New Year, New Unicorn

I used to walk a lot. Well, a bit. But it’s been a while since I’ve been out, or at least, out of my own volition. I go on Girlguiding region walking weekends when I can because it means I have to but other than that, I can always find more appealing things to do with my evenings and weekends, especially if I’ve been busy.

But it’s something I used to enjoy and so I signed up to one of Virtual Runner UK‘s virtual races. You pay an entry fee, you fulfil the requirements of the race independently, provide evidence (like a screenshot or photo of your GPS tracker) and you get a medal. The one I signed up for was New Year, New Unicorn and its requirements were 10km in January. You can walk or run and the 10km can be in a single event or broken down into as many as you like. In short, I was bribing myself to go outside.

It took me until the last Sunday in January to get out my little packet of local walks and flick through them to find one that both fitted the distance requirements, since I’d forced myself to do it all in one go, and looked interesting and came up with a walk that calls itself Lulworth to Durdle Door.

It’s longer than that. It’s about a mile between the two – the signposts claim it’s only a quarter of the mile but the signposts are blatantly lying. The actual walk is from Lulworth to West Bottom, four cliffs along the coast, and then back via the ridge, 10.9km by my route card.

First up is the walk to Durdle Door. As I said, it’s not far but it’s a long, steep slog up the hill, the sort where I have to stop every ten feet. My GPS says the steep bit is 0.4 miles and it took me nearly 23 minutes to do.  Speed picks up across the flatter bit, thankfully.

Lulworth to Durdle Door hill

Lulworth Cove from the top of the hill

I’ve lived in the area for my entire life and it took until 2011, the Royal wedding day, for me to finally get out to Durdle Door. I’ve seen it in textbooks my entire life but it kind of blew me away that the real thing looked just like the pictures and nearly seven years later, it still does. The beach is orange-tinged and the water is so blue and so clear. It’s one of those places that occasionally pops up in lists of “places you won’t believe are in the UK!” and it’s always busy, even on a grey day in January.

Durdle Door in January

This was the easy bit. Now I had three more cliffs to climb and the next two are very steep. Dorset’s not very mountainous but its cliffs can be hard work. Picture four Toblerone boxes laid out next to each other. That’s my route, over each one. Except Dorset’s cliffs aren’t equilateral triangles. The middle two of my four both had pretty sheer east sides and long, long west sides.

Swyre Head & Bat's Head

I didn’t bother scrambling down to the beach at Durdle Door. If I didn’t have another eight and a half kilometres to go, I might have done but not with Swyre Head looming over me. It’s one of the steep ones. My route card literally says “And yes, that is the path you’re going to take”. I took a selfie halfway up and looking at it now makes my head spin slightly. There are sheer white cliffs way down below me. And a strip of beach. If I’d thought of it, I could have walked along the beach. I’d be wary of the tide (which I didn’t check before I went out) and the crumbling cliffs but it would be easier than climbing the mountain.

At the top of Swyre Head

The next, Bat’s Head, was worse. It was just as steep, marginally shorter but muddy. It was like climbing in a cave. You see somewhere to put your foot, you half-jump to it and you immediately slip. It’s very easy to forget you’re climbing a steep cliff, which is exhausting in itself, when you have to stop and assess every single step. I didn’t hate the difficulty of the seep walk as much as Swyre Head but I hated the difficulty of just staying on my feet and getting up there.

Bat's Head

The beach between Durdle Door & Bat's Head

The climb up Bat's Head
This is accurate to the horizon. It really is that steep.
Looking down from Bat's Head
Yes, it really is that steep.

That’s the difficult bit done, once you get to the top of Bat’s Head. Yeah. Then you’ve got to walk up to the obelisk at West Bottom, which is another long, steep pull like the one up from Lulworth. I stopped many, many times on the way up. The day had started off grey, gone through a bit of blue sky and sunshine and now clouds and fog were moving in. I looked around in some interest. The horizon had vanished in the cloud and I could see rain falling in the distance. Weymouth, which had been clear and visible, had disappeared. Behind me, rain was falling over Lulworth. There were clouds over the ridge behind me. I was in a dry bubble, surrounded by rain. I wasn’t protected from the wind, though. Walking west along the very southernmost part of the south coast means you get hit by the prevailing south-west wind and cliffs are windy at the best of times.

The climb up to the obelisk

I was going to stop for food at the obelisk but that was the worst weather I faced, so I consulted my route card to find out when I needed to head inland and went on. After four cliffs, two of them long, it was good to be walking on the flat.

The ridge between West Bottom and Lulworth

Getting back was a lot quicker than getting out there. On the other hand, walking along a grassy ridge is boring. I’ve never really enjoyed walking on grassy fields and hills and I can give no reason for this. It feels like walking for the sake of it. A mountain, yes. The point of it is to reach the summit. But why does walking on a cliff or beside the sea feel like it’s achieving something?

It seemed only a few minutes before I was back above Swyre Head and this is where the trouble began. I had to reach a farm, follow the road into the caravan park and then head out to above Durdle Door. But could I find the farm? I followed the edge of the field downhill, as the instructions said, and then had to take what I might call an unorthodox route into the caravan park – which was closed for the winter and I really wasn’t supposed to be walking between the caravans themselves. I was meant to be on the road that goes straight from the gate to the Durdle Door car park.

Signpost from Durdle Door to Lulworth

From the car park, I found the signpost for the path to Lulworth but I messed up somewhere. Instead of walking across the top and coming down the side of the steep walk, I ended up back on the path I’d walked up originally. Which was fine in that I got back to Lulworth with no problems and without getting lost again but I spent the last descent watching my GPS and mentally measuring the distance before me and made it back to my car with sixty-one metres to spare instead of nine hundred. At one point I feared I was going to have to arbitrarily walk down to the cove and back just to make up the last few metres.

Walking back down to Lulworth

Having not walked that kind of distance, other than my Wales weekend, in a good couple of years, I was expecting to be more tired and aching than I was. Yes, I struggled with the steep climbs. But my legs didn’t really hurt and neither did my feet. I won’t say I felt like I could walk a whole lot further but to not feel like I needed to be carried from the car to the house was something of a triumph.

I can’t seem to find a good virtual run for February but February’s going to be busy anyway, what with Sparkle & Ice and Thinking Day. But I intend to walk a lot more in 2018 than I have for the last few years.

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