When we decided to spend a week in one of your Dorset cottages on the beautiful Jurassic Coast, I envisaged gentle walks, cream teas in pretty tea gardens, and just generally pootling about in a rural idyll, pretending to be characters from Enid Blyton. We did all these things. But you know what was the most memorable part of the trip – snorkelling and kayaking off beautiful, sandy Middle Beach.
Snorkelling? In Dorset? Believe it or not, you can do it, and the day we decided to try the Studland Sea School, the sun was out, there was no wind and the soft white sands of Studland Bay could have passed for the Mediterranean – perfect conditions for snorkelling. We were kitted out in full wetsuits (we’re not that hard!), before choosing our kayaks and heading out to sea to try and spot some wildlife. The rare seagrass meadows of Studland Bay are the only breeding site in the UK for spiny and short-nosed seahorses and, although you would be lucky to see any of these shy creatures, there are plenty of spider crabs, grey mullet and pipe fish to view. And you don’t even have to snorkel to spot the dolphins and basking sharks who are regular visitors to these shores.
We started with a gentle paddle along the coast to neighbouring South Beach, where we landed our kayaks beneath a 27-metre bunker known as Fort Henry. It was from here that King George VI, Churchill and his generals surveyed the progress of their troops as they practised for the D-Day landings on the beach below. Today, the tunnels of the fort make a great place for children to run around and play hide-and-seek.
Back on the water, our instructor Dan entertained us with tales of local characters, folklore and wildlife as we kayaked out across the bay to the base of Old Harry Rocks, a spectacular series of chalk stacks rising sheer out of the sea. We paddled through a sea arch and into a cave before mooring on a small stony beach. Then, donning our snorkels, we lowered ourselves into the sea, swimming past swaying, colourful seaweed and peering at underwater rockfaces dotted with red anemones and tiny fish, while the children leapt off rock ledges above us into the deep clear blue water. Great snorkelling, by any standards.
Sounds unbelievable doesn’t it? But Dorset in summer can really be like this. We paddled back slowly, almost too tired to haul our kayaks up onto the sandy beach, but after Famous-Five-style lashings of bacon sandwiches at the lovely Middle Beach Cafe, gazing across the bay to Old Harry Rocks, we felt a lot better, amazed at how far we had paddled. That evening, as the sun went down, nursing a glass of wine in the pretty garden of our holiday cottage, we felt a huge sense of achievement.
The following day, we followed part of the South West Coast Path over the top of Ballard Down. The steep path climbs about a hundred metres to an open grassy area, where the brave and non-vertiginous amongst us peered down over Old Harry Rocks, and saw a group of kayakers looking like miniature ants in the blue sea below.
All photographs by Amanda Tomlin.
We'd suggest staying in holiday cottage near Studland to explore the south coast and get out on the sea.