William the Conqueror meets Thomas the Tank Engine

Corfe CastleWhat a lovely way to say goodbye to Dorset, travelling on the Swanage Railway to Corfe Castle. Astonishingly, we’ve never visited this part of England before but we’ve fallen in love with this beautiful county. We’ve walked some of the South West Coast, Path (at 630 miles, the longest national trail in the UK) and cycled around the quiet lanes and thatched villages. We’ve never been far from the sea and my only frustration is that my photography skills aren’t good enough to do the views justice.

The Swanage Railway is a great way to approach Corfe Castle and its village. It’s run by volunteers, who rescued the Swanage to Wareham line after its closure in 1972 and since then have lovingly and painstakingly restored it to its former glory. We left Gertie at the park and ride at Norden station, and boarded a carriage originally in use in the 1950’s. I don’t know why this was so pleasing, but it was.

The castle is owned and managed by the National Trust, so there are the obligatory idiot-proof information boards, tea room, medieval dressing up booth etc, but once you get past these, the ruins of William the Conqueror’s iconic castle are impressive and strangely atmospheric. It dates back to the 11th century and commands a gap in the Purbeck Hills on the route between Wareham and Swanage.

Corfe village

Apparently, the name Corfe derives from the Old English ceorfan, meaning ‘a cutting’, referring to the gap. From the top (a pretty steep climb on a very hot day) the views are stunning; rolling hills and a glimpse of the sea in the distance.

So, a journey back through the history of this place, both distant and comparatively recent.  What a fascinating country England is.

Westward Ho

Kimmeridge BayWell not that far west, more west-ish, in Dorset. The weather is glorious and Kimmeridge Bay is laid out in all its Jurassic glory. Today we cycle (well, I cycle and John walks as years of neglect have taken their toll on his bike) to the pretty thatched village of Kimmeridge to have lunch and visit the Etches Collection, a ‘multimillion pound’ museum of fossils.

Luckily, lunch is excellent. Luckily because Clavell’s Cafe is the only place to eat for miles around. We don’t visit the museum, entry £8 each. We’re not mean or anything, but £16 to look at some old fossils seems a bit steep. Instead, we spend the £16 on coffee and sticky toffee pudding back at Clavell’s. Oh stop it. We’re on holiday.

Clavell's CafeWe are staying at a site on the Smedmore Estate and it’s incredibly peaceful here. Pheasants poke about in the grass like chickens and the only sounds are natural ones; wind, sea, birdsong, oh and the odd crack of a shotgun which usually signals the disappearance of one of the pheasants. There’s no shower block, no loos, just a fresh water supply and somewhere to put nasty, smelly stuff. And very efficient recycling bins. Simple, quiet and surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside.

The corollary of all this peace and quiet is that as well as Clavell’s being the only place to eat, the nearest place to buy food supplies is a Spar in Corfe, an exhausting six mile slog by bike up and down a hilly, narrow lane,  or all the upheaval of going in Gertie. So we do what all wild campers do. We order a delivery from Sainsbury’s. We don’t need much so to get the order over £40 we are forced to buy a bottle of gin. And tonic. And limes. And lemons. Goodness wild camping is tough (that’s a joke, by the way.)

Clavell's Tower and Kimmeridge BayNotes for campers: We stayed at Smedmore Caravan Site, a Caravan Club affiliated site. Seven nights with electric hook up was £105. Don’t follow a satnav for the last few miles as it may lead you down a very narrow lane with no passing places, with a 1:5 hill with steep drops to the side. Ask for directions from the site office when you book. It really is a  bit remote so it might be a good idea to bring adequate supplies of food and drink with you, or you too may find yourself compelled to buy gin…