I love the water, especially the sea, and I love to swim, but I rarely get the opportunity these days to take a dip in the ocean. And I miss it. I remember spending my childhood holidays messing about on the beach, paddling, rock pooling, body boarding on my very own lime green board, and generally enjoying everything the sea had to offer a kid in the 80s and early 90s. When Wilderness Weekends invited me to spend a couple of days with them swimming in various locations off the Dorset coast I jumped at the chance; it would the perfect way to get back in the water and rekindle some of those childhood holiday memories.
Durdle Door. The bucket list location.
Wilderness Weekends is a small family run company offering one and two-day adventures to paying guests. They run a range of experiences from mountain adventures, climbing, canoeing, bike treks, wild swimming, bush craft and wild camping. The idea is that a scheduled trip, for which you pay a fee and let someone take on the organising and instruction, is a good way to make adventure accessible to those who might not have the time or skills to go on one, and is an opportunity to meet new people away from the urban environment in which we spend most of our time. I know there is a lot of feeling about whether this sort of thing counts as adventure or not, and I’ll comment more on that at the end of this article, but just so say that if adventure is getting out of your own comfort zone and doing something that is a challenge to you, then this surely counts.
Are you ready for a long review and roundup post? Read on…
Dancing Ledge, Dorset.
Wild Swimming with Wilderness Weekends
The wild swimming weekend offered by Wilderness Weekends is based near Swanage in Dorset, out of a little campsite at Steeple. Participants meet up on Saturday morning at the campsite for a briefing, head off for a swim, have lunch (provided), go for a second sea swim, head back to the campsite for Yoga and a fire-cooked meal before bed. On the Sunday morning there is a pre-breakfast swim, then breakfast at the campsite, a final swim, and then an optional pub lunch before departure. Each swim is around 30 minutes long, and the advice on the website states that if you can swim around 20 lengths in a pool and are happy walking on rough coastal ground, then you are good to go.
Wilderness Weekends provide everything except your own personal gear – so that means they lend you a tent, sleeping bag and mat, blankets, and the like. I travelled down on the Friday after work and stopped with them on the Friday night to save me an early wake-up, so I bunged my Banshee and other camping gear in the car and pitched up next to the Wilderness Weekend tipi. Steeple Leaze Farm Campsite is about six miles from Wareham, and has everything you need for a weekend stay; toilets, showers, lots of space, and a policy that allows campfires.
Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset.
Having pitched up in the dark, the following morning I got up at sunrise to explore around the site, and found myself up on the hills overlooking the sea just outside the Lulworth Firing Ranges with some amazing Saturday morning views to myself. This site would make a great base for some coastal walks, I could definitely see myself returning – although I will note next time that they don’t provide toilet paper and arrive prepared!
Sunrise over Steeple.
Swim 1 – Worbarrow Bay
After a briefing giving us a good idea what we’d be up to over the course of the two days, including reassurance that my swimming fitness would be enough, we bundled in the vans and headed to Worbarrow Bay for our first swim. Apart from myself and one other guest (there should have been more but a couple pulled out at the last minute), there were two very experienced swimming instructors – Marnie and Jonny – along with the Wilderness Weekends team of Maria, James and Elena.
The team had chosen (and recced ahead of time) a variety of swim locations that would each provide something different, and this first swim was in a nice quiet and sheltered bay that would get us comfortable in the water and allow us to have a gentle introduction to sea swimming. We parked up at Tyneham, a village inside the Lulworth Firing Ranges that was abandoned in wartime, well worth a visit in itself. Worbarrow Bay was a 20 minute-or-so walk down from the car park, which we did munching on foraged blackberries as we chatted all things outdoors. It was good to learn that our instructors were such lovers of all things swimming, I felt incredibly confident leaving everything to them, they clearly knew what they were doing. Once on the beach we changed into our wetsuits, donned our bright orange swim hats and floaties – important for visibility, and made our way into the water.
Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
I’ve said before that I have no fear of the water, am confident in the sea, but my fitness is not what it was when I was a teenager, and I was worried that I would tire very quickly once in the cold water. My new wetsuit definitely helped, my friends at Simply Swim very kindly gave it to me to help keep me warm, and the 3mm neoprene also helped with buoyancy which I know competitive swimmers hate, but I was very grateful for. With there only being two “guests” we each had an instructor to ourselves and Marnie, who stayed with me the whole time, was happy to swim slowly with me across the bay. We chatted away in the water (which gives you an idea of how slowly I swim…), I drank some sea water, we got out and sat on the beach for a bit, got back in and swam back to the other side.
Warming up with hot chocolate and flapjack.
As soon as we got out we were handed cups of hot chocolate and homemade flapjack to help us warm up and refuel. The other guest was a much stronger swimmer than me and was in the water for much longer, but no-one seemed to mind that I was finished after about half an hour. I sat there on the beach completely content; I’d had a great swim, felt amazing, and was basically just loving life. If my Wilderness Weekends experience had ended on Saturday lunchtime I’d have been very happy – but it was really only just beginning and I was looking forward to more.
Swim 2 – Winspit
After climbing back up the hill to the car park we were treated to a nutritious lunch of tuna and roast vegetable wraps before we headed to the location for our second swim; Winspit. Another 20 minute walk down to the sea, this was to be less of a swim in a bay, and more of a dip off the cliffs and rocks that make the Jurassic Coast famous. A bit busier than the morning location, but not crowded, Winspit reminded me of all the places I went to as a kid where I enjoyed clambering over rocks, checking out what was in the rock pools, and dipping my toes in the crashing waves.
We didn’t swim far in distance because the current beyond the rocks is very strong and the sea was quite rough, but I absolutely loved the childlike simplicity of messing about in the sea; swimming, chatting, laughing, and practising technique. I practised breathing out through my nose under water – which I seem to have to really force (I happily swim with my head under, but tend to hold my breath or breathe out through my mouth), and started to gain even more confidence in the water. I honestly felt amazing in the sea, it felt like a very happy place to be. We were in the water for around 40 minutes and only got out because we started to get a bit cold. I can see why sea swimming is addictive!
The walk to Winspit.
Yoga and Campfire
Once back at the campsite we were invited to join a sunset yoga session run by Elena. I admit that despite my years on this planet, the only Yoga I’ve done is a half an hour relaxation session at the end of a spa day a few years back that sent me to sleep. So I was a bit dubious about doing it here, but I needn’t have been worried as Elena was an excellent instructor who had chosen a series of moves that would be particularly excellent for our weary swimming muscles. It was much needed and felt very good. I enjoyed the session, it was a really lovely way to spend an hour before dinner.
The Wilderness Weekends tipi – base camp for the weekend.
Speaking of dinner, we were treated to the most amazing campfire cooked meal – barbecued meats, a vegetable stew, and all the nibbles we could imagine. Oh and then sponge and custard for pudding, what more could I want?! We really were very well looked after when it came to food the whole weekend; it makes all the difference when you come to an event that involves a lot of excursion.
Swim 3 – Durdle Door and Man of War Bay
We got up early on Sunday morning for what is possibly the most iconic swim in all of Dorset, possibly of the whole south coast… Durdle Door. The famous natural arch is one of the most photographed scenes, and it is well worth a visit just to see the view even if you’re not planning on getting in the water. It has long been a bucket list item of mine to swim through the arch, and the 7.30am start to make sure we were at the cove before the coach loads of tourists arrived was absolutely worth it.
Durdle Door, Dorset.
And below is the silly face of someone who swam through Durdle Door. Just. The six foot high waves and swirling sea made it all a bit difficult, but I fulfilled one of my bucket list wishes and only drank five or six litres of sea water in the process… It doesn’t look that far from shore, it isn’t, but the wind and waves didn’t want to help this not-particularly-fit leisure-pool swimmer get through it. Thankfully I also had the help of Marnie and Jonny, which was particularly handy when I got caught in a cycle of very large waves without an opportunity to come up for air in between. But still, bucket list tick = happy Zoe.
A smiley me at Durdle Door.
After the swirling sea that was Durdle Door, we climbed over the cliff to the more sheltered side and had a much more relaxing swim in Man of War Bay. The sea was clear and I could see fish swimming around the seaweed and rocks underneath me. It was a pleasure to be in the water first thing on a Sunday – the perfect pre-breakfast One Hour Outside!
Man of War Bay, Dorset.
Swim 4 – Dancing Ledge
After breakfast back at the campsite we headed off to Langton Mantravers for another iconic Dorset swim at Dancing Ledge. The story goes that a local vicar or teacher blasted a hole on the ledge left by quarrying in order to create a pool in which to teach kids to swim. Some scrambling is required to get to it (the area is popular with climbers and to those experiencing coasteering), and it’s quite small so don’t bother in mid-summer, but it’s a great and iconic spot for a dip.
Dancing Ledge, Dorset.
I did this one sans-wetsuit, which meant it was really rather bracing, but it was absolutely the best spot for the final swim of the week. The pool is probably only 15-20 metres long, but it is long and deep enough to actually swim, and perfect for a GoPro photoshoot! We all smiled and laughed our way through our 20 minutes in the pool.
Dancing Ledge, Dorset.
And with that our time was up. We climbed back up to the car park – the hardest walk of the weekend – and said our goodbyes. Four swims in amazing locations, with great weather and excellent company, a good handful of miles hiked up and down hills with wonderful views of the sea and cliffs, a whole load of good food eaten; happy, happy days.
Swimming at Dancing Ledge, Dorset.
I believe that adventure is something you have when you take yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that challenges you. And therefore, it is indeed possible to pay someone to take you on an adventure, it doesn’t make it any less of one. Just like I wouldn’t think twice about paying a mountain guide to successfully escort me successfully to a gnarly summit, joining Wilderness Weekends for this water-based adventure would be a sensible decision by anyone who wanted to make good use of the knowledge and experience of someone qualified.
My Wilderness Weekends swimming instructors – Jonny and Marnie.
Yes, I could absolutely have gone and done all this on my own; I’m happy camping, am confident splashing about in the water, and don’t have any difficulty researching great places to visit and taking myself there. But I just wouldn’t have done. Joining Wilderness Weekends made this adventure – and this bucket list tick – available to me without any of the usual worries that accompany a weekend away. I packed up my car before work, worked my normal hours, and then headed south, set up camp, and let the guys at Wilderness Weekend take the strain until Sunday afternoon. They’d done the research, had the knowledge, knew how to make sure I enjoyed my time in the water, and I had an amazing time giving my weekend to them and enjoying the ride.
Standing at Dancing Ledge after all four swims.
I’m not going to lie, this wasn’t a walk in the park. It was full-on and when it ended I was shattered. We swam in four locations, each one requiring a decent walk to and from the sea (one with some scrambling), changing on the beach and driving about between locations. Anyone considering this particular Wilderness Weekend should ensure they are reasonably fit, should wear suitable clothing for hiking, and should be confident in the water. Having said that, our instructors for the weekend were utterly superb and provided so many helpful tips that made the experience so enjoyable.
An Excellent Outdoorsy Weekend
I drove home on Sunday afternoon with a big beaming grin the entire way – not even the stupid traffic could dampen my spirit (nearly five hours to do a three hour journey!). I basically had my ideal weekend; a road trip, camping, hiking, and most-importantly this time around, swimming. The swimming was ridiculously invigorating, I loved it, not just being in the water, but also the location – Dorset was incredibly stunning. I will definitely be heading back to the county for more camping, walking and swimming another time.
Worbarrow Bay, Dorset – the location of the first swim.
If you are looking for an easy-to-arrange adventure experience I would absolutely recommend that you check out Wilderness Weekends online. I know I wasn’t a paying guest, but as far as blogging trips go, this has to be one of the best I have been on. Right up my street, and one that I would very happily book and pay for myself another time. Actually I think I will go and see what’s on offer in 2019 now, I might have enough £2 coins in my piggy bank to book a little treat.
With thanks to Wilderness Weekends for putting up with me for this adventure. The experience was provided free of charge, but this is not a paid ad – I genuinely had an amazing time and would happily part with my money for another adventure next year.