50 Walks in Dorset

Lulworth and Durdle Door

Try this sample walk from the latest edition of 50 Walks in Dorset.

About 50 Walks in Dorset

Walking is one of Britain's favourite leisure activities, and this guide to Dorset features 50 mapped walks from 2 to 10 miles, to suit all abilities.

The book features all the practical detail you need, including:

  • fascinating background reading on the history and wildlife of the area,
  • clear OS-based mapping for ease of use,
  • every route has been colour coded according to difficulty,
  • annotations for local points of interest and places to stop for refreshments,
  • summary of distance, time, gradient, level of difficulty, type of surface and access, landscape, dog friendliness, parking and public toilets.

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50 Walks in Dorset

Sample walk: Lulworth and Durdle Door

  • Distance: 6.75 miles (10.9km)
  • Minimum Time: 3hrs
  • Ascent: 1,247 feet (380m)
  • Gradient: 3
  • Difficulty: 3
  • Paths: Stone path, grassy tracks, tarmac, muddy field path
  • Landscape: Steeply rolling cliffs beside sea, green inland
  • Suggested Map: AA Walker's Map 5 Weymouth & South Dorset
  • Start Grid Reference: SY821800
  • Dog Friendliness: Excitable dogs need strict control near cliff edge. The extension is not suitable for dogs.
  • Parking: Pay-and-display car park (busy), signed at Lulworth Cove
  • Public Toilet: By Visitor Centre; on lane to Lulworth Cove; also Newlands Farm caravan park
Background reading

Lulworth Cove is an almost circular bay in the rolling line of cliffs that form Dorset's southern coast, which provides a secure anchorage for small fishing boats and pleasure craft, and a sun-trap of safe water for summer bathers. The cliffs around the eastern side of the bay are crumbly soft and brightly coloured in some places, while beyond the opposite arm, at Stair Hole, the rock appears to have been folded and shoved aside by an unseen hand. The geology is intriguing and earned Lulworth Cove World Heritage status in 2002; a wander around the Visitor Centre will help you to understand it.The oldest layer, easily identified here, is the gleaming white Portland stone. This attractive stone was much employed by Christopher Wren in his rebuilding of London. It is a fine-grained oolite, around 140 million years old. It holds tightly compressed, fossilised shells – the flat-coiled ones are ammonites, while the long curly ones are a gastropod (snail) known as the Portland Screw. Occasional giant ammonites, called titanites, are incorporated into house walls across Purbeck. As seen at Bat's Head, the rock may contain speckled bands of flinty chert. Above this is a layer of Purbeck marble, a limestone where dinosaur, fish and reptile fossils are occasionally found. The soft layer above is the Wealden beds, a belt of colourful clays, silts and sands that are unstable and prone to landslips when exposed.Crumbly, white chalk overlays the Wealden beds. The chalk consists of the remains of microscopic sea creatures and shells deposited over a long period of time when a deep sea covered much of Dorset, some 75 million years ago. This is the chalk that underlies Dorset's famous downland and is seen in the exposed soft, eroded cliffs at White Nothe. Hard nodules and bands of flint appear in the chalk – it's a purer type of chert – and in its gravel-beach form the flint protects long stretches of this fragile coast.The laying down of chalk marks the end of the Cretaceous period. After this the blanket of chalk was uplifted, folded and subjected to erosion by the slow, inexorable movement of tectonic plates. The Dorset coast was exposed to extreme pressure during the rising of the Alps on the other side of Europe (which is still going on). The resulting folding and overturning of strata can be seen at Durdle Door, and as the 'Lulworth Crumple' at Stair Hole.

  1. From the gate at the top of the car park take the broad, paved footpath up shallow steps to the top of the first hill. Continue along the brow, and down the other side, to pass below a caravan park. At a gate, turn left to Durdle Door and the coast path.
  2. Reach a cove enclosed from the sea by a line of rocks. At the time of writing, the steps that lead down to the sea here have been dismantled. Carry on ahead on the coast path, and the natural stone arch is revealed in Durdle Door Cove below you. The mass of Swyre Head looms close and yes, that is the path you're going to take, straight up the side. The coast path descends a little, then climbs up to Swyre Head. The path leads steeply down again on the other side, to a cove with a sea stack and a small arch (Bat's Hole) on the right. Climb the next steep hill. Descend along the path just behind the cliffs, where the land tilts away from the sea.
  3. The path climbs more gently up the next hill. After a navigation obelisk (the lower of two), the path curves gently to the left for 0.25 miles (400m) round the contour above West Bottom.
  4. Turn right, through a metal kissing gate, on a side path with a marker stone for Daggers Gate. Head inland, with a fence on your left. The path curves round so you're walking parallel with the coast on level greensward. Pass three stone embrasures, two of them with shell sculptures, with the upper obelisk over on your left. Keep straight ahead along the tops of the fields, until the path descends gently to a narrow gate, a wider one alongside, and a roundel bearing the words 'Walk 6 –Permissive Path'.
  5. Here bear half-right, out into the field. After 150yds (140m) pass to left of a tumulus. Ahead is a narrow gate at the bottom corner of a field, but only go through this to read the interpretation board just above. Otherwise stay below a belt of gorse bushes, to walk above the hollow called Scratchy Bottom. A gate leads into a green lane to Newlands Farm. Follow the driveway round to the right, and turn right into the caravan park. Go straight down the road through here. At the far side go through a gate on the left, signed to West Lulworth. Stay along the field-edge, down a little valley then bending right above a farm, and around the end of the hill. Keep straight on at the fingerpost and reach the gate above the car park.
Extending the walk

Three notes of caution are needed. Firstly, for walkers, the very steep descent of Bindon Hill is not for vertigo sufferers. Secondly, for dogs, running free over the firing range is dangerous, in case of unexploded shells, and, on a lighter note, the gravelly beach section at the end may be tough on soft paws. Thirdly, before setting out on the extension to this walk, do check that the firing ranges are not being used. There is a large Range Walks notice board at the bottom end of the car park that indicates if the ranges are open to walkers or not. Leave the car park by the road entrance. Cross the road to a narrow lane that rises above the main road and bears left alongside it. Where this ends, keep forward on a path above the main road. At the end of this, ignore the sign to Bindon Hill (at time of writing, this path is closed) and continue ahead along the main road, passing some attractive thatched cottages and a rather pleasing thatched bus stop. At the Castle Inn, tun right along School Lane. After 100yds (91m), turn right through a gate beside a field gate and climb on a path between fences to a gate. Go through this and then turn left along a path that contours between hedges. At a gate and fingerpost, turn sharp right to climb further up the hill. Go over a stile signed 'Fossil Forest' and follow the path upwards, bearing half-right. Head over two crossing paths and bear half-left towards two slim white poleson the brow of the hill. A sign here (at Point B) will confirm whether the Range Walks are open or not. Go through a gate on to the firing range. Go straight ahead up the track, past a radar station. Where the track forks keep left along the ridge of Bindon Hill. On the summit, pass two more white poles (it doesn't matter which path over the summit you take) and continue forward past a memorial to soldiers of the Royal Armoured Corps. Pass through a gate and 50yds (46m) later turn right through a gap in the fence by a picnic table, passing a stone sign for 'Mupe Beach'. The path zig-zags down steeply, with steps. At the bottom take the path ahead past Mupe Bay, Point C (ignoring a track leading off left down to the shore).Continue, bearing right around ( the point, passing the remains of a gun emplacement then a radar station. Below, on your left, look for the weird formations of the Fossil Forest in the cliffs, Point D. Ahead steps lead down to the ledges for closer exploration.There are no stone trees in the Fossil Forest – what you will see are stone rings where sediment has bubbled up around tree-trunks that rotted away millions of years ago. Together with the fossilised soil discovered beneath the tree boles, they give an insight into Jurassic life here, 135 million years ago.At the flagpole turn right at the stone marker, signed 'Little Bindon'. Go down the gravel track. At an abandoned chapel and a 'Fossil Forest' sign, turn left through a tall kissing gate. Follow the path past the deserted farm of Little Bindon. At the end turn left and go down steps on to the shore of Lulworth Cove. Turn right to walk along the shingle. Turn right again by the cafe to return to the car park.

While you're there

At nearby East Lulworth is Lulworth Castle Park. The castle itself, a 17th-century hunting lodge built four-square with pepperpot towers, is a handsome shell, but was gutted by fire in 1929 and only partly restored. Other attractions on the estate include a circular chapel, an animal farm, an adventure playground for children and a tearoom

Where to eat and drink

Lulworth has several tea rooms, hotel restaurants and cafés, including the highly-rated Boat Shed Café near the shore.

What to look out for

Don't miss the baby-blue painted Dolls House on the way down to Lulworth Cove. It's a fisherman's cottage dating from 1861; 11 children were raised here. It's now a sweet shop, which is doubtless something of which they would have approved.

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