When we left Weymouth, our destination was West Lulworth, in the southeastern part of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. On account of more rain, we booked a room at a hostel, and upon arrival, gladly ditched our wet clothes and bikes, while we explored the region on foot. Our first stop was the Lulworth Cove Inn, where we lingered over a late lunch and spent a few hours catching up on ‘life admin’. Included in this admin was purchasing tickets for a ferry crossing into France! Our boat sailed from Portsmouth – about 80 miles east – in three days’ time.
After lunch, with the energy of a new country on the horizon, we packed up our computers and went out to explore some more of the landscapes of the one we were still in. Though the rain had abated somewhat since the morning, the wind had increased significantly. As we followed a trail out of Lulworth Cove, it became so steep and windswept that we had to crouch and cling to each other to avoid getting blown away.
With cold cheeks and hearts pounding, we finally made it to the top of the climb. We were rewarded with sweeping views of the English Channel, and a blanket of wildflowers tumbling down the cliffsides into the water.
A mile or so onward, the trail split, continuing straight along the cliff edge, or turning sharply left down a hill, at the bottom of which lay Man O’ War beach. We assumed this beach, with its velvety backdrop and icy waves, was named as such for the shape of the cove, rather than what might be in the waters, but we didn’t venture further to find out.
Continuing onward instead, we soon found ourselves about fifty steps above another beach with views of the famous grass-topped white cliffs down the coastline. On the near side of the beach, a gigantic rock formation jutted out into the English Channel. This was our first glimpse of the famous (and absurdly named) Durdle Door. The archway carved into this prehistoric limestone formation looks like a doorway, and indeed, waves were passing through as if making their dramatic entrance on to the beach ahead.
We spent a few minutes regarding the sight from above, continuing to enjoy the occasional light breeze:
And then we descended onto the beach itself, encountering a friendly group of guys from Birmingham who offered to take our photo.
Feeling the evening chill coming on, we made our way back to the hostel by way of another (the other) of the town’s pubs. It happened to be live music night, and we settled into a booth in the corner with a couple of pints to enjoy the local talent. A woman with a strong voice did a few Beatles covers, a Bob Marley song, and a creative acoustic take on Nirvana. It wasn’t until her brilliant acoustic arrangement of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” that we realized we were in the presence of greatness. The song will truly never sound the same.
Back at the hostel, we slept in bunkbeds for the first time in years. The next morning, we greeted partly cloudy skies (yay!) and packed up with our eyes set on our next stop: Corfe Castle. After a lovely morning of semi-sunny riding, we first glimpsed the castle from a heath where we had stopped for a snack, a few miles away. The castle was built in the 11th century on top of a significant hill, which itself sits in a gap in the Purbeck Hills, making it visible from long distances.
We parked our bikes and spent a few hours exploring this fascinating bit of English history. The castle endured a semi-demolition during the 17th century English Civil War, when it was ordered destroyed by the Parliamentarians (who had seized it from Royal control with a particularly impressive fake out which I encourage you to read up on in a moment of spare time).
Unfortunately for the Parliamentarians, castles were really built to last in the 11th century, and this one in particular was one of the first in England to be built with stone rather than earth and timber. They tried for a while to bring the whole thing down, but when it became clear a full demolition would be too costly and effortful, the Parliamentarians abandoned the project. The townspeople of Corfe Castle helped themselves to some of the remaining stones for their own use, and then the castle sat untouched in this half-ruined state for about three hundred years. In the early 1980s, the family who owned the castle bequeathed it to the U.K.’s National Trust, and soon thereafter, Corfe Castle – such as it was – was opened to the public.
We found our campground for the night a few miles down the road from the castle, and pitched our tent in the late afternoon. We learned that the closest restaurant was a 45 minute walk on some public footpaths that crossed agricultural land. This sounded like a good stretch after a day on the bike, so we set out on foot towards the Scott Arms pub. Shortly into our journey, we encountered a splendid field of multicolored cows.
We were able to silently and peacefully maneuver around them, continuing onward to our dinner without interrupting theirs. But up the hill a short ways later, we came across another herd of cows, this time directly in our path. We walked as quietly as we could, giving them as wide a berth as possible, but we were ultimately unsuccessful in avoiding their attention.
One by one, the cows stopped their snacking and stared at us. We kept walking, but then one moved towards us, and then another, and then another. Trying to stay calm, we picked up the pace towards a gate on the other side of the field. The cows followed. They did not try to impede our progress, but were intent on joining our mission; we soon had a line of about two dozen cows following us towards dinner.
Now, I’m a city girl who loves the wilderness. The in-between of farmland and its attendant creatures are not my area of expertise. But I do know that cows are vegetarians, and not known to be especially aggressive. Nonetheless, I wasn’t completely confident that we weren’t moments away from some kind of early evening cow stampede.
As their hot breath closed in on us, I started to giggle involuntarily, feeling decidedly torn between delight, amusement and panic at this situation. One particularly bold cow, clearly unafraid of humans, came so close to Drew I thought she was going to try and chew off his pants. Instead, fortunately, she was just an especially eager group leader, and a few dozen yards later, we reached the next gate and walked through without incident.
Safely on the other side of the fence, we had a good laugh and bade farewell to our new friends, feeling almost sorry that we couldn’t let them through to join us in greener pastures, as it were.
We reached our destination as the evening sun was sitting long and warm across the pub’s back patio. We ordered some dinner and enjoyed a magnificent view over the Purbeck Hills, down to Corfe Castle which sat majestically between them.
The next day, we crossed an important milestone in our tour. In the morning, we rode from near Corfe Castle to Studland, where we caught a very short ferry across Studland Bay, and then continued on to Bournemouth. Just outside Bournemouth, we crossed the 500 mile marker of our tour!
From there we hugged the shoreline onward to Lymington, where we caught our second ferry of the day across to the Isle of Wight. We arrived at our beautiful campground – an especially rural spot with only a composting toilet and giant oak trees as amenities – in the early evening.
The next morning, our last in England, began typically: in our tent, with the threat of rain. We packed up quickly, and sure enough, just as we started out towards breakfast, our daily soaking began. Sunny France beckoned. Fortunately, the rain eased after breakfast, and we rode across the Isle of Wight on some beautiful roads.
We arrived in the appropriately named Ryde, on the east side of the Isle of Wight, in the early afternoon. From there we caught our last local ferry crossing to Portsmouth, where we’d be departing for France that evening.
With a few hours before our embarkation, we had a chance to explore the Portsmouth harbor area, enjoying some seafood and a few docked tall ships.
We also visited the part of the port from which the first colonial fleets to Australia embarked.
Our last stop was the childhood home of Charles Dickens, which sits unassumingly among a cluster of modest rowhouses on a quiet residential street.
It felt appropriate to bring our time to England to close in this way, visiting these sites that, though perhaps not on the top of most tourists’ lists, nonetheless mark significant people and moments in world history. This tiny island has so much history – some for better, some for worse – all of which we were so grateful to have the opportunity learn about, think about, and examine up close during our time here.
With this on our minds, we rode over to the international ferry terminal. It’s time to go to France!