Sunday 6 November 2016

3rd November 2016 - Dorset delight

With a family holiday once again taking us down to the stunning Jurassic coast of Dorset, I hoped I'd be able to fulfil a dream of doing some exploration of the coastline in my sea kayak.  Incredibly as the departure date came closer, the stunning autumn weather we've been having looked like it might just hold too.

Had we had one good paddling day that would have been great, but the weather was absolutely superb and not only did I get a morning paddling with my wife (thanks Tom and Annabelle for looking after the boys), who has made all this paddling business possible by buying me a boat, but I was also able to have a great day paddling from Wareham to Swanage.

Emma exploring the caves near Old Harry rocks

For our quick trip to Old Harry we set off from the National Trust car park at Knoll beach which gave a short carry to the water, with only a barrier wall of seaweed making launching slightly trickier than it otherwise might have been.

Setting off just before the 'stand' between the two high tides they have in these parts we hoped at worst the tide wouldn't impede us and at best may actually help on both the outbound and return journeys.

Hugging the shore the cliffs get bigger and bigger as you approach the headland and the stacks and arches of the rocks themselves make for absolutely superb paddling and far too soon we had to start our return journey.

A couple of days later the family dropped me off at the Quay car park in Wareham at local tide. Parking here is a bit of a bargain compared to some of the coastal car parks and offers incredibly easy access to the water. There are even free public toilets with the best taps ever which kept the kids entertained for a bit (we really know how to live it up in our family!).

The first part of the journey is down the River Frome. Walls of towering reeds on each bank limit the view slightly, but there is plenty of interest in the hundreds of leisure craft that use the river as a mooring. Around a final bend though and the vista widens massively as the estuary opens out to great Poole Harbour.

Lots of small boats were scurrying around on the flooded part of the estuary, though remaining in the buoyed channel I didn't get close enough to find out what they were gathering. On the opposite bank a group of stand up paddle boarders were enjoying the tranquillity of the bay, escorted by the noisiest safety RIB I've ever heard.

The Harbour narrows again briefly before opening out into an island studded expanse of water, it's entrance still kilometres away. I chose to try and take the quietest route along the southern side, accompanied by hundreds of wading birds, but sadly no seals.

Ahead now lay the bit of the day that I had least been looking forward to, leaving the mouth of the Harbour.  The 300m wide entrance is guarded by a chain ferry that regularly shuttles between Sandbanks and Studland. Not only do you need to avoid the ferry which can do nothing to change its course, but I was also worried about the chain fore and aft of it to. Fortunately I was able to time my passage 'behind' the ferry, just as it docked at Studland and maintained eye contact with a member of the crew so he knew I was there.  It's worth noting the black ball that is raised on the 'front' of the ferry just before it departs.

The clapotis from the swell reflecting from the ferry did little to diminish my relief at having passed this obstacle and I landed on the stunning beach to report my progress before heading once again out towards Old Harry.

There was lots going on in the bay. First the Poole all weather lifeboat passed me returning to Poole on what must have been one of its final outings. Its patch is shortly to be covered by the new Swanage boat. Then a large military plane which had passed overhead a number of times while I was in the harbour flew very low before dispatching something on a number of parachutes out the back and into the water. A very militaristic RIB then flew by, blue lights flashing (I later learnt this was the Dorset Police RIB).  Finally a coastguard helicopter that had been hovering by the rocks set off in pursuit of a RIB towards Knoll beach before landing.

Heading across Studland bay towards Old Harry
Arriving at the rocks the water level was lower than on our previous visit and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to utilise the gap we'd used previously.  Going to have a closer look there was suddenly no real choice as I was whooshed through a gap that fortunately did exist by the ebbing tide.

Might need a bit more water
Old Harry isn't the only bit of interest on this section as not only do the impressive cliffs continue, but there are also further stacks known as The Pinnacles. I felt very small at the foot of the cliffs and it was quite reassuring when the Swanage inshore lifeboat sped past, crew waving.

The Pinnacles with Swanage bay just visible in the distance 
Entering Swanage bay the cliffs fall back to be replaced by familiar sites in the bay. As I neared the shore I thought I spied an extremely familiar site and stopped to ring my wife. Sure enough, she confirmed that it was our van I could see and that she'd drag the lads out of the penny arcade and be there to meet me, a fantastic end to a superb trip.

Huge thanks to Mark Rainsly and his South West Sea Kayaking guide, without which I would never have thought of starting at Wareham and would have then missed this contrasting part of the trip. Thanks too to Em for looking after the boys while I had the day paddling. 

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