Welcome to the Art of Swimming online magazine!
Good water: the Jurassic Coast, Dorset
As very keen and experienced swimmers, my best buddy Phil Tibenham (Shaw Method teacher) and I (Hertford Masters Swimming Club member for 18 years) had talked for some time about escaping the confines of chlorinated pools and venturing off on a short three-day wild swim trek of our own, writes Phil Heath.
This summer we finally got around to it. We didn’t want to travel a long distance from our homes in North London and Hertfordshire and after some deliberation opted for Dorset’s south coast. Also known as the “Jurassic Coast” because of the number of fossils to be found there, it stretches between Weymouth in the west to Swanage in the east. We have both been on family holidays there before and had some idea of the area.
We set off very early on the first day, so we were able to stop off and swim a long length of the River Stour upstream from Pamphill, where the river opens up in wonderful wide meanders. This is one of many wild swims mentioned in Wild Swimming by Daniel Start. We followed the swim with a light riverbank brunch of bacon, eggs and beans!
As Phil and I were on a budget we stayed in a perfectly situated youth hostel at Lulworth Cove. After arriving in the early afternoon, we treked over the hill to the Cove which looked like a bay on a Greek island in the afternoon sun. We swam out and across the bay a couple of times and wondered why it had taken us so long to get around to doing something this wonderful.
On our second day we treked west from the hostel to Durdle Door. The sea was pretty calm with a small swell so we felt it was safe enough to swim out and back in through the Door’s hugh arch. We then checked out to a big white yacht about 800 metres off shore where they kindly took some photos to send to us after I had shouted out my email address!
After swimming back through the Door a second time we then stripped wetsuits to the waist and climbed over to Man o’War Bay (pictured above) for a light snack and a swim out around the rocks into the open sea. A wind had whipped up the waves a bit by now so it was more difficult to maintain a rhythm to our stroke and breathing. Here it was important to keep a close eye on each other in case of any difficulty. We had already agreed that if one of us was unsure about a swim then we would not do it.
In the late afternoon, we walked back to the hostel to refill the tea flasks, replenish the snacks, collect the car and head off towards Swanage and a swimming spot called “Dancing Ledge”. After parking in the National Trust car park, it’s a half mile trek to the coast through some beautiful countryside. You arrive at the coastal path and pass an old quarry where the stone was cut from the cliffs and taken out by sea. You can see the rail tracks in the ledge where the stone was transported to the boats. At the end of the quarry’s life a small tidal swimming pool was cut into the ledge for use by local schools, and now anyone else who fancies a dip can jump in. We dispensed with the wetsuits here and braved the colder water in our trunks.
On our third day we left the hostel and made our way west towards Weymouth and a beautiful place called Ringstead Bay. We parked in a car park high up on the hill, where you could see for many miles in all directions, and walked down to the Bay from there. Here we swam the width of the Bay which took about 30 minutes, had a rest on the shingle beach, and then swam back. After a few more dips, a bit of sunbathing and a plate of fresh mackerel at a local café, it was time to head back to the car.
We had planned another River Stour swim to finish off the trip, but having spent longer than expected at the Bay we decided it was time to make our way home.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and the water temperature, which ranged between 18-20c on our swims. We wore tri-suits which help with buoyancy and keep the body temperature up for longer swims. It was also very quiet everywhere we went as it was just before the start of the school holidays when this area becomes very popular.
If you do find yourself in Dorset and want to swim in the sea these are good areas to swim. However, the rules should always be to swim with someone else or in a group. Never venture out any further than a confident swim’s distance back to the shore. Just make sure you are sensible: if the sea is rough or the weather is poor then you should not swim. You can always enjoy a bit of hiking instead.
© Phil Heath