Studland To Swanage Dorset
It’s Tuesday 1st May 18 and after a request from my good friend Barry Plant to do some walking during his holiday leave, I find myself setting off to walk for four days along the Jurassic coastline from Studland to Weymouth. Our walk will take in the sites of Old Harry Rocks, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and the wonderful Isle of Portland. Once again it’s an early start by train from home via London to Bournemouth and a tight bus connection to Studland, which we make on time. The No.50 Purbeck Breezer bus actually crosses on the chain ferry that crosses at the entrance of Poole harbour from Sandbanks to Shell Bay Studland. This popular and useful attraction is operated by the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company, which initiated the ferry crossing in 1923 and a toll is charged for use of both road and ferry. The ferry (or floating bridge as it is classified) links Bournemouth and Poole with Swanage, allowing people to avoid a 25 mile journey around the harbour by road. The current ferry boat “Bramble Bush Bay”was put into service in 1994 and can carry up to 48 cars. It is the fourth vessel to operate on the route. This crossing remains as popular as ever, if not more so since the opening of the South West Coastal Path, our route for the next four days.
After a very pleasant crossing in lovely sunshine, we eventually arrive at the golden sands of Shell Bay, Studland. Here at this very point is the start or ending point of the South West Coastal Path which starts or ends at Minehead, depending on which way you are walking the route. It is Britain’s longest National Trail at 630 miles long and is considered to be the hardest coastal section to walk in Britain. It is said to take 30 days to complete and a guideline of 7 to 8 weeks to take into account some sight seeing is suggested. However I was interested to read that the fastest time it has been completed in was 10 days, 15 hours and 18 minutes by Damian Hall in 2016, he averaged 60 miles a day. Having completed 54 miles in a day on flat ground I can only salute the fellow. Originally the path was said to have been created by coastguards, patrolling the south west peninsula looking out for smugglers. They literally had to check in every inlet so their cliff top walk was well used and gives us the amazing path we use today. The path has also been used by fishermen looking for shoals of fish and checking the sea conditions.
7.6% of visitors to the region came just because of the path and research in 2012, found the annual spend by walkers that year on the path had risen to £439 million which sustains 9771 full-time jobs.
After a short walk through Shell Bay and a brief chat with a local fisherman who’s rods are featured on my title picture, we eventually arrive at the magnificent 4 mile long Studland Bay. The beaches at Studland Bay (which includes a nudist section) are amongst the most popular in the country, and on hot summer weekends they fill up with thousands of people. On a day like today I am just glad to be alive and enjoying the views out to Old Harry Rocks ahead and the Isle of Wight behind me. Regarding the nudist beach, I did like this warning online: ‘This is an official nudist beach and National Trust Wardens patrol discreetly. There have, apparently been reports of some unacceptable behavior in the dunes so nude beach-goers, especially family users, are advised to stay on the open beach’. It seems to me there is always someone who has to take things too far.
Since the early 20th century the supply of sand to the bay has depleted and erosion is occurring, so what it will look like in a few hundred years may not resemble the sands loved by so many today.
Enid Blyton stayed at nearby Knoll House, her favorite hotel. Studland village was said to be the inspiration for Toytown in Enid’s Noddy books, she was said to be inspired by the local area and her own exploits in the countryside to go on and write Noddy, the Secret Seven and the Famous Five novels. Knoll house is still a popular hotel and you can even stay in her old room overlooking the sea.
The beach at Studland was also used as a training area before the D-Day landing in the Second World War. Seven Valentine tanks fitted with duplex drive equipment sank in the bay during Exercise Smash in April 1944, sadly resulting in the death of six soldiers. These tanks are said to still be sitting at the bottom on the seabed in Studland Bay.
From the beach you can spot Fort Henry’s long gun emplacement up on the hill in the tree’s at Redend Point. Now owned by the National Trust, it was constructed in 1943 by Canadian engineers and named after their home base in Ontario.
Barry walking up the slipway from the beach toward Redend Point.
A decommissioned British Mark 17 (XVII) contact mine from World War 2 on display at Redend point. This Naval mine was a self-contained explosive device placed in the sea to damage or destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, contact mines need to be touched by the target before they detonate, limiting the damage to the direct effects of the explosion and usually affecting only the vessel that triggers them. This mine used 11 switch horns (detonators) and could be laid in waters up to 500 fathoms (915 m) deep. Available charges were 320 lbs. (145 kg), 450 lbs. (204 kg) or 500 lbs. (227 kg). It was the standard British contact mine of World War II.
Early mines had mechanical mechanisms to detonate them, but these were superseded in the 1870s by the “Hertz horn” (or “chemical horn”), which was found to work reliably even after the mine had been in the sea for several years. The mine’s hollow lead protuberances (horns), each contain a glass vial filled with sulfuric acid. When a ship’s hull crushes the metal horn, it cracks the vial inside it, allowing the acid to run down a tube and into a lead acid battery which until then contained no acid electrolyte. This energizes the battery, which detonates the explosive. After the war in 1949, 14,933 were still in storage and many were reused to raise money as collection boxes for the RNLI, sea charities, missions etc in seaside towns.
Contact mines are still used today, as they are extremely low cost compared to any other anti-ship weapons and are effective, both as a terror weapon and to sink enemy ships. Naval mines can be used offensively, to hamper enemy shipping movements or lock vessels into a harbour; or defensively, to protect friendly vessels and create “safe” zones.
From Redend Point you get one of the best views across Studland Bay.
Fort Henry’s grade II listed gun emplacement is 90 ft (27 m) long, with 3 ft (1 m) thick walls and an 80 ft (24 m) wide recessed observation slit. On the 18th April 1944, it was used as an observation point by King George VI, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower; the future President as Supreme Commander Allied Forces Western Europe. Together they were observing the training troops and discussing the plans for the coming D-Day landing planned for later that year.
As mentioned earlier, 6 personnel perished in operation Smash in April 1944. The servicemen’s deaths were kept secret for decades, because the tragedy was hushed up for a long time under the official secrets act, but these D-day heroes who sadly never made it past Dorset are remembered by this small memorial erected to mark the 60th anniversary of Operation Smash in 2004.
After a brief look around Fort Henry it was time to push on and from the path here, you get a closer glimpse of Old Harry Rocks ahead at handfast Point (or the Foreland).
In the sky we spot this Sun Dog, a beautiful optical effect so named because they follow the Sun — like a dog follows its master. Sun dogs are formed by the sun shining through ice crystals in high clouds or from Jet contrails.
At Ballard Down you can look right out over Studland village, Studland Bay and right across Poole Harbour.
At the same location you get your first view of Swanage and Peveril Point.
After an hours walking over Ballard Cliffs and through New Swanage we arrive at the small pier on Swanage seafront with its ornate clock tower shelter. Disappointingly this spot marks the finishing point of today’s walk and we have one last look back toward Ballard Point and Old harry Rock’s before heading into town to find our B&B for the night.