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Corfe castle adventures, by Sasha Aleston

Crossing the steam railway line near Corfe Castle...

Well then, here is my brother in law, Laurence Carter, on a yearlong mission to inform and educate and ultimately help eradicate the cancer that brought my sister’s life to a close. From this sadness, Laurence is planning to bring forth meaningful and lasting good; this gets my vote on any day of any month of any year.

I joined him for a couple of days, walking to Corfe Castle from Hamworthy then from Corfe Castle to Swanage, covering nearly 40 miles over the two days.

Corfe Castle needs a little rehabilitation.

In the heat of this unusual British summer we set off on a Sunday morning, wanting to get a few miles under our belts before breakfast. Fair enough, oh yes, there is nothing like a good plan, as long as one is prepared to tuck, roll and come up with a plan B, or maybe even C when things don’t quite pan out.

Walking with purpose...before we got lost...

We found and lost the path quite early in the day, happening instead upon an unmarked peat bog in the midst of a rather lovely fern-filled wooded area around Lytchett Minster. There was I humming, delighting in the buzzing of the insect life, the greens of the foliage, the sunlight shimmering through the trees, breathing in fresh clean air, striding…until I strode straight into a peat bog and suddenly was thigh deep, imagine my surprise, and Laurence’s as he turned to see the shortened version of me emerging from what looks like solid ground…well, he pulled me out of course and the blackness of the peat coating my legs went from shiny wet to dry as we made our way back to the marked path. My steps were a little squelchy as a result but hey, there is a lot worse that can happen than a bit of mud in your trainers so on we went.

Now, where are we on the map...?

Towards the pub we had earmarked for the breaking of our fast and a cup of tea. Of course, plan B came into effect when it dawned on us that Sunday trading meant nothing was going to be open until midday. The lady at St. Peter’s Finger couldn’t open for us, but when she saw the state of my legs, she gave me leave to use the facilities for a bit of a clean up, a favour much appreciated. Having used up all her ‘J’cloths and leaving her bathroom as clean as I could, we were on our way again, nibbling at oatcakes and sipping water until we could find somewhere open…cue a couple of miles down the road. This time there was opening of doors. It was midday so I fancied a little sustenance, offered the ‘Baguette menu’ I selected ‘Tuna melt’ from a short and very meat-heavy list. To all of you out there, who, like me, take a menu (and what I am told) at face value, a tuna melt is actually a baked potato with tuna and cheese and not, as I had understood it, a baguette. My face must have been a picture when I saw the plate!

Dogs enjoying the sea near Hamworthy; Poole is in the background

And on we went. A glorious sun shone down on us, the Cheshire Cat qualities of the path were set to confuse and a few times we found ourselves on the main road but Laurence, map in hand, contrived to keep us on the road for the minimum time and distance possible and soon we were in the midst again of Dorset countryside. Insects buzzing, impressive in both proliferation and diversity, filled the air with a gentle hum while the butterflies delighted with their colourful dance from plant to plant.

We were also engaged in dance-like manoeuvres, “…and we’ll shimmy to the left” said Laurence, somehow not falling over as he consulted the map rather than watching his feet, and we did, shimmy I mean, both to the left and to the right on occasion, finding and following the path, onwards towards Corfe.

Old Harry's Rocks

We walked that day, past beach huts and marshes, past bullrushes ready to burst, through forest and over heath, through ancient towns and over bridges witnessing summer joy in the birds trilling and children laughing and splashing in delight. We marvelled at poppies and wildflowers, played ‘name that species’ when we disturbed Britain’s only venomous snake, an adder who was clearly not as delighted to see us as we were to spot it.

Spot the adder.

We talked that day and the next, our topics ranging from this and that, veering, shimmying left and right, dealing with past, present and carefully dipping into the future. I say carefully because this is an experience that will bring change with it and there is little point predicting the outcome of what has yet to be experienced.

Start of the South-West Coast Path - 630 miles of glorious views

Corfe Castle came into view in the late afternoon sunshine, most scenic of ruins crowning the hilltop. We overshot the carpark and gifted ourselves another half mile or so of incredible views before climbing on board the camper and driving back to Hamworthy to pick up the car.

Cue Monday. Corfe to Swanage, vehicles in place, fresh gear and (for me) dry shoes, and off we went. Temperatures reached a blistering 32 degrees and the sun beat anvil-like on the tinder dry heathland as we approached the sea. Shell Bay beckoned. We marvelled at the 200m distance of the ferry crossing to the Sandbanks, Laurence having travelled significantly further to reach this point!

Ah, but the views; the beach stretching away, a distant cliff top awaiting us in the shimmering heat. The humans were out at play here, a colourful and chaotic display of tents and shades marking out this landscape as theirs.

Good balance needed: 500 foot drop either side of a path 2 feet wide...

The South West Coast Path, more discernible and much more effectively signposted, led us up to Old Harry’s Rocks, a natural white chalk display formed over aeons of wind and water erosion and perfectly framed against the expansive ocean backdrop. We ooed and aahed and stood precariously for photos with hundred foot drops on either side of us.

Onwards to Swanage with its bustling beachfront, time for a bit of late lunch and a classic round of ‘where did we park the van?’

Sun, sea, cliffs, a good walk and a good chat: not a bad combo.

One more time to Corfe Castle, a quick freshen up thanks to the National Trust facilities there and with a backward glance and a hug for Laurence, it was time for me to switch on my Waze app and hit the road with four wheels rather than 2 feet. It was a wistful drive, missing the coast as I headed inland.

I am rested now, and my ankles have almost forgiven me, look out Laurence I think the Cornish coast might be calling me….

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