We spent a week cycling in Dorset exploring its coastline, holloways, villages and towns. In Dorset, like in so many other places, there is a distinct sense of place that sets it aside from anywhere else in the country. Its history and its natural wonder were part of its allure. Out of Dorchester, weary yet eager to move, we pedalled west toward the Marshwood Vale.
It wasn’t long before we hit the hills and were forced to stand out of the saddle. The day, so far, had passed by outside the carriage of our train, a constant flood of colour and shapes moving too fast to acknowledge for more than a brief moment. On a bike the world around you is there to be processed, to be appreciated or to be detested. The hills hurt but the views they granted made amends for this.
It was the afternoon and our main priority was to find dinner and somewhere to pitch our tents. At the top of a hill, where a trig-point offered views towards Seatown and the ocean, we made a note of the land we would spend the next 6 days exploring. We studied its high-ground, its woodlands and it villages – overlaying mental-maps and pointing out things of interest.
We descended into Bridport and had dinner in a pub. After a few drinks we set off in search of somewhere appropriate to camp. The search had started late, put on hold for beers, and proved a lot more of a challenge than we had anticipated. We turned on our bike lights and journeyed into the dark backroads of the county where villages had settled down for the evening – their lamps and television sets glowing behind windows and drawn curtains. We stepped cautiously through a boggy field before we spotted the white metal of goalposts protruding from the mud. More winding roads, more dark spaces, more windows and illuminated faces fixated on screens. We stopped on the outskirts of one of these villages to study the abstract figure of a man before a fire – his shadow dancing across the tress behind him as flames licked at the blackness above him. Embers popped in the silence, the sound of fuel being dragged from a pile and slung upon the intense heat of the fire. Adam called up to the figure and a man called back and moved from the fire toward the beams of light that our bikes threw across the garden. He phoned a friend for us, a man who owned a campsite that was currently out of season. Away from the flames he was ordinary and extremely helpful. He gave us directions and we followed them to North Chideock where we cycled up a gravel drive to be greeted by an elderly woman. She showed us down to the field and told us to come and pay in the morning – five pounds each.
It was bitterly cold in the dark and so we threw up the tents as quickly as we could, floundering in the night with torches gripped in our mouths. We sat and smoked in the doorways of our tents, half cocooned in our sleeping bags.
At some point in the night the winds had picked up and the light rain sounded tenfold carried on the stronger gusts. We woke to a low-lying mist and climbed out to see our surroundings plainly for the first time. We lay in a horseshoe of hills, the ever-present Colmer’s Hill off to our east. Our breathe was on the air, our fingers and toes numb, hair damp, these were the qualities of the morning and it was not long before we learnt to deal with them.
Leaving the campsite behind, we headed down towards Seatown where we thought we may be able to grab a coffee and some breakfast in the b&b. In the evening we had passed through these areas unaware of our surroundings but, in the morning light, we could roll along taking it all in anew.
In Seatown the b&b was only open to customers and so we grabbed a few photos on the beach before leaving.
We cycled a few miles into a nearby village where we ate breakfast at a farm cafe and located our first holloway.
We dismounted at the foot of the track. We could’ve ridden but instead we donned our cameras and set off, pushing our laden bikes before us.
After a few hundred meters there was a noticeable change – underfoot the surface was now loose and the tyre tracks that we had originally followed had disappeared. The holloway, here, took on the appearance of a drained riverbed – one tumbling down a hillside. Ferns flanked us and the trees, above us at ground level, bent inwards to mesh and mask. We ghosted up the tunnel, our heads turning and tilting to take it all in.
There was a tranquility, a stasis in which everything was held, everything right back to the first creatures and men that had scuffed a way into the fields – there was a blending of past and present that coalesced to construct the holloway’s life in its entirety, perceptible to the wanderer all at once. A tunnel such as this has a beginning and an end in a linear regard to time, yet somewhere in between it felt one and the same.
When we exited the old path we came out on a hilltop and decided to follow a track-road down to Chideock where we could reconnect with the a-road and head into Lyme Regis.