Purbeck Bimble, Dorset UK
61 Mi.(98 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
But first, let’s get a misnomer out of the way. The Isle of Purbeck isn’t actually an isle, though you can reach it on a chain ferry, which certainly adds to its islandish feel. Rather, it’s a peninsula hemmed in by the English Channel, a sixty square mile chunk of land that also includes the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO world heritage site. In the distant past, the low-lying parts would have been very boggy and difficult to cross in winter, hence ‘Isle’ of Purbeck.
For this ride, we’re suggesting you begin your loop in the countryside town Wareham – the oldest settlement in the region – as it offers a direct train connection to London. But, if the idea of the chain ferry appeals, you could also begin the ride in Pokesdown, a train stop before Bournemouth. If you do, here’s a recommendation: swing by Velo Domestique for coffee and a delicious gluten-free brownie, then ride along the promenade, past its string of colourful beach huts, to connect with the chain ferry (see Must Know for the route and cycling restrictions along the promenade during the summer months).
The Isle of Purbeck has a little of everything. There are classic UK bridleways and rutted, grassy two tracks that climb steeply onto ridgetops. There are gently rolling open moorland and heathland. And, at times, the route ducks into quiet forests and ambles along winding backcountry roads. Resupplies come in the form of the seaside town of Swanage and at various pubs and cafes, the most notable being the inimitable Square and Compass, in Worth Matravers.
On a fine summer’s day, a highlight of this ride is surely the far-reaching views from Ballard Down; open sea on one side and Poole harbour to the other. Which, I’ll have you know, is second largest natural harbour in the world, second only to almost-as-impressive Sydney. Tongue in cheek boasting aside, this region really is one of the most beautiful areas within a couple of hours of London. You could easily catch a morning train on Saturday, enjoy two great days of riding, then hop on the evening train back on Sunday. Dorset is gaining something of a reputation for the quality of its fresh food, so you can expect to enjoy some fantastic nosh in Wareham, Swanage, and others, as marked on the gpx file.
This is a take on a classic Purbeck loop, with added tentacles to investigate the many short but worthy out-and-backs in the area. I think I may have stolen the word Bimble from Charlie the Bikemonger, so thanks Charlie. And thanks to Dan at Velo Domestique for foodie advice. Improvements or updates to share? Let us know!
Difficulty: We’ve given this route a 5 as it’s a very straightforward, non-technical ride, especially when spread over two days. Amenities are round almost every corner. However, the hills are steep in these parts and the descents are sometimes rocky. With the right gearing, it’s almost completely rideable, but don’t be ashamed to push if need be!
- Beautiful ridge riding and coastal views (and some hefty climbs to earn them).
- Good food in the towns of Wareham and Swanage, plus tea houses and pubs galore.
- Lots of swimming potential in the summer months.
- Uncovering oddities; take the time to enjoy the area.
- What bike: A standard issue hardtail is best suited to this route, fully rigid or otherwise. You’d certainly enjoy this area on an adventure/gravel/cyclocross bike, shod with, say, 700x45c, if you take some of the descents more carefully. Bring your low gears for the climbs, though.
- When to go: Summer promises the best weather in the Purbeck (and the only time of year for all but the hardiest to enjoy its many swimming opportunities) but the weekends can be busy. Still, this is a ride you could do at any time of the year, if you’re lucky enough to get a clear forecast, though the trails can be muddy in winter. Whilst the ridges along the coast can sometimes be shrouded in mist, head further inland and the weather often improves.
- As an alternative start point, you can hop off the train in Pokesdown and swing by Velo Domestique for coffee and a brownie, but disappointingly, you won’t be able to follow the lovely bike path along the coastal promenade between 1oam – 6pm in July and August. Outside of this, you can ride along the promenade at any time; watch out for walkers. It’s close to 8 miles from Pokesdown to the chain ferry; see here for the route. Most of it is vehicle-free, so great for a family.
- Do you love poring over paper maps? Get yourself the 1:25,000 Purbeck and South Dorset OS Explorer Map, OL 15. There are all kinds of short hikes you can do in the area, too, many of which reveal parts of the coast innaccessible to bikes.
- This loop makes a great weekend away: Catch a morning train from London Waterloo to Wareham (2hr 20min) on Saturday, enjoy two great days of riding, then hop on the evening train back on Sunday. Or, take a day off work and catch a train back after 9:30am on Monday to eek out your explorations. South West Trains takes bikes for free, but space is limited and bikes can’t be booked.
- Bike shops: There’s a great bike shop at Wareham train station – Wareham Cycleworks. A visit to Charlie the Bikemonger to see his Krampus Trompe-l’œil mural should not be missed; single speeders and bikepackers are especially welcome (pop in and pick up some Bum Butter!) Bike hire (of all kinds, including tag-a-longs) is available in Norden at Cyclexperience.
- The chain ferry to Sandbanks runs regularly throughout the day, see here for a timetable, for the princely sum of £1. If you want to start your ride in Bournemouth, Poole, or Pokesdown, this is a great access point to the Isle of Purbeck.
- Heading to the Purbeck with your family? Although it features some hefty climbs, this a loop that could be undertaken with a child on a tag-a-along, as long as you’re happy to walk and push sometimes. A single wheel trailer would work too. Adjust your timings accordingly. As for off-bike activities, kids will love the steam train (originally opened in 1885) that runs between Swanage and Norden (near Corfe Castle). There are a string of great beaches along the Jurassic Coast, as well as the excellent Etches Collection fossil museum in Kimmeridge; the beach at low tide reveals all manner of ammenites and is a rockpool hotspot. The Margaret Green Animal Rescue center in Church Knowle is another good spot to visit, with goats, shetland ponies, cats, rabbits, and more…
- Turn this ride into an extended, social non-race by attending the Purbeck Gravel Dash. This 100 mile course begins and ends in the Purbeck. According to the organisers, it includes an assortment of “dirt, mud, gravel, some road sections (sorry), chalk, tech, grass…. and maybe a puddle or two.”
- Wild camping isn’t officially allowed in the UK, so either bivy out with subtlety and consideration somewhere in the forest (#leavenotrace) or use one of the low key, paid camp sites listed in the gpx file.
- There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs in the area, as it’s a popular tourist destination.
- Dorset is fast gaining a reputation for its slow cooking cuisine. Personal favourites are all marked on the gpx file, they include the Salt Pig Deli (in both Wareham and Swanage) and the 18th century Square and Compass pub in Worth Matravers, where there’s often excellent live music at the weekend. For the sweet toothed, the Worth Matravers Tea and Supper Rooms offers the quintessential English scone and clotted cream experience; pick a spot in the garden at the back. In Wareham, Curtis the butcher has great sausage rolls for 75p!
- I forbid you to visit an English seaside town without enjoying some fish and chips (or at the least some chips, then); my favourite is at the Fish Plaice. Be warned, you’ll have to fight off mean-spirited seagulls.
- There’s plenty of water, including taps at beaches, pubs, cafes, etc.
- Did you know that one of our favourite camping fares is made nearby? Firepot dehydrated meals, complete with compostable pouches, come highly recommended.