Cycling from Guildford

Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day


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Route L: Purbeck Challenge: Bournemouth to Weymouth

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Summary Starting in Bournemouth, this ride through the beautiful Isle of Purbeck makes use of elevated trackways along the Purbeck Hills to traverse some of the finest and most varied scenery in Southern England, with excellent views throughout. You also ride along Bournemouth and Weymouth promenades (September to June only), take the chain ferry across Poole Harbour mouth and visit Corfe Castle. Return from Weymouth to Bournemouth by train.

Note that this route uses the Steeple to Lulworth road across the Lulworth military firing ranges which are only open when the Range Walks and Tynham Village are open, generally weekends and some school holidays–see opening times. The road can sometimes be open when the Range Walks are not, but so far as I know this info is not published on the web. Unless you are prepared for a very long inland diversion, I do not recommend this ride when the ranges are closed. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ATTEMPT TO CROSS THE RANGES WHEN THE RED FLAGS ARE FLYING!!

Distance/time: 38 miles, about 5 hours riding
Start: Bournemouth Station
Finish: Weymouth Station
Transport: You could either drive to Bournemouth station and park in the station car park (a not unreasonable £3.50 per day when I did so), or get the train to Bournemouth from Woking.

If you drive from Guildford, I suggest A31 Hogs Back, A331, M3, M27, A31 to Ringwood, then A338 into Bournemouth. The station car park is adjacent to (just NE of) the station and is easily reached off the A338. About 90 miles, 2 hours.

From Woking, there is approximately one fast train per hour to Bournemouth, journey time about 2 hours.

Trains back to Bournemouth about twice per hour, journey time 50-60 minutes, or one fast train back to Woking per hour, journey time 2 hours 20 minutes.

Trains generally have two or three carriages with bike carriage facilities – usually 3 bikes per carriage.

If travelling from Woking, check the web for best fare deals, but the most economical is likely be a cheap day return from Woking to Weymouth which allows you to break at Bournemouth.
Conditions under the tyre: The Bournemouth and Weymouth promenades are flat, wide and well surfaced; the main hazard is having to share with pedestrians. It can get quite crowded, so keep your speed down and use your bell. The Bournemouth promenade is only open to cyclists from September to June (ie is closed for July and August). Outside this time you will have to make your way as best you can on the adjoining roads.

A large part of this route is along tracks which have been quite firm when I have done this ride in the early summer. The climbs up to the ridges are quite stony and steep in places, and I got off and pushed. The descent into Corfe Castle is quite rough, so take great care.

There is no escaping the fact that this ride involves quite a lot of hills: that’s the price you pay for the excellent ridge riding and splendid views!

Take care of busy traffic on the roads in Bournemouth and Weymouth when making your way to/from the respective stations.

Reverse route: It should be quite possible to reverse this route by taking the train to Weymouth first. This might be preferable if there is a strong westerly wind.
Route variations: You could avoid the off road tracks along the Purbeck Hills either side of Corfe Castle by following nearby parallel country lanes down below: these lanes should be fairly obvious from the OS map. The track behind the coast from Newlands Farm west of West Lulworth to Ringstead Bay could only be avoided by a long diversion on roads: and you would miss one of the best bits of the ride along the Jurassic Coast. The track along White Horse Hill could be avoided by taking the busy A353 into Weymouth.

It is also possible to take a route closer to the coast. From Studland, a cyclable track goes all the way round the ‘Old Harry’ headland then along Ballard Down, from which you may descend to Swanage. Cycle through Swanage then pick up the Priests Way to Worth Matravers. Road to Kingston. Track over Swyre Head and along to Kimmeridge. Road to Steeple then ascend to join the main route.

Route description: Exit the station car park and make a right to the A35 roundabout. Go straight across into Hoddenhurst Road and then into Bath Road and descend to the sea front and get on to the West Undercliff Promenade. Cycling is allowed from September to June, so provided you are within this time window, ignore any No Cycling signs. Outside this time (ie July and August) you will have to find a way to Sandbanks on the town roads: I’m sure it’s possible, but I haven’t done it.

Carry on along the prom until it reaches an obvious end at Shore Road, where you join Banks Road which follows the southern edge of Poole Harbour and then becomes one-way down to the Sandbanks Ferry. This provides a frequent service, and, unlike cars, which can have to queue for a long time, cycles can go to the head of the queue. Tickets are currently £1 for people, 90p for bikes, and the crossing takes only 10 minutes or so.

On the other side, carry on along the (only) road through Studland, and follow signs to Swanage until, shortly after turning left onto Ulwell Road, take the bridleway (the Purbeck Way) on the right which climbs onto Nine Barrow Down: this is stony and steep so it may be preferable to walk. On reaching the ridge the track becomes a firm grassy path giving excellent riding and fine views over Swanage and Poole Harbour, until it descends to join the minor road which then joins the A351. Again the track is quite steep and stony so it may be safer to walk down. A short diversion left will allow you to look round the attractive village of Corfe Castle, otherwise turn right (CARE – BUSY ROAD) on the A351 for a short way, skirting the Castle till turning left onto Tynham Road.

Shortly after crossing a bridge over a stream, take the bridleway on the right heading due West beneath the steep hillside of West Hill. After 0.5 miles, take the track forking to the right and rising steeply across the slope to merge on the ridge of Knowle Hill. Now follow this ridge crossing the Church Knowle road after about 1 mile, then continuing West along Ridgeway Hill, passing the Grange Arch on your right, then by road to the entrance to the Lulworth Ranges. Provided the red flags are not flying, carry on, descending to the B3070 and on to Lulworth Camp. At the junction of the B3070 and B3071, cross straight over onto a track past West Down Farm.

Cross the road onto a bridleway which soon emerges onto open fields with views down to the coast. After passing a pillar (beacon) in the field up to your right, the track branches right beside the deep valley running down to West Chaldon and continues on to the car park and view point above Ringstead Bay. Carry on down the road to join the A353. Turn Right for short way (CARE – BUSY ROAD) and at a slight left bend find a bridleway on the Left which rises NE to a transmitter tower.

Follow the bridleway West (its quite rough at first but improves) to emerge on White Horse Hill. (The Osmington White Horse is not directly visible unfortunately though you can walk down to it.) After passing the trig pillar, bear left to skirt round the bowl of Spring Bottom, and carry on down to meet the road. Turn right then immediately left on Coombe Valley Road which goes down steeply to meet Littlemoor Road, where turn left then right on the A353 (CARE – BUSY ROAD) which takes you down to the beachside promenade running beside the main road into Weymouth. Carry on along the prom till No Cycling signs forbid it, when follow the Esplanade (which always seems busy with traffic) to turn right into King Street which leads to Weymouth Station (which looks like the back of a branch of McDonalds, rather than a station).

Refreshments:

There are several along the Bournemouth Promenade, and a beach side café in the public car park at Sandbanks.

There is a café off Studland Knoll Beach car park, and at Middle Beach accessed down Beach Lane from Studland Village.

Corfe Castle has several pubs and eateries.

If, you take the road through West Lulworth instead of following the track, you should find several pubs, tea shops etc, especially down in Lulworth Cove.

Where the A353 meets the sea at Overcombe on the outskirts of Weymouth, there is the Oasis Café on the sea front.

There are several snack bars along the front in Weymouth.
Points of Interest The wonderful scenery of the Isle of Purbeck is reason enough to do this ride. The track which you follow from Nine Barrow Down to Whiteway Hill is along the mainly chalk ridge which cuts off the “Isle” of Purbeck from the rest of Dorset, running from Old Harry Rocks and Ballard Down in the East to Flowers Barrow in the West.

The real estate on the Sandbanks peninsula is, famously, said to be amongst the most expensive in the world. The houses fronting southwards to the sea or on the Poole Harbour waterfront go for an absolute fortune, or at least they used to prior to the credit crunch. Nevertheless, the public beach is available to ordinary mortals, and a very good sandy beach it is.

The Sandbanks Chain Ferry is an essential part of the Purbeck experience, and the service has been in operation since 1926. On the crossing you will see Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour. The Island has had a colourful history, including a defensive castle which was later converted to a stately home, an ill fated pottery venture utilising the island’s clay deposits, and this was also the site of the first Scout Camp in August 1907. The island is now in the care of the National Trust and is, with the Isle of Wight, the only stronghold of the red squirrel in southern England. The castle is now an R&R centre for staff of the John Lewis Partnership.

Studland Bay, which can be reached by short diversions from the main road at either Knoll Beach or West Beach has an attractive setting, with open views to Bournemouth to the north, and sheltered by cliffs to the south. Children’s author Enid Blyton has associations with the area. She and her second husband frequently holidayed in Swanage in the 1940s and in 1950 they purchased the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club near Studland. Corfe Castle was one of the inspirations for Kirrin Castle and Whispering Island is Brownsea Island.

Corfe Castle is a picture postcard Dorset village which is home to the eponymous ruins – surely the most picturesque in England - standing prominently on a mound defending the gap in the Purbeck Hills. The castle is in the care of the National Trust, and there is a visitor centre off the A road behind the castle. The village is also a station on the Swanage Steam railway: trains can be seen chuffing up and down to Swanage.

To the North of Ridgeway Hill, a remarkable (to me) parallel valley has been cut, and Stonehill Down on its northern flank is a nature reserve being a good spot for various flowers and butterflies, if that floats your boat.

A bit further along is Grange Arch, an eighteenth century folly built by the owner of Creech Grange, which is visible far below through the arch.

The track between Lulworth and Ringstead is the closest you will get to the Jurassic Coast , ie the stretch including Durdle Door, Bat’s Head, White Nothe and Ringstead Bay, although the cliffs here are Cretaceous rather than Jurassic.

The Osmington White Horse is carved on the scarp of White Horse Hill and can be visited by descending the slope on foot. It dates from the early nineteenth century and the rider is said to be George III, though there are various stories about how, when and why it came into existence.

Finding your way All you will need is the Ordnance Survey Explorer 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Map OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset, which – for once - covers the whole route on a double-sided sheet.