The Dorset Dirt Dash is a 100 mile offroad gravel event around the Purbeck peninsular in Dorset. This post is about the first day of the two day (50:50) event. I rode it with my youngest in 2022, the weather was fabulous, the route epic, organisation efficient, participants friendly. It was a very memorable weekend in May with many highs and a few lows… read on for more! Click the image to jump to the part of the route you are interested in or just keep reading!
The Dorset Dirt Dash starts and ends at the Red Lion in the centre of Swanage. The grand depart involved a safety briefing like no other, it was entertaining and memorable. “Hills are steep, surfaces can be slippery when wet, check your brakes, its not a bl*ddy race, don’t be a d*ck!” Then with much enthusiastic cheering and chequered flag waving, a flood of cyclists spilled onto the narrow streets of old Swanage. We snaked along the seafront then climbed out of town before turning off-road. The ride had begun!
Godlingston Hill & Corfe
The first gravel climb on Godlingston Hill was pretty unrelenting, the longest climb of the day, 170m from the seafront, most of it on a bridlepath. The surface is a mix of gravel & grass with the odd rock. Most people stopped to take off a layer or 2 towards the bottom…. And quite a few ended up walking before the top. I did both!
The views from the top are panoramic and continued all the way along the chalk ridge of the Purbeck Way past Nine Barrow Down, Ailwood Down, Brenscombe Hill In some places you can see west across Poole Harbour, and East and South across the Purbeck peninsula. The descent begins gradually after Brenscombe Hill and after the radio towers near Rollington Hill the decent steepens. As the path enters woodland it is narrow & rocky. Doubtless the chalk would be challenging in the wet but we enjoyed sunshine. Soon we were in Corfe with its castle, shattered during the English Civil War.
Swyre Head & descent
Pressing on we climbed first along lanes to houses, then farm tracks and broke out from the field boundary to a cliff overlooking a picture post card cove overlooking Egmont Point where we took a break.
Little did we know that even more stunning views from a chalk headland, were about a kilometre uphill on smooth grass. Swyre Head was heaving with Dashers and their bikes.. old , new , gravel , mountain , cross , custom-made, derailleur gears, hub gears, Pinion gearbox … everything … even a cargo bike!
The descent from the the headland started gently, but became very steep, rocky and narrow which limited options for avoiding the drops. With camping gear our party took it steady, torturing our brakes more than the experienced riders who breezed past, but it still felt pretty sketchy. Towards the bottom a friendly marshal warned us that a road was ahead. Brake Now! Thankfully the new sintered pads I’d fitted to our bikes weren’t completely cooked already. I was honestly glad to be on tarmac with no broken bikes or bones, especially for my Suffolk teen on his first technical descent.
We slogged up Povington Hill and then to Burngate Reservoir on the road taking a couple of quick breathers for snacks before what I thought was the half-way lunch stop at the Sailors Return in Chaldon Herring. My memory of the route told me the most challenging terrain was behind, the boy was refuelled and rewatered, the sun was out, sun cream on. All good, just keep going.
Dorset Dirt Dash Day 1, Afternoon
The afternoon session on the Dorset Dirt Dash started a short sharp climb near Five Mary’s Tumuli to get our muscles working again. The grass covered chalk hills were behind us and an arable plain stretched ahead with a steep / fast on-road descent. At speed even slight bends need some mental planning, my bike felt unusually vague and reluctant to go where I wanted, was it just the weight and chunky tyres? No, at the bottom I found I’d got a flat. No problem, we rolled on a bit further to find some shade & out with the spare…(more on that later).
Moreton & forests
We crossed the ford at Moreton on the foot bridge … one guy rode through, a heroic effort well over his hubs – cheered by all! The next section is mixed woodland on sandy-flinty forest tracks, first climbing to Clyff Copse then higher in Puddletown Forest. The area is covered in tracks and paths and its easy to get lost. We certainly sped past turns on the fast tracks and had to head back slowly up hill … again.
We made better progress with fewer stops. Gradually we lolloped over Dorset’s undulations and by early evening we came across a welcome pub in Ansty with a generous garden at the front, strewn with bikes and riders. We made a needed pit stop. “Only one more hill” we were encouraged by our fellow Dorset Dirt Dash -ers. After a soft drink, we didn’t hang around as we were all tired and didn’t want to miss the food laid on at the camp site, nor put up tents in the dark.
Up Bulbarrow and Bell, Down Shillingstone Hills
The “one more hill” out of Ansty seemed like it was never going to end. 150m to the highest point of the route (~270m), on a fairly quiet road. We slogged up as the day cooled accompanied by crickets. A lower frequency rhythmic thrum came from the tyres of fat bikes as the riders honked up the hill past us. We kept spinning reassuring ourselves it was the last hill, pausing to take in the view over Chitcombe Down. We began to descend on the road, imagining the campsite a few minutes away. Then the GPS said turn off on to the Wessex Ridgeway. Teen outrage greeted the 50m climb of Bell Hill “we were told one more hill” and so with every further incline. It was definitely time to arrive! Instead, another puncture.
I was tired at this point and my brain was not connecting to my fingers as I fumbled with the repair kit. Fortunately Tim had more about him and saved the day by sorting the puncture. We’d already been warned that the 170m descent of Shillingstone Hill to the campsite was technical and unforgiving through the woods – it is. Generally the single track flows, encouraging speed, but it has poor sight lines caused by foliage. Tree trunks are always an unforgiving hazard on a wooded decent if you come off line to avoid a log, or miss a turn. It was also one of the few muddy tracks so a wet day would add to the fun. By using the brakes more than most we made it down and with huge relief entered the camping field.
Dorset Dirt Dash 50:50 Campsite & Food
The camping field was flat and grassy with plenty of space, plenty of loos and a big camp fire. We found a quiet spot I fetched a hot chocolate for the exhausted teen and pitched our tent. We’d arrive too late for the entertainments which included bike wanging!
The evening’s food was venison steak in a bun. It was certainly tasty but nowhere near enough carbs or bulk after 86km (53 miles) with 1200m of climbing. Maybe chips would be difficult to cook in a field but a vat of potato salad and coleslaw would have done well. Fortunately I’d packed loads of snacks including a pot noodle which we ate around the camp fire, envious looks all around. However many riders provided an amazing cheese board, as requested in the joining instructions. Top notch cheese doesn’t appear on many bikepacking lists, but it certainly brought cheer .. or maybe that was the spirits that many people also brought.
We slept well!
Morning starts are not a teen strong point, and to be fair, I was very attached to my warm sleeping bag too. By the time we had breakfast (tea & bacon butties provided, plus granola bars, flapjack, museli … carried) and packed we were among the last to leave for Day 2 of the Dorset Dirt Dash…coming soon.