Dorset Coast

The coastline of Dorset is noted for being one of the best in the UK full of amazing natural beauty. The coastline which forms part of the Jurassic Coast is part of a World Heritage Site due it being an ancient coastline harbouring numerous prehistoric fossils discovered upon its length and it showing the historic geology of the landscape. Dorset is a beautiful county and its coastline is one of its Gems. My three-day route starts in Poole and follows the edge of Poole Harbour before crossing the chain ferry to follow the South West Coast Path from Studland Bay through Swanage and onto Osmington Mills passing an array of cliffs, sheltered beaches and the coasts variety. My last day varied slightly by taking the inland coast path recently renamed the Dorset Ridgeway for a short while before descending down into Dorchester to end my route.

Distance             Approx 60 miles

Day 1                   Poole to Worth Matravers (Approx 20 miles)

Day 2                   Worth Matravers to Osmington Mills (Approx 25 miles)

Day 3                   Osmington Mills to Dorchester (Approx 15 miles)

Map                     OS Explorer OL15

Note that due to most of the route being on undulating cliff tops, consideration needs to be given for height ascending and descending.

The route follows parts of the South West Coast Path National Trail

My route started in the town of Poole. Poole is a historic port. One part of the town centre is newer with the majority of shops. Towards the quay the town consists of interesting old harbour buildings. The front of the quay is filled with boats and views across Poole Harbour and is quite a pleasant place. Poole has a handful of museums and good attractions. Apart from its port and marina, Poole is famous for its high quality world known ceramics manufactured close to the waterfront with an exhibition on this.

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The route followed the front of Poole Harbour around its edge towards Sandbanks. The harbour is very still and beautiful lined with coastal woodland and marshland with small islands with onward views into Purbeck and its grand rolling hills. The route from Poole passes shingle beaches golden in colour onward onto one of the largest natural harbours in the UK. It is filled with numerous boats and yachts. The route goes on a path around parkland before heading on the main road to Sandbanks with views getting better along the route. Sandbanks is a small spit on the entrance to the harbour with a vivid sand beach looking out onto the English Channel and the crisp blue sea. Views inland over Poole Harbour are also good. It is a popular beach and pleasant coastal area. Following the road will bring to the small car chain ferry to cross into Purbeck. A short trip with views into rolling Purbeck Hills emerging from the haze behind Studland Bay and clear views into Brownsea Island. The end of the ferry is the start of the South West Coast Path which I will be following for the next two days. The South West Coast Path is the UK’s longest National Trail following from Studland Bay along the coast to Minehead in Somerset over 630 miles in length.

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Poole Harbour

The first section went around Studland Bay. The bright sand dune beach continues for just over two miles with soft sand being walked over next to a light blue sea and dense marram grass in the backdrop. The dunes are not very high but are none the less very natural and beautiful. A very beautiful and popular beach however sections it is possible to have the beach to one’s self. Onward views show the varied coastline of trees and bracken and hills of moderate height giving way to Old Harry rock formations at the end. Traveling further along the beach the dominating, green, rolling Purbeck Hills come through the haze along with their beautiful interlocking valleys. The bay is looked after by the National Trust and is Well Preserved. Where the beach ends there is the access to Studland, a small village. This is marked as the coast path turns off where the beach gives into a small golden cliff and beautiful green trees and shrubs. Shortly up the track the path turns left and heads up along the cliffs with good views out to sea through the greenery before turning right to meet a road going through a part of Studland passing a decent stone pub and numerous small stone cottages. Where the road dips the coast path turns to the left and heads along a track gradually increasing in height.

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Beach at Studland Bay

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Studland Bay looking towards Old Harry

Heading up views over Studland Bay towards Poole and Bournemouth open up. The track continues for a mile before coming to the impressive Old Harry Rocks, an eroded coastal cliff famous for its beauty and complexity with numerous natural arches and stacks emerging from its white chalk cliff. The feature rises high from the shallow blue sea to the top of the cliff and is an amazing geological formation jutting out into the sea marking the end of Studland Bay. The coast turns out of Studland Bay Turning and the coast shows looking towards two more stacks called The Pinnacles. These impressive chalk stacks emerge from the sea at the end of small headlands, very interesting and beautiful features. The cliffs are impressive with an array of outcrops and colours in the chalk coated with a light green top and some mosses and small plants growing on its surface. There are small caves on the base of the cliff and a small grey beach. It is an amazing walk along the cliff top observing the outstanding coastline. The coast continues around and the cliffs get higher to Ballard Point where Swanage Bay opens up. The bay is a calm, beautiful and pleasant filled with cliffs, sandy beaches and the town of Swanage. The path continues downward with good views of the cliffs and their variety of bushes with an array of species and colour emerging from its high chalk surface. Views inland towards Corfe Castle and the surrounding Purbeck Hills are amazing across its high, lush green rolling landscape. The path emerges in Swanage.

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Old Harry

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The Pinnacles

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The Pinnacles

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Swanage Bay

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Cliff on Swanage Bay

Upon entering Swanage, the route follows small roads following the acorn symbol to the main road. Turning left follows the main road to the beach. Swanage has a beautiful but popular yellow sand beach lined with beach huts. The sea is a dense blue with few waves and numerous boats moored in the bay back dropped by chalk cliffs. The route goes along the front to the centre of the town. Swanage is a popular seaside town with many beautiful gardens and tall stone buildings but it has kept its traditional style and appearance. There are many small shops along with museums and the Swanage Railway and a good and popular place to visit. Passing close by the path goes past the old lifeboat station before passing rightward at Peveril Point. Here the route heads upward to the road looking downward overviewing Swanage Bay. Upon hitting the road, the coast path splits slightly one taking the road and one tuning let down a small less obvious gate. This heads downwards through amazing woodland with large and small trees in an array of greenery covering the path with sunlight seeping through the leaves. Ensuring to forks right the path follows above through a clearing before turning left to follow a distinct wooded path covered in mosses and with interesting stone walls before emerging at Durlston Castle. The castle is interesting and is an impressive site. Turning left and the route passes around the headland with views back to Old Harry and Swanage Bay with impressive chalk coastline and magnificent beauty and in the other direction outward to the sea from Durlston Head.

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Swanage

After turning past the headland there is a view towards Anvil Point and its bright white lighthouse. The coast path heads westward and does not disappoint. The path slightly undulates but it is a beautiful stretch though fairly visited. One interesting note the path crosses is a quarry operating under the path and emerging onto the sea. The path passes the small but impressive white lighthouse to continue onward and the coastline opens up with great views and interesting cliffs all along the coast to St Albans Head. The path is clear though in parts narrow which leads and undulates. The coastline has a golden coloured cliff faces and eroded rocks with small headlands emerging every now and then with the odd cave being visible.  The scenery is amazing. There are often many small quarries in amongst the cliffs. The route is very quiet and is one of the lesser visited parts of this coastline, but is popular for climbing, however is beautiful and unique with amazing complexity in the cliffs. Occasionally the route passes valleys. Inland the view to beautiful heathland is good along with the rolling hills of Purbeck coming down to meet the Coast Path. I continued along the path passing the mile markers and Seacombe Bottom valley to emerge at Winspit where there is a large quarry in amongst the small valley. Either side impressive Strip Lynchets are visible on either side of the hill shown by slumping green land creating clear earthworks on the sides of the hills. At this point I left the coast path for a short while to head up into Worth Matravers where I stayed in the vicinity for the night. The pub in the village serves good beer and cider.

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One of many quarries on the coastline

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Jurassic Coast

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View towards St Albans Head

Day 2

The next day I first went around Worth Matravers to have a look at this traditional stone built village. The village is built out of light grey stone blocks all made into traditional cottages and a true Dorset style. The church follows the pattern of the rest of the village and is a medium sized, impressive, stone building. The village is very beautiful and traditional in is appearance. Surrounded by the rolling Purbeck Hills give a great backdrop and I took the path leading back to Winspit to re-join the coast path. The path I used headed down a lush valley with the deep blue sea sandwiched between the sides of the valley. The surrounding scenery is mostly pastureland, dense green in colour and steadily rolling over the landscape. I followed the distinct track back down to the quarry to continue right on the coast path where I left the route the day before.

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Worth Matravers

Continuing west the path rises to head towards St Albans Head with the sun shining and reflecting down onto a deep blue sea. Looking behind the crags and impressive cliffs can be seen back towards Anvil Point and yesterday’s route. The cliffs get steadily higher and craggier with a variety of plants and bushes varying from green to small dashes of yellow and purple can be seen on the top. St Albans Head is marked by a coastguard station, a dish shaped memorial to radar in the second world war and a small, square shaped, grey stone chapel. From this point the coast to the west opens up with impressive cliff tops and a great coastline along with decent views over the colourful rolling countryside and into Purbeck. After passing a dip in the cliffs the coast heads to overview the peaceful and round shaped Chapman’s Pool with its golden and black cliffs where a few boats were moored. A beautiful bay and from the cliffs the onward coast looked superb. The coast path descends steadily until crossing a bridge over a small stream in the base of the valley. This section is beautiful with outstanding views with a very peaceful atmosphere.

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Coast early in the morning

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Chapman’s Pool

Continuing left and following a track around the side of a hill then across a field, the countryside is very green and lush with interesting and complex rolling valleys. The coast path ascends sharply again over Houns-Tout Cliff with its golden and grass coven slump with clear views of the coastline and out to sea. The next section of coastline is not as high but undulates steadily. Its cliffs are golden with odd segments being black and their structure is very complex features of outcropping and erosion and a constant variety at all angles. A truly beautiful stretch of coastline. One other feature is the shallow rocks where the cliff would have been creating an interesting feature visible through the clear water. Inland the hilly countryside is lush, green and interesting and beautiful cropped land and pastureland adding to the beauty and character of the landscape with the occasional stone building in the vicinity of the coast. Occasional caves may be seen on the coastline. Slowly the coast carries on and is a great walk. The clifftop is a variant of colour and nature walking along its top. The entrance to Kimmeridge Bay is marked by a bricked and ornate structure used as a lookout tower on the cliff side. The path descends into a popular bay with rocky cliffs and accessible stone beaches in a quiet calm bay. There are a few boathouses and properties in the area along with a variety of plants and natural beauty. The coast path passes through two car parks before heading up a track to begin the range walk.

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View along coast

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View along coast

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Lookout Tower

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Kimmeridge Bay

The next section is a great walk however it is necessary to check times it is open beforehand due to it being on firing ranges and to keep to the marked path. The route initially passes a steady section of green fielded countryside before rising sharply but with great views overlooking Kimmeridge Bay. The path runs along vast areas of purple flowers, grassland and bushes. The on looking golden cliff is high, impressive and full of complexity in its shape with bushes and grassland colonised on its lower slumped level creating a varied and highly impressive section of coastline. The path zig zags before heading along the top of the cliff. At this point the coast looking backwards is outstanding and views are present to St Albans Head and onward views towards high chalk cliffs and Worbarrow Bay. Inland the Purbeck Ridge continues on the other side of the green bushy countryside surrounding Tyneham. The path continues before descending into the bay with an impressive high cliff backdrop and impressive, long, stone beach emerging from the green landscape. The bay is shallow and blue and the entrance to the bay has an impressive chalk cliff and small secluded bay in this interesting feature. After passing the great Worbarrow Bay, the coast path continues up again to the top of the golden and white cliff very sharply, though steep it is good to see the cliff faces close up as they are magnificent and complex. The green landscape surrounding opens up towards Tyneham along with on the top having distant views into across Dorset and its beautiful and rolling landscape far north into its rolling chalk landscape along with short views across the heath of the firing range. The route descends sharply again to pass the small bay of Arish Mell dominated by high, bright, white, dominant cliffs towering above the sea. Heading back up the path goes up sharply again with great views over Worbarrow Bay and its great coastline. The coast path follows the top of the cliff before turning left to descend to Mupe Rocks. The descent is steep but provides outstanding views over the cliff and of the coastline and to Mupe Bay with small slanted rocks jutting out into the sea from a light blue shallow bay. At this point, Portland becomes very clear in the distance. The coast path undulates over heathland filled with an array of bushed before leaving the firing range. The section of the path is busier and is fairly popular yet still is beautiful and shows the true landscape.

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Cliffs just past Kimmeridge

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Coast looking westward

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Worbarrow Bay

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Worbarrow Bay

Shortly after the coast path descends to overlook Lulworth Cove, a beautiful circular bay surrounded by high cliffs and white beaches enclosed in its entrance by headlands with impressive and beautiful caves. The coast path follows the cliff top above and provides good views on this popular area. The path descends until it comes to the main road. The village is very beautiful with a combination of thatched cottages and bright vivid stone buildings. It is beautiful but it is impossible to escape the masses of people and likewise on the next path to Durdle Door. The path goes over the next cliff and descends passing The Man O War to come to Durdle Door. The arch is impressive and one of the largest in the UK famous for its beauty and size. It is an impressive feature. The coast path continues westward leading onward to more white chalk cliffs with small stacks emerging from the sea. The cliffs are beautiful where the lush green landscape drops into the sea. Bat’s Hole, a small natural arch can also be seen along with undercut tiny caves. The cliffs steeply undulate but are beautiful. From the top of the cliffs, impressive views of the jagged and colourful coastline can be seen back to St Albans Head.

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Lulworth Cove

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Durdle Door

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Bat’s Hole

The final major ascent occurs up the side of a chalk cliff covered with greenery and odd cracks of white creaking through the cliff. The path continues along the top all way to the point known as White Nothe where the undulating chalk coastline can be seen clearly in all their beauty along with Weymouth and Portland. The headland is filled with heath and bushes creating an amazing landscape. The cliffs have slumped to create a wild, green, natural landscape towards the lower parts of the cliff. Odd outcrops of grey stone rock can also be seen. The landscape here is interesting. Views also continue overlooking the shingle beach of Ringestead Bay, an impressive grey beach backed by heathland and farmland. Inland views are also visible over a variety of fields. After following the top, the descent goes diagonally down a field before following tracks through shaded tree tunnels and hedged paths to emerge at Ringstead Bay. The area is peaceful and less busy with impressive views on the surrounding cliffs and over to Portland. The route continues past the beach to follow a well-worn path over a combination of woodland and undulating through green farmland and heathland before emerging in the back of Osmington Mills. The small gorge consists of a few houses all traditional in style and a 13th Century Pub serving decent food and beer. There is access to the stone beach which is beautiful beneath the well eroded cliffs. The area is very pleasant and beautiful. I stayed at one of the campsites just up the road in Osmington Mills.

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Looking Eastward towards St Albans Head

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Cliffs by Ringstead Bay

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Osmington Mills

Day 3

The next day I set off from the campsite. My route today followed the South West Coast Path on its inland section also known as the Dorset Ridgeway, before dropping into the county town of Dorchester. The first part of the route follows steeply up out of the valley to the village of Osmington. The route has good views looking back towards the sea and surrounding the landscape is a contrast of different shades of green criss-crossed by hedgerows in the lush rolling landscape. The view ahead is of the ridgeway and it is possible to see the Osmington White Horse and Rider carved into the landscape. I crossed the main road to enter the village of Osmington, a stone built village with beautiful, traditional stone cottages, in parts some being thatched. It is a very traditional and quaint village. Following the road to where a number of roads meet and turning right this follows a track with clearer views of the White Horse before ascending on the track passing meadow up the side of the hill and onto the ridgeway. The views from the top are outstanding with views over the surrounding countryside and its numerous shades of green occasionally broken by the odd ploughed field or woodland. The views out to sea are amazing seeing Portland and Weymouth clearly. The side of the hill is a combination of grass and small gorse bushes. The ridgeway carries on left and it is possible to continue and descend a short distance to come to the white horse.

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Cottage in Osmington

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Osmington White Horse and Rider

Continuing along the ridgeway the path follows the track. The views open up on the surrounding countryside filled with shaded green, rolling, chalk down land. Views are vast and magnificent. The path turns off the track to the left and heads diagonally across a field before being easily traceable. This continues through the pleasant and view filled countryside until reaching a minor road. Here turning left then right took me down a hidden green valley along with beautiful green views back towards Osmington. Crossing another road and heading over the brow of the hill the next track is clear with views of the ridgeline, the coastline and the south of Dorset and its amazing fields. The track continues into Bincombe, a very traditional small village with an old square towered church. Many of the buildings are in typical grey stone and form a beautiful small village with a pleasant atmosphere enclosed in a valley. Heading rightward out of the village, the route carries on up a lane before following a track to the right lined with white elderflower and passing occasional woodland. The views across initially a meadow and then onto the rolling landscape in the distance are incredible. Upon reaching a road the route I followed went left before verging left after a short distance to cross a field and join another track. Upon reaching the cutting of the main road I went right and continued until I was able to cross the embankment at the bridge. Continuing along the ridgeway follows a clear track that in less than a mile directly crosses a B road.

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View East

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View towards Bincombe

Upon crossing the road, the view opens up northward with distant views passes Dorchester to Dorset’s rolling chalk hills, with a patchwork of shades of green broken by woodland, and the odd yellow or ploughed field. The scenery is amazing. Where the track ends the route passes rightward of the hedge with views of the ridgeway looking towards Hardy Monument, a very prominent feature at the highest point on the ridgeway. The track continues however on the first bridleway this was where I turned off to head towards Dorchester. The bridleway goes down to the nearest farm then follows its track slowly descending through the white elderflower lined drive with impressive views on the landscape in front. At the next road I carried straight on before taking the next bridleway on the right. This follows a track that shortly passes medieval barrows and on the right the hill fort of Maiden Castle, an impressive earthwork amongst the green landscape. The path carries on to meet a small lane. Turning left this carries onward to Dorchester where the route I planned ended.

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View West towards Hardy Monument

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Track heading towards Dorchester

Dorchester is a small town yet is ancient and still stands to be the county town of Dorset. The town is beautiful, pleasant and peaceful and boasts lots of greenery and parks amongst good streets. The city centre has kept many of its traditional atmosphere with old buildings from various eras and small streets leading from the main high street. The town also has impressive stone buildings of its Town Hall and church, built in a traditional Dorset style and very ornate. There are many good museums such as the Dorset Museum. The town also has a more modern area. It is a good pleasant town to visit and to end my three-day walk.

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Dorchester

It has been an amazing three days following the coast and the Dorset Ridgeway. The coastline is amazing and has a reputation for being one of the best, easily living up to that reputation. The views of the cliffs that have a constant variety and are beautiful and unique. The coastline also boasts many features such as stacks, natural arches, headlands, bays and beaches and make this section of the coast amazing and naturally beautiful. The coast has some interesting towns and villages on the route.  The views inland from the coast are also good showing the wonderful Dorset countryside. The Dorset Ridgeway also is a great route with outstanding views over Dorset and passing the Osmington White Horse. My route took in a great variety of coastal and inland scenery and is a great area to visit. It would be great to continue to follow the rest of the Jurassic Coast through the remainder of Dorset and onward into Devon along more of the South West Coast Path. Purbeck and surrounding areas also offer great walks and it would be good to explore the natural beauty more. Finally, Dorset boasts amazing chalk landscapes which are always great to explore.

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