cold stone, I envision the crackling logs, leaping flames and swirling smoke that must have helped to keep the castle hospitable – in the remains of the chimneys.

 Solid structure

 Path to...

 Winding walk-ways


Heading back to the village

When at the seaside one should enjoy the sand between your toes, the sun and an obligatory ice-cream. However, on Sunday it was neither sunny, nor was I inclined to take off any layers of clothing – even if it was only a shoe. So it would have been rude to have the ice-cream. Or sensible, unless you like them sand-blasted!

Swanage by the sea

Inspired by trying to do as much as possible in one day, when we drove past the entrance to Lulworth Castle, we thought it might be rude not to drive through. We debated actually going inside, but instead exercised stereotyping, generalising and laziness: and guessed that this castle was probably quite similar to other castles, so stayed in the comfort of the car, drove on the wrong side of the road (briefly) but took note of all the times that we saw signs to Lulworth Castle for the rest of the day.

Continuing on our grand tour and enamoured by the idea of spontaneity, when we passed a ‘Pick Your Own’ strawberry farm, we followed the signs, narrowly avoided the garden centre (it was tough) and wondered out into the strawberry fields. Camera’s slung awkwardly over our shoulders, the wonderful sweet aroma of fresh strawberries filled the air as we sorted through the berries, filling our punnets with individually selected bright red delights.

Rows of goodness

After managing not to buy several bird-feeders later, and having safely strapped our strawberries into the back seat, we set off for Durdle’s Door. Now for all those who haven’t been to Durdle’s Door before, don’t be put off by having to drive through a caravan park (where there is a conveniently located Cost Cutters!) Once past the campers the brutal strength of the wind almost tempted us to stay in the car. This would have been a huge mistake because not only are the surrounding white cliffs quite magnificent, but so is the sea, and of course the rock formations. The whole location is worth donning practical shoes, warm jackets and mountain-goating it down the rather steep path.

 The lengthy foot path

 Durdle's Door

 Beach to the left

White cliffs to the right

Our next stop was to be the giant at Cerne Abbas. When you have two girls on a road trip, how could you not want to visit an enormous 180 foot chalk figure, carved into the hillside...

A reputed symbol of fertility

It was about three-ish by this time, and we were ready for lunch. Our next stop was undetermined – all this driving around was making me tired, not that I was driving – being a passenger can be utterly exhausting! We had thought to visit the Swanery in Abbotsbury, and when we saw strategically posted signs for ‘Baby Swans’ we got spontaneous again. After-all I still haven’t tasted roasted swan – this could be the perfect opportunity? It wasn’t. In fact, due to tiredness and a lack of wishing to be surrounded by screeching small children, we took the odd photo of the single swan paddling ornamentally in the front pool, both said ‘tick’ and went in search of a tea-room, specialising in salads for lunch.

Ornamental swan showing us its bottom

Luckily Abbotsbury offers variety. Our first attempt was at a local pub which we soon discovered had been taken over for a (we guessed) Christening or some such. Not wanting to party-crash / being unable to withstand the increasingly pungent stench from the bathroom area, we hastily left.

Our next stop was a local tea-room. It looked sweet from the outside and on questioning was assured that they did serve salads. This turned out to be our polite ‘break-clause’. In a way that only small tea-rooms can manage, it had retained the fusty roast-lamb aromas from lunch. Adding to the atmosphere was the gurgle, snort and mutter from the snoring man sitting behind us – not the most appetizing way to start a meal. Un-tempted by the whole situation, we utilised our ‘break-clause’ and swiftly left, congratulating ourselves on another successful retreat.

We struck it third-time lucky at the Abbotsbury Tea Rooms (also a B&B). We were so well looked after – we had a selection of magazines offered to us, a delightful and fresh menu (including daily specials) to choose from, a light and fresh restaurant to sit in and a few good games of noughts-and-crosses. So pleasant was our visit that we extended it by having coffee and cake. If / when I go back to Abbotsbury I will definitely visit here again, and possibly even stay over (didn’t actually see the rooms). Actually the whole town is very sweet (two dodgy restaurants aside) with free-range eggs on sale outside front doors (bought some just in case they were swan), pottery shops and of course the swans, amongst others.

Abbotsbury Tea Rooms are on the left

Our lunch was leisurely and so it was closer to six by the time we were properly back on the road. I’m not yet used to the later summer-light, so we were often later than we thought, or, running on ‘holiday time’ – both just nicer ways of saying ‘late’. But when we saw a sign for Blue Pool – a mentioned place in the touristy books – we thought paying it a quick visit would be great. Unfortunately neither they, nor the ‘Pick Your Own’ veggie people were running on our time.

We were headed for our last ‘official’ stop of the day, Old Harry’s Rocks. The sat-nav didn’t recognise Old Harry’s Rocks, so we put in the address for Studland Beach, assuming that they were next to each other. The bad news was that we didn’t get to Old Harry’s Rocks. The good news was that we did get to Studland Beach – and it was beautiful. The wind had dropped, the sea was calm and the sun had come out. We ambled over to the beach, got our toes sandy and promised that one day, when we both had respective others we’d come back for a civilised escape from the world break – especially because there is very little mobile reception. But mainly because it seems like a really wonderful place to spend some time.

 Potentially Old Harry's Rocks - from the other side?

Just perfect: Studland Beach

That night we headed back to Da Vinci’s on The Quay for dinner. We’d been there on Friday night and after having revelled in the most exquisite combination of flavours, lively and enjoyable atmosphere and just the right amount of Italian exuberance, we’d tossed around the idea of going elsewhere, but realised we might have food envy if we didn’t go back. And it didn’t disappoint.

Most delicious: Sophia Loren

As expected Monday morning came along and despite lying in bed with my eyes shut, it didn’t go away. But being a bank holiday and all meant that I could stay where I was for a bit longer. Then, having decided to use our new National Trust memberships, we headed out to Kingston Lacy to peruse the portraits and comment on the crockery. There was a market in the grounds, and despite and contemplated whether or not the strawberries would mind sharing the back seat with the odd garden plant. However, having barely any space left in the garden, the strawberries could stretch out for a bit longer.

That all changed when we brolly-bashed our way forwards during a fascinating garden basket presentation. Babylon Baskets won an award at Chelsea for the revolutionary design. The baskets use plants instead of plastic, so you can have a really great, full basket, can plant in layers and really make the most of a space – ideal in space-limited London. The baskets either sit on a base mounted to the wall, or on a free-standing stand. We were hooked. And when we found out that there were only a limited number available the strawberries no longer had the back seat to themselves. 

The house itself was in wonderful condition, no doubt due to the somewhat police-like monitoring of the many guests. With sparkling chandeliers, the odd dramatic view, and a peak into how life was lived by members of the house-hold way back when the baths had no taps. 

 Kingston Lacy

 View down an avenue

Arty pleasant pheasants

The trip back to London was filled with dietary promises – which I am now partaking of. The odd dodgy seated-but-dancing-anyway move. And the mandatory lengthy worms of traffic snaking over the hills. Next time I go down there I’m going to have a quick word with the weather police – if anyone has their number, could they please send it through to me!



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