Durlston Head near Swanage is the point where the committing cliffed section of the Purbeck coast begins, my favourite paddle! On top of the headland is Durlston Country Park. The mock castle and its grounds were the brainchild of George Burt, a partner in the very successful Mowlem stonemason company of Swanage. The quarried stone from the local cliffs – so-called ‘Purbeck Marble’ – supported a profitable but demanding industry, with massive blocks loaded directly onto barges at the base of the cliffs.
A true philanthropic Victorian, Burt seems to have embraced the ‘Rational Recreation’ movement which strove to provide open spaces, education and self-improvement for the unenlightened masses. The park has many carvings of poetry verses on display, and helpfully has a rather large map to demonstrate what lies over the sea’s horizon. The ‘map’ is the Great Globe, a 40 ton sculpture made in several sections from locally quarried stone. The bollards which surround it are actually from London’s streets, used as ballast by ships returning from delivering stone for the capital’s great buildings.
The stone industry continues in Purbeck, but the coastal quarries are all silent now.
An iron coast and angry waves
You seem to hear them rise and fall
And roar rock thwarted in their billowing caves
Beneath the windy wall
From The Palace of Art, Tennyson. Carved at Durlston Country Park by George Burt of Swanage.
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England
Shakespeare, Richard II
Earlier, I counted up the scores on my Impressive Looking but Unnecessary Spreadsheet. I’ve now written up about a fifth of the trips for the book and about a third of the chapter intros. I’ve also figured out and written up the tidal gubbins for quite a few of the remaining trips.
In any case … it suddenly occurred to me that I am more or less on track and moreover, it seems like it might actually be possible to get this thing done. Possibly.
Things that I have learned this morning…
In the central Solent, the west flowing ebb stream begins about 1 hour before HW Portsmouth. Around Cowes, a west flowing eddy forms an hour earlier, which is often utilised by racing yachts.
Things that I already knew…
Cowes is pretty much the World Capital of Sailing. On any summer weekend, in any direction the water literally bristles with yachts, all headed on different courses and not all being well handled. Paddling past Cowes is very exciting.
I am shorebound with a lousy cold, so I’ve spent today at the keyboard. If this was supposed to help me recover, it’s been a failure because the thumping headache that I awoke with has since been multiplied tenfold.
The seas around the Isle of Portland feature some of Britain’s most complex tides, forming strong currents, numerous tidal races and vast shifting eddies. This morning’s task was to write up a clear explanation. I have concluded that you’ve got more chance of plaiting fog.
Saint Catherine’s Point is the southernmost point of the Isle of Wight. It has two lighthouses.
The current lighthouse is close to the water’s edge. The lighthouse is an oddly stumpy affair, as the original building was later shortened by 13 metres to avoid fog. It was opened in 1838 after an 1836 hurricane that obliterated the 345 ton West Indiaman Clarendon on the rocks, with the loss of most hands. One victim of the wreck somehow later washed up in her father’s garden in Southsea, on the far side of the Island.
The second lighthouse is not in use. It is impractically located a kilometre inland and 234 metres above sea level on St Catherine’s Down. It is known locally as the ‘Pepperpot’ due to its peculiar design, but its proper name is Saint Catherine’s Oratory. This is Britain’s second oldest lighthouse, dating from around 1323. In case you were wondering, the oldest is outside the south west.
Freshwater Bay is a lovely little cove on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. If you fancy a short paddle, there are a number of small stacks and caves within sight of the ice cream seller and tea shop.
This is part of the Tennyson Heritage Coast and the hill behind is Ballard Down, rising 150 metres straight out of the sea. Perched on top is the Tennyson Monument, commemorating the life and work of the Victorian Poet. Faringford House in Freshwater was Alfred Lord Tennyson’s home for four decades. Presumably he spent this time trying to think of something to rhyme with ‘…rode the Six Hundred’.
This being the Isle of Wight, nothing much happens here. That’s rather the pleasure of the place.
…the singular peninsula once an island, and still called such, that stretches out like the head of a bird into the English Channel. It is connected with the mainland by a long thin neck of pebbles ‘cast up by rages of the se,’ and unparalleled in its kind in Europe.
The Well-Beloved, Thomas Hardy
I’ve been working on the Isle of Wight sections of the book recently. Although I’ve paddled around the Island several times, there are plenty of places that I’ve just whizzed past on the tide. Hopefully I will be able get over there in the first week of my Easter hols to check out a few things and take a few photos. One beauty of working on the book is that it is already getting me to places that I wouldn’t get around to visiting otherwise.
Bembridge is a small and very dull town. It’s main claim to fame is that it is located at the eastern extremity of the Isle of Wight. Hence, those paddling around the island are going to wind up here sooner or later. Bembridge is surrounded by wide shallow reefs, so plan to arrive at high water! The Bembridge Ledges are also the easternmost point that will be covered in South West Sea Kayaking, so in a sense … it all starts here.
On a paddle round the Island last year we arrived just after sunset, stuck up tents on the beach and dozed off straight away. A few hours later, I was woken by the glare of a dazzling full moon which had risen above the eastern horizon. As I looked out of my tent, I also noticed that the sea was inches away from my tent. I went back to sleep, and will never know if it ever reached it.
A productive day. I banged out several thousand words of the book, in the process wading through enough tidal gubbins to make my brain melt.
We headed up to St Alban’s Head for some fresh air at sunset. The local weather has changed somewhat since yesterday. Getting out of the car, I was nearly knocked over by a newly arrived arctic gale. The sun was setting over Portland Bill with a thin patch of cloud perfectly diffusing its glare, bathing everything in a rather lovely pinky-orange glow. I set my tripod up and weighed it down with a hefty bag. As I turned to attend to my camera, the tripod and bag were actually blown away. Luckily the wind was coming in from the sea, not heading out.
By the time I finally fixed this mess and set everything up again, the sun had gone and there was no light. I had to lean bodily on the tripod to keep it upright and my fingers were too numbed from cold to feel the shutter button. So, you get the above pic. But, think what might have been…
We were hoping to get down to Cornwall for a paddle this weekend, but the worsening forecast kept us at home in Dorset. Instead I went for a morning paddle locally with John Gilmour, just before the strong winds kicked in.
I have never paddled close inshore along the short stretch of coast between Weymouth and White Nothe, so I wanted to have a look. It was pleasant enough, but unexciting. Passing White Nothe, we were back on familiar territory as we continued to Lulworth Cove. The sun came out right on cue and we rockhopped amongst blue water and white cliffs; spectacular.