When it comes to identifying walking routes, one, two and ideally all three, of the afore-mentioned key ingredients are required. So which, then, does the journey from Studland VIllage to Old Harry’s Rocks deliver?
Well, the climbs and descents are gentle; the terrain is easy-going too. But who cares when the views are so spectacular? Who could possibly mind about the ebb and flow of the walking route itself, when it leads to and from the stunning chalk stacks off Handfast Point?
It was a brisk, clear winter’s morning: our party of old and new friends were assembled in fresh, watery sunlight outside the Bankes Arms, our coats buttoned and hats on, and our collective breath turning to steam in the cold air. We set off in pursuit of Old Harry and after a while, as we skirted around the edge of the sheer and bright-white cliffs, the view opened up spectacularly, on both sides. In one direction, was Swanage; in the other, Wareham and Bournemouth.
In summer, the route is teeming with wildlife and nature, so somebody towards the rear of the group said in a cold-sounding, scarf-muffled voice. She pointed at a clump of chalk grassland flowers in a patch of short turf, and what looked like gorse growing elsewhere. In the summer, she said, butterflies and bees dart among the wildflowers. Birds swoop in wide arcs out over the water and the rocks, and then dive back onto land. Families bring picnics.
On this morning, however, it is just our group -- with no picnic -- and a solitary dog walker. He urged his dog back from the cliff edge once, then twice, until finally the dog listened and heeled. It looked like a regular routine, albeit one the dog found funnier than the owner.
We all sided with the dog.
Before too long, we arrived at the famous rock formation, named after the infamous Dorset pirate who annoyed the Spanish and the French so much, they came together in the spirit of revenge, invaded his hometown, and killed his brother. But while the story behind Old Harry’s Rocks may be one of blood and plunder and violence, the formation itself is something quite different: a beautiful collection of chalk stumps and stacks that look so artfully formed that you’d be forgiven for thinking a master sculptor must have put them there. We could have stayed put for a very long time indeed.
That morning, however, was very cold indeed, so we decamped back to the Bankes Arms, where we were able to tick a second of our three key walk requirements -- the presence of a brilliant pub in close proximity -- off our list. And as the old song goes, two outta three ain’t bad.
Our advice, then, is to take your own trip to the Dorset coast soon -- just make sure that you don’t wander too close to the cliff edge after one too many in the Bankes.