A train to Carlisle.
And then another to Euston, London.
Followed by a car journey to Corfe Castle, Dorset
Travel time = 9 hours
I could have flown to Dubai faster than it took me to get to the south coast of England from Cumbria!
Q: Were the hours of travel it worth it?
A: (Without pausing for thought). Oh, Yes!
It was worth it.
It was mind-blowingly worth it.
As soon as I saw the big blue sea, I just knew I was going to love it.
This was the Jurassic coast.
This was Dorset.
Driving along the coastal road, in the late evening, the sun was setting over the sea. I was taken aback how blue and how big the sea was. It is a truly magnificent landscape. I could have been anywhere in the world.
A tropical land.
A far away shore.
But I wasn’t.
I was in Dorset
And I fell in love with the place.
It was love at first sight.
I felt very happy.
Giddy in the fact that Dorset was to be home for the next three days.
Access The Outdoor Guide (AccessTOG) had been asked to take part in the Purplebeck Nordic Walking Festival – a three-day event which attracts like-minded walkers from all over the UK who come together to share their passion for Nordic walking. It did strike me as odd that I, a wheelchair user, was asked to a festival of walking, where everybody seemed to use Nordic Walking poles.
I was curious about how this was going to work.
Set within the shadows of Corfe Castle, a remote field had been transformed into a festival hub with hundreds of purple-clad walkers gathered in and around the marquees, all keen and eager to register for their chosen walking activities – be it the 26-mile Nordic Marathon or the gentle introduction to Nordic Walking.
We were warmly welcomed by Gillian, founder of Nordic Walking UK, who revealed her plans to encourage people of all abilities to join in with her vision to make Nordic Walking accessible to all. It was the first time that wheelchair accessible walks, and walks for people with limited mobility, had been organised for this festival and I was going to be the guinea pig.
My first walk of the new day was a gentle stroll around a private estate called Bluepool. The estate is only open during the spring and summer months, to allow mother nature restore and repair over winter. There is an admission charge into the estate, but I would highly recommend the walk.
The lake, as the name suggests, is blue – though it may look green or emerald depending on how the light falls. My fellow Nordic Walkers began the walk with a series of stretching and breathing exercise. From my seated position, I used the walking poles to stretch open my arms and lift my upper body. I was surprised how beneficial these simple exercises are for someone who sits down all day!
Since learning how to do the stretches, I have continued doing them at home and I have seen an improvement in my overall posture. The technique of diaphragmic breathing was also beneficial and well as being so relaxing. And again, I have continued to use this technique of deep breathing since – and it feels good.
There was so much to see around the Blue Pool Estate and I loved our stroll through the woodland.
I was lucky enough to spot a fairy house, which was in the base of an old tree and fairy ring! Truth be told, a fairy trail has been set up for children (and adults) to follow. But what a great idea for getting children outdoors and exploring nature! The whole walk, which meandered through the ancient forest to the Blue Pool, was magical even without the fairies.
The Blue Pool Estate has a beautiful Tearoom and shop, which looks and feels as though it has been anchored inside a time warp. The perfect cup of tea, in a china pot, transports you back in time to the 1930s. It was heaven! Next to the Tearoom is the Wareham Bear Museum and shop. Unfortunately, time did not allow for me to visit either, but it’s on my list for ‘next time’.
My second day at the walking festival began with a session of exercises using Smovey rings. Smovey Vibroswing is a vibrating ring system consisting of a spiral tube which contains four steel balls which weigh 500g. Once you start to move the rings, the centrifugal forces get to work, making the rings heavier and therefore making your body work harder.
The Smovey can be used when walking normally, as part of an exercise programme, or sitting in a chair making it accessible to everyone. It was great fun being part of this exercise session and I was able to join in with the entire routine as it had been adapted for me to do from my seated position. I could see the benefits of this workout and how it would help improve my upper body strength, which I need as a manual wheelchair user.
Following my workout, with aching arms, I set off for my next walk of the festival. Here I was to meet Sally who was going to be my guide around RSPB Arne. The route around through this nature reserve is just over a mile in length. There are lots of sightings to enjoy at this nature reserve including dragonflies, sand lizards, ospreys, Dartford warblers and nightjars. I am told it is one of the best sites to visit to see the wildlife in Dorset. And I can see why.
Poole Harbour is next to the reserve and is home to winter waders and wildfowl, including the largest wintering population of avocets in the UK. Though the walk was short, we allowed plenty of time to stop and watch the wildlife. There is a hide at the reserve that is wheelchair accessible – a great spot to watch the water birds.
I used my Davinci wheelchair and Trailrider on this walk which was ideal for most of the terrain around Arne but I did need a little push up one of the steeper slopes. I would say that the route that we took would not be suitable for a manual wheelchair, as there were a couple of steeper sections and some of the paths were covered in sand, making the going tough for wheels.
However, there is a wheelchair to hire from the visitor centre which is ideal for exploring many of the paths that weave around the reserve. Countryside Mobility have created an amazing resource for hiring wheelchairs at different locations along the Dorset and Devon Coastline. It really is worth checking out if you are visiting the area.
My final walk of the day was an early evening stroll to Wareham Forest. The Wareham Forest is just a mile away from the town of Wareham. The land is run by Forestry England for forestry and recreation and is home to local populations of Sika deer, the sand lizard and the Dartford warbler.
Many birds visit the area, from raptors like merlins, honey buzzards, peregrine falcons, sparrowhawks and red kites to crossbills, nightjars and woodlarks. It was a gentle stroll to a wonderful viewpoint. It was very quiet and peaceful and just what the doctor ordered.
Back at the festival hub, we were in for an evening of celebration and fun. We had a wonderful evening of live music, street food and dancing. It was such a great atmosphere, with haybales creating seating and arena and fire braziers providing warmth and light. It’s a long time since I danced in a field but I did and I loved it! I enjoyed meeting so many like-minded people who enjoyed walking and, as I discovered, enjoyed dancing too.
The following day began at Durlston Country Park. Here we met Gillian for two walks which she wanted to try out for future Nordic Walking Festivals at Purbeck. The whole of the Durlston Country Park is set on the clifftop and, though there are reasonable paths to follow, I would strongly advise borrowing one of the two all-terrain wheelchairs which are for hire and have once again been provided by Countryside Mobility.
The visitor centre is situated downhill away from the car park and it is a steep climb up the slope. Please speak to a member of staff in the visitor centre as it is possible for transport to come and take guests back up the hill. In the visitor centre is a lovely café, shop, exhibition and the all-important accessible loos.
I was joined on the walk by Richard, who, like myself, was a keen walker but now needs to use a powerchair to assist with mobility, and Becky, who runs a fabulous wheelchair accessible self-catering cottage near Poole. Becky is tetraplegic and full-time wheelchair user and uses a self-propelled power-assisted chair.
Our task for the walks was to see which chairs were suitable for the different terrains. Our first walk was a fairly straightforward walk which started at the visitor centre to Anvil Lighthouse. The track followed the tarmac road to the lighthouse. The views over the Jurassic coastline were simply stunning.
On a day like we had, where the sun shone brightly and a gentle breeze blew in from the sea, I could not imagine being in a nicer place. The only setback of this walk was the steepness of the path. Each of the wheelchairs were fine going downhill but Becky really did need a helping hand on the push back up to the top.
For the reason of steepness, Richard and Becky decided that the second walk would be unsuitable for their chairs and they decided to explore the gentler nature trail which is accessed from the top car park and avoids any steep climbs. I, on the other hand, decided that I would take the clifftop walk – a tried and tested route for the all- terrain wheelchair.
I was so pleased that I did this route as the views were spectacular. From the clifftops I could see across to the Isle of Wight, to Brownsea Island and out into the English Channel. The white rocks of the Jurassic coast looked amazing against the blue of the sea. I had heard so much about this stunning coastline from Julia. I had to pinch myself. I was here. And now I could see Old Harry Rock for myself. It was truly fantastic.
It is so great that organisations such as Nordic Walking UK are thinking about inclusivity and creating walks that are accessible for all.
As well participating in the Nordic Walking Festival, I had time to explore the area around Corfe Castle, see the steam trains at the Swanage Steam Railway, Make a visit to the Purbeck Mine and Mineral Museum and even had time to dip my feet in the sea at Studland Beach, where there is a beach wheelchair for hire from National Trust.
Swanage Steam Railway
Purbeck Mine and Mineral Museum
Beach wheelchair for hire
I had a great few days in Dorset.
Thank you to Gillian for giving me a wonderful Nordic Walking Experience and to Countryside Mobility for the fantastic resource that they provide. They are really creating a countryside for all by providing all- terrain wheelchair hire in so many stunning locations.
For more information about accessible Dorset, please click here.
So, there you have it …
A Nordic Walking Pole, an all-terrain wheelchair and a Jurassic Coast