Doing a coast-to-coast cycle is something I’ve always wanted to do, but planning it was an issue. Eventually, on speaking with friends over several pints, this evolved into a round-the-coast trek, and so it was set. We had to start somewhere, and the initial plan was to spend the last few days of my mid-twenties doing something worthwhile before driving down to Brighton to celebrate my birthday with my friends. This, a hundred-mile bike ride along the south coast in the sunshine with my old University buddy Adam, stopping at numerous pubs en route, seemed like just the thing.
After drawing up a rough plan, Adam and I met up at our mutual friend Rich’s house in Reading, which we figured would be a good and fitting place from which to travel down, and would also allow us to compare notes and make a few last-minute purchases prior to the off.
The train journey turned out to be quite convoluted, involving lugging our bikes onto three separate trains, with changes at Basingstoke and Bournemouth. A long gap between trains at Bournemouth was both a blessing and a curse, delaying our arrival in Weymouth but also offering the opportunity of a trip to the pub, and a first chance for Adam to try out his PacSafe (a collapsible wire mesh mechanism for secure bag storage – I took an instant dislike to the thing when it tried to take a couple of my fingers off).
Eventually we were on our way to Weymouth, but the journey from Reading had taken so long that we would now need to camp at Weymouth and begin our trip in earnest the following morning.
Accordingly, we made our way to the Pebble Bank campsite at Wyke Regis, where our final preparations comprised a couple of Pot Noodles and cans of lager and a brief stroll around the grassland between the campsite and the East Fleet, before a night’s sleep under the stars.
Day One – Cycling Weymouth to Durdle Door
The following morning we were itching to hit the road, and our trip began with a quick visit to the eastern end of Chesil Beach, and a return journey to Weymouth town centre to stock up on provisions.
We didn’t quite get the flying start out of Weymouth that I was hoping for, as the Veteran’s Festival had filled the streets, and the military vehicle parade occupying the main A353 out of town was blocking our progress quite comprehensively. An experimental detour along a couple of back roads fortuitously allowed us to manoeuvre around and ahead of the snail’s-pace procession, and – hurrah! – The road ahead of us was finally open.
Day Two –Cycling Lulworth Cove to Swanage
After our overnight camp at Durdle Door, we replayed our descent to Lulworth Cove, this time in the morning sunshine.
Our immediate aim was to get ourselves back up onto the coast path from Lulworth, which would take us through an MOD ‘Danger Area’ as marked on our map. However, after spending all our energy wheeling our bikes up the steepest, most bramble-infested path we’ve encountered so far, a kindly soul informed us that the ‘range paths’ (as they’re apparently known) were not open to the public today due to military exercises taking place.
It had never occurred to us that the MoD would be sealing off entire sections of coast!
Our choices were therefore limited to one. We simply had to descend back through the brambles, re-join the road, and find an alternative inland route, which began via Lulworth Camp and East Lulworth. And after that, I’d be playing it by ear since I didn’t have the maps for that bit…
After a brief detour to see Lulworth Castle (where Bestival is hosted), we headed back towards the coast on a speedy run over the heath to Swanage.
Day Three – Cycling Swanage to Yarmouth
Day three and we were retracing our steps again, to the point where we’d descended from Nine Barrow Down the previous day, before now continuing north towards Studland.
The descent to sea level at Studland marked the end of our passage along the Jurassic Coast, which in practice meant that things would get a lot easier from this point.
Day Four – Cycling Poole Harbour to Portsea Island
Our third full day of cycling did not get off to the best of starts, as the previous day’s rain had indeed brought me down with a cold.
Nevertheless we set out on our cross-Wight journey, starting with a riverside meander along the banks of the Yar, then striking due east pretty much along the centre line of the island, greatly aided by strong westerly winds.
Days Five and Six – Cycling Portsea Island to Hayling Island
The following day was our last, the sun was shining, and I was feeling better too, so onwards we headed, finally.
It felt good to be back on the road, and we wasted no time in heading to the eastern tip of Portsea Island to find out whether the ferry to Hayling Island, marked on my map, actually existed.
We were no clearer on that point when we arrived at the jetty. There was a sign, but it was clearly out of date, since it advertised a ferry leaving shortly after we arrived, and no such ferry was forthcoming.
We were all set to retrace our steps and follow the eastern coast of Portsea Island instead, when a kindly chap arrived and informed us that the ferry would indeed be along presently. He was not wrong, and on the short boat trip across the mouth of Langstone Harbour he even offered us a lift to Brighton (where we had to be later in the afternoon to meet our friends for my birthday celebrations). But there was time left to cycle some more, and so on we went.
Part 2 of the Cycling the Cost of Britain Series is continued here.