Here’s one of Charlie the Bikemonger’s idiosyncratic guides to riding Purbeck. Words by his nibs, images by his editor.
Distance: 29.136km 18-ish miles
Total ascent: 654 metres, 2,145 feet
Time: a good afternoon, a rest or two, and a picnic.
Riding on tarmac: approx 6 miles
You can tell you‘re in France when the motorists stop trying to kill you
At only 18 miles, this ride packs in all the classic elements of a casual Purbeck expedition. Big hills, massive views and over 2000 feet of ascent, rewarded by over 2000 feet of descent back to sea level. Mt. Snowden is a mere 3560 ft. Put that in perspective, this ride is only 237 foot fewer than summiting Snowden from its car-park at 1178 ft. That’s a lot of feet.
Sandbanks ferry lands you on the right side of Poole harbour from where you follow the Studland road as far as a sign pointing to the right; ‘Petit Tour de Manche’ (pictured). Roll on down that old gravel track… You are now on a part of a European long distance cycling trail looping down to Plymouth across the channel to Roscoff, along the French coast to Cherbourg before boarding the ferry back to Poole; a 973.653km/605 mile round-trip. This section of the track meanders through Rempstone Forest into a beautiful habourside meadow at Ower Farm.
Setting international adventures aside, make sure you turn off the de Manche route at Bushey, or you’ll end up in France. You can tell you‘re in France when the motorists stop trying to kill you.
…scare yourself, but don’t come a cropper
A few lanes will lead you to the Studland/Corfe road (B3351); after whizzing down the hill and under the steam railway climb for a brief distance to Corfe Castle for essential carbo-loading. Doubling back briefly and ducking under the first railway bridge on your right, not the one you came through earlier, and a short climb up Sandy Hill Lane takes you to a gate on the left, just beyond the car park, then embrace a stiff climb up onto Nine Barrow Down. Once you have hit the top, spin along the ridge but do stop to take in the magnificent 360 degree views of the Purbeck hills and Poole harbour.
Beyond the burial mounds, a 1km long rocky, fast, and often treacherous descent takes you to the Swanage / Studland road. The rocks are loose and rolling, the size of “baby heads”… scare yourself, but don’t come a cropper. Up the tarmac, through a gate on the right and an even steeper climb takes you up on to Ballard Down. If you can nail this climb, you are your own personal legend, a champion. Now all the uphills are behind you, your reward? A cracking descent along the ridge down to Old Harry’s Rocks. Take it easy near the cliff edge; look down – if you have green stuff under your wheels, this is a good thing, however, if it’s not only blue but also rushing towards you, this is considered a poor result.
A quick trundle along the cliff edge promptly delivers you into Studland for beer, beaches and occasional nudity. At low tide and with an open mind, it’s possible to ride along the beach back to the ferry.