SEASIDE SOLILOQUY LEADS TO ASSAULT ON PURBECK HILLS
There is something very special about riding a bicycle alongside the sea. Every time I do so I find myself overtaken by an extraordinary sense of calm; the sound of the waves breaking complementing the whirring gears and gently-clicking chain of my bike.
If I was better at maintenance it would be a perfect union; but as it is, the rubbing of my brakes adds to the symphony. Dorset's a great place for a ride by the sea. It's also a great place for a ride in the hills, so why not combine them both?
This route skips round Poole Harbour via Sandbanks, delivering you nautical views and vistas of houses that you just can't afford. Looking the other way, inland, it would be a crime to visit the area and not ride in the Purbeck Hills. Their short, stabby little beacons are filled with views and traversed by small roads spoilt only by tanks. Yes, tanks. The Purbeck Hills are home to a huge military firing range where the army practices its aim by raining ordnance down onto sheep. They generally close the roads while doing this, so plan your trip carefully to avoid disappointment.
Dorset is also the home of some proper English village names. If you complete this route you will have ridden through Puddletown, Piddletrenthide, Winterborne Stickland and Spetisbury to name a few - all dreamed up by those with a bit of Morris Dancing and cider in their blood and not a Roman derivation amongst them.
In fact this is a quintessentially English ride. The hills are relatively polite, gently tipping their hats at your legs whilst quietly eating away at them. The rolling farmland reminds you that we used to grow all of our food at home and in summer it is covered in green and feels rather pleasant. The county is littered with main-road-dodging lanes and the only real traffic you'll encounter is during your tussle with Poole. Once you've got civilisation over and done with the ride feels like you've broken away for a Famous Five type adventure in the English countryside. However, I'm not sure that I'd recommend ginger beer in the bidons.
The route is by no means easy and you'll finish the eighty miles with well over 5,000 feet of climbing in your legs, so don't get lulled into a false sense of security as you roll round Poole Harbour on the flat. Speaking of Poole Harbour, there's a ferry to deal with as well which adds a little bit of extra interest to the ride - along with a short breather if you shot off the blocks too quickly.
"...this is a quintessentially English ride."
I like to begin this ride from Wimborne Minster as it is easy to park and the prevailing westerly wind offers a welcome hand home for the last ten miles. The first few miles of the ride are a relatively uneventful journey south on main roads to get to the centre of Poole, so it's probably best to tackle this at a weekend or outside of morning/evening rush hours.
At Poole you pick up National Cycle Route 25 and follow the signs and cycle path to the track that skirts round the bay. This track is unusual as there's a speed limit that applies to cyclists. I'd advise you to comply with the ten miles an hour rule as there are plenty of walkers sharing the path with you, some of them not quite as spritely as they once were and often hard of hearing.
You cheat a little and catch the ferry across the bay. Purists are welcome to swim, but last time I was there the sea looked cold and rough and my bike needs more than armbands to keep it afloat. There's a regular ferry and it will only cost you a quid. Speed your way over Studland Heath and then climb hard up into the Purbeck Hills on narrow lanes that vary in quality. Some good, hard and involving riding sees you to Corfe Castle, ready for the biggest climb of the day, through Steeple and up the mini alpine pass to the first gated road of the day.
If you are lucky, the road will be open and you can ride across Povington Hill, admire its sea views and then hit the steep drop down into East Lulworth. Otherwise it's a less scenic diversion north through West Holme, although it's still pleasant enough on the bike. If you've got a taste for the sea, West Lulworth is a nice spot to head slightly off route for a paddle, pasty and cup of tea. Once refreshed, it's a climb away from the coast and into the rolling Dorset Downs via the beautiful moorland of Winfrith Heath.
The next ten miles or so are a feast of quiet riding and small country lanes until, suddenly, you happen upon Milton Abbas and its amazing high street climb through a lovely set of chocolate box thatched houses. This climb is a belter and continues out of the village for half a mile before you shoot downhill and follow National Cycle Route 25 through Blandford and back to the start.
There are plenty of corners that can be cut en route to shave a few miles off various sections, but you should try to avoid venturing onto the A35/A31 or A354 as these are busy roads both during the week and at weekends. One option would be to head north from Lulworth on the B3071, following minor roads to Bere Regis. Dash through the town and continue north to Lower Street then Winterborne Stickland.
"Purists are welcome to swim, but last time I was there the sea looked cold and rough and my bike needs more than armbands to keep it afloat."
|0.0||0.0||Return to the end of Old Road and turn right, then right at the roundabout to head south-west on the B3078|
|1.4||1.4||Roundabout, 2nd exit, straight over SP Corfe Mullen South|
|1.4||2.8||Roundabout, 2nd exit, straight over, Lockyers Road SP Lytchett Minster, Wareham and Poole|
|0.5||3.3||Roundabout, 1st exit, turn left SP Broadstone and Poole|
|2.1||5.4||Roundabout, 3rd exit SP Poole, Upton and Hamworthy|
|1.0||6.4||At traffic lights bear left onto cycle path|
|1.4||7.8||Crossroads, straight on at traffic lights SP Poole and Dorchester|
|1.5||9.3||Roundabout, 1st exit, turn left SP Town Centre, cross dual carriageway to stay on cycle path|
|1.8||11.1||Cross dual carriageway at traffic lights, then turn left, SP NCN 25 SP Old Town and The Quay|
|0.2||11.3||Turn right on cycle path SP NCN 25 (immediately beyond flyover)|
|0.2||11.5||Keep left onto North Street as cycle path ends|
|0.2||11.7||Mini roundabout, straight over onto cycle path, keep left with one-way system, Emerson Road|
|0.3||12.0||Crossroads, turn left, Green Road|
|0.4||12.4||Fork right onto coastal path|
|2.0||14.4||End of cycle path, turn left, Turks Lane|
|0.2||14.6||T-junction, turn right, B3369|
|3.8||18.4||Roundabout, 1st exit, straight over|
|0.4||19.7||Alight ferry and carry straight on, Ferry Road|
|6.2||25.9||Fork left SP Swanage|
|2.2||28.1||Turn right, Washpond Lane SP Herston|
|0.4||28.5||Roundabout, 2nd exit SP Herston, then left, SP Herston|
|4.9||35.8||T-junction, turn right|
|0.2||36.0||Turn left SP Church Knowle|
|11.9||47.9||Turn left, Holme Lane SP East Holme, East & West Lulworth.|
|3.5||51.4||Crossroads, turn left, B3070 SP East Lulworth|
|7.1||58.5||Crossroads, turn left continuing B3070 SP West Lulworth|
|1.4||59.9||Fork right by stone cross SP ‘Unsuitable for large vehicles'|
|0.3||60.2||T-junction, turn right SP Dorchester|
|5.8||66.0||T-junction turn right, A352 SP Winfrith Tech. Centre, Wool and Wareham|
|0.1||66.1||Turn left, Gatemore Road SP Tadnoll|
|2.7||68.8||T-junction, turn left|
|3.6||72.4||Crossroads, straight over SP Woodsford and Dorchester|
|1.8||74.2||Turn right Watery Lane|
|1.8||76.0||Crossroads, straight over SP Puddletown, then keep left|
|0.7||76.7||T-junction, turn left SP Puddletown|
|1.8||78.5||T-junction, turn left|
|0.6||79.1||Turn right at traffic lights, Blandford Road|
|0.7||79.8||Roundabout, 2nd, exit, straight over SP Bournemouth and Poole|
|0.1||79.9||Roundabout, take 2nd exit SP Cheselbourne and Dewlish|
|3.8||83.7||T-junction, turn right SP Piddlehinton|
|5.1||88.8||Turn right SP Cheselbourne and Buckland Newton|
|6.1||94.9||T-junction, turn left SP Melcombe Bingham|
|0.1||95.0||Crossroads, turn right, Streetway Lane SP Dewlish and Milton Abbas|
|0.2||95.2||Keep right and continue on Streetway Lane|
|1.3||96.5||T-junction, turn right|
|1.6||98.4||T-junction, turn right SP Milton Abbas and Milborne St Andrew|
|0.6||99.0||Turn left SP Milton Abbas|
|1.6||100.6||T-junction, turn left|
|1.2||101.8||T-junction, turn left SP Stickland, Bulbarrow and Blandford|
|4.1||105.9||Straight over, then left SP Turnworth and Blandford Forum|
|0.7||106.6||Fork right SP Bryanston and Blandford Forum|
|6.1||112.7||T-junction, turn left SP Town Centre (do not turn immediately left SP Bryanston school)|
|0.1||112.8||Roundabout, 2nd exit, straight over|
|0.5||113.3||Keep left in one way system|
|0.1||113.4||Keep right SP Salisbury and Wimborne, then immediately right, The Plocks|
|0.0||113.4||Turn left onto The Close|
|0.3||113.7||Turn right onto one-way Street|
|0.1||113.8||Bear left, SP All routes and town centre|
|0.7||114.5||Roundabout, take 3rd exit, A354 SP Dorchester and Poole|
|0.5||115.0||Turn left SP Langton Long and All Saints Church|
|4.7||119.7||T-junction, turn left SP Shapwick|
|4.4||124.1||Turn left SP Cowgrove and Wimborne|
|5.1||129.2||T-junction, turn right SP Wimborne Minster|
|0.4||129.6||Turn right, Old Road|
You can download this extract from Dave Barter's Great British Bike Rides in PDF form here. Published by Vertebrate Publishing in 2013, republished 2016.
© Dave Barter