After a few more weeks and some introspection and apologising on my part, I persuaded J to take me back out on the bike. By now my ride ambitions were stretching beyond local laps of the nature reserve. Lockdown was starting to get to me and I was longing for some adventure. Restrictions had eased enough that we could legally venture out for more than a hour’s exercise. So I started pouring over his collection of MTB magazines and cutting out the miniature OS maps and recommended routes. I’ll even admit that I dusted my laminator off and run them through that. Yes, I’m that sort of person.
I looked through my pile of newly acquired dreams. We still couldn’t stay overnight because of Covid, so I eliminated all those that were too far for a day trip. That left us with some potential rides around in Devon, Dorset and the Chilterns. I passed the pile to J. He was the expert after all and had done these sort of trips before. I decided to leave the final destination up to him.
When he chose the Isle of Purbeck ride I have to say that I was a little nervous. It said that it was an elevation of 3116 ft. That sounded like a lot. A hell of a lot. It was also 22 + miles. More than double what I had done up to that point. I wasn’t sure I was fit enough and was pretty certain that I was going look like an idiot again. But I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to let my ego get in the way of my ambitions any more. So I sucked up my fears and started getting excited instead.
Isle of Purbeck Here We Come!
The morning of the ride came. We packed up the cool box with Marmite sandwiches and Banana muffins. Plus lots of water and a couple of Heineken zero’s to celebrate the end of the ride. We loaded up the van with bikes and backpacks and more than a little nervous anticipation. A little after 8 am we were on the road, talking about everything and nothing in that way we do. Finally, we were on our way to our first proper bike adventure
As we approached our destination I got more and more nervous. The lay-by that marked the start of the ride seemed to be a long, long, long hill. Having studied the map in that slightly (very) obsessive way that I do, I knew that the first part of the ride was going to involve climbing back up the hill. Oh joy. The sign that welcomed visitors to the Jurassic Coast was at the entrance to the lay-by. J parked up, we ate our egg rolls and I tried not to feel a little sick worrying about the ride ahead. Before I knew it we were unloading the bikes and shouldering our backpacks. His was full of spares, mine full of food and extra water. We secured our helmets and straddled our saddles.
A New Rule For Hills
We set off and very quickly I realised two things: I was right about how big the hill was that we had to climb, and that I really was probably not fit enough for this at all. Within a few hundred metres J was already miles ahead of me. I was already panting and sweating in a most unbecoming way. My lungs felt like they were going to burst out of their chest.
I gradually dropped into easier and easier gears and started counting in my head. I invented a new rule. If peddling was hurting too much I could stop, but only if I counted to thirty first. And if I stopped I could only be still for the count of ten. It was crazy and silly and a little embarrassing, but it kept me going up that first hill. By the time I caught J up, I was drenched in sweat and out of breath. While he casually took a drink of water and checked the map, I checked my newly installed Kamoot app to see how far we had ridden. My heart sank when it said just under a mile. That meant there were twenty-one more to go.
It was going to be a long hard day.
A Good Ride, Spoiled
Happily the next part of the route looked like it was easier. We just had to cut through a golf course to some woods and head down to Corfe Castle. As we had driven past it earlier, I knew that this was going to be mostly downhill. I figured this was going to be a cinch. It very quickly became apparent that I was wrong. There was no route around the golf course. At least not an obvious one. There were signs everywhere saying No Public Access and Golfers Only. We circled the car park a couple of times. Then checked the map several more trying to work out what we had missed. Eventually we decided to ditch that part of the route and head back to follow the main road down to Corfe instead.
Riding the road wasn’t so bad, apart from all the tourists in cars. They were obviously in so much of a rush that they didn’t care if they overtook us on blind curves or so close that they were practically brushing our pedals. At least there were some long smooth downhills to make up for the earlier climb. It was at that point that J realised that there was something up with his back wheel. It had developed quite the wobble. Once he’d pointed it out I could see it clearly. I asked him if he wanted to turn back, part of me hoping that he did, and part of me wishing that he didn’t. He insisted that the buckled wheel was rideable so we pushed on to the Castle.
Corfe Castle to Corfe Common
I’ve visited Corfe Castle many times over the years. This time though, cycling past it, I realised that there is so much that you miss when you are ticking off sights on the tourist trail. Now, passing through the village, with all the usual shops and attractions closed, I took the time to take in the easily overlooked features. The pretty window boxes filled with flowers, the stonework on the houses, the play of light on the statues.
We rode up a lane and left the houses behind us, emerging into the wide open space of Corfe Common. It was a welcome surprise, until that moment I didn’t even know that it existed. I took a moment to soak in the beauty of the landscape, with the greens of grass and gorse and heather. The castle loomed in the background and the taste of salt in the air from the sea in the distance.
We started off on some gravel track which gave way to some boardwalks and grassy paths. It is at this point that I think we can safely say that we got a little lost. There was much consulting of the paper map and gazing into the distance trying to decide the best route forward. In the end we pointed our bikes in the general direction of where we thought we should be going. In hindsight, we couldn’t have been more wrong.
A Detour Through Middle Earth
We ended up on this path that gave way to a little tunnel through the trees. It looked more like the forgotten entrance to Middle Earth than a bona fide bridleway. It was overgrown, our legs got caught on brambles and branches scraped our helmets. At times we had to push the bikes in front of us as it wasn’t wide enough to walk alongside them. We seriously considered turning around. We were on the cusp of that point where you think ‘well I’ve come this far’ so you keep pushing on. Which we did, until we eventually emerged out into field of sheep who looked slightly bemused by our appearance.
Once it was apparent that we were in the middle of someone’s farm, getting of their land became the priority. We pushed our way out of the field onto a footpath and headed towards the sound of traffic on the road. Back on tarmac again, we found ourselves on a twisty B road that led up to the village of Kingston. And when I say up, I meant that before us lay a steep ‘Oh God kill me now’ incline. I tried to pedal it by ended up cycling so slow that my wheels started wobbling. So I gave up and pushed. J bless him, dug deep and ground out the ascent. I admired his determination. Finally, the pub came into view which marked the point that we needed to turn off the main road. We stopped to check the map.
Where’s the Map?
It was at this point that I realised that I had in fact lost the map. Or more accurately, dropped it somewhere between the beginning of the huge climb and where we were currently standing. J had temporarily given it to me to look after as we were walking through the farm. I had ‘secured’ it in my pocket. Or so I thought. Panicking, I looked at J and looked back down the hill of horror. He groaned slightly and then climbed back on his bike. ‘Stay here,’ he said. ‘I’ll find it’.
Never have I loved him more than in that moment.
A few minutes later, and with a slightly sweatier boyfriend in tow, we were back on the route. Mercifully, J had found the map and we were heading downhill. Soon, we turned off the tarmac and onto a bridleway. For a few seconds this seemed like it was going to be fun, until my lack of technical skills became apparent. The path needed all my concentration. Big, loose rocks skidded away under my tyres making me feel that a fall was imminent. Once the track flattened out, it was a nice enough ride. We followed it down through the trees and the valley, past families out hiking and chatting together.
We came out onto a gravel track and got a little lost again. Unsure whether we were supposed to be heading towards the coastal path or back up another (gulp) hill. Eventually the hill won out as the route towards the sea would add miles onto our trip. So we climbed up again, but at a more manageable incline this time. One that I could actually manage to pedal, albeit at a rather leisurely pace.
We made our first stop in a pretty little village called Worth Matravers. There was a nice open green in the centre with a duck pond and some benches. So we took some time to rehydrate and catch our breath. There were a few people milling about, taking in the sights and basking in the sunshine. Watered, we got back on the bikes again and cycled out of the village. As usual J was miles ahead of me as we climbed yet another hill. By now, I was drawing sympathetic glances from the walkers who probably saw my red, sweaty face and thought that I might soon be in need of medical assistance. My stubbornness had kicked in by now though so I was determined to keep pedalling, even if it killed me.
Banana Muffins for the Soul
Back over the road we had turned off earlier, we crossed into a field and another bridleway. This looked promising and the views were spectacular. We paused to refuel and out came the banana muffins. By then, I was definitely in need of the sugar and calories. I was tired and my legs ached. My lungs didn’t know what had hit them. But right there, relaxing in the sunshine, it felt like I had accomplished something. I had dreamt of having an adventure and there I was actually doing it. There is something very nourishing for the soul about manifesting thoughts and plans into actual tangible, wind in your hair experiences. It was tough, tougher than I thought it was going to be, but so much more satisfying too.
Back on the bikes we followed the bridleway down the edge of the field. Ahead of us there lay another leafy tunnel. It looked fun from the outside and turned out to be quite the opposite from the inside. It was overgrown, brambles pulled at our clothes and nettles stung our bare legs. We were both getting the distinct impression that whomever had designed this ride had not ridden it for a long time. Or perhaps hadn’t ridden it at all. Instead pulling together bridleways from maps, strung them together and hoped for the best. Months later, after importing the map to the OS app, I realised the truth was that we had spent a lot of the ride off-course.
From there onwards it was farmland. We saw a donkey in a field which cheered J up no end. Happily, the trail here was relatively flat. A mixture of bridleways and small country lanes that led us past beautiful houses. Both of us started thinking thinking about what we might be able to afford in France. As we left the field behind us, we started climbing up (again) into the chalky ridge of Ballard Down. That part of the ride was more like what I had picturing when we were planning it. Well worn tracks that were challenging but not too technical. If I hadn’t been so tired from what we had already ridden that day, I would have enjoyed it more.
In fact thinking about it as I sit here typing away, I want to ride that again. Now I have more experience and strength in my legs, I think that would be a really great place to spend a few hours exploring. There were cows grazing and beautiful views over the Isle of Purbeck. Although we often passed hikers, it was a big enough space to still feel secluded. There were still points that I had to get off and push, as my legs were beginning to resemble jelly. But there were also pay-offs in the form of long downhills where I could build my confidence with speed and not gripping too hard onto the brakes.
Beers on the Beach
By the time we had crossed the bottom half of the ridge, we found ourselves just up the road from the van. There were still a few more miles that we were supposed to do but by then we were both spent. So we free wheeled back down the road, loaded the bikes back into the van and drove down into Swanage. I think my favourite part of that whole day was sitting on the beach feeling like I’d accomplished something. Not beating myself up for deciding to call it quits when I had had enough. And drinking a Heineken Zero with the sand between my toes. I think in that moment, a new addiction was born and I knew that I was well and truly bitten by the biking bug. I felt exhilarated and exhausted and utterly in love with the world.