This is a walk I have done a number of times before, but one that I always enjoy. I was staying in south east Dorset, so first drove to West Bay. This took around 90 minutes and I parked in the car park at West Bay, by the old railway station building. This is reasonably priced I think it is £2 for the day.
West Bay was in fact a name created by the Great Western Railway. Originally the village was called Bridport Harbour, but the Great Western Railway decided to rename it to West Bay to make it sound more attractive to tourists, a name it retains today. It no longer has it’s rail service though, although the station building still exists, with a small amount of track at the front.
The village is a bit of an odd mix of old and new with some characterful old cottages mixed in with some ugly flats, both modern and older.
I headed south over the road and to the mass of shingle that makes up the beach. The beach here is a mixture of shingle and coarse sand, and there is quite a mound to climb over before I can see the sea. Before I started the walk I turned left to take in the cliffs here. They are quite stunning and unlike anything I have seen anywhere else on the coast, being light yellow in colour and with lines of harder stone at regular intervals. Unfortunately, they are also unstable and at least one person has have been killed in recent years by rock falls on the beach, so it is best to not sit right underneath them, but as you can see when it is near high tide, as it was, there is little beach left.
I then wandered along the beach to the edge of the harbour where you have to head a little inland around the back of the harbour. At the back of the harbour are various food kiosks, mostly sea food and behind the River Asker forms a bit of an estuary. At the other end of the harbour are some modern flats which are rather out of place.
At the west end of the harbour the coast path begins on the promenade past another little shingle and sand beach and then when the road ends begins to climb up the cliffs. I remember on previous visits watching the harbour defences being built and now the long rock piers stick out far into the sea, which has helped build up the beach.
As is usual, the path now climbs out of the bay and soon West Bay is left behind as the path goes through fields to the top of the first (of many) hills, West Cliff. Here the path had been diverted a bit inland from the original route. I decided to ignore this and stick with the old route, which had eroded in one place but was still (just) passable.
This brought me down to the next little village Eype Mouth. The village of Lower Eype is a little inland and at the coast itself there is a car park and toilets and a shingle beach, but not a lot else. It is beautiful though and ahead I could clearly see Golden Cap. It is not hard to see how this cliff got it’s name, as the rocks exposed at the top are golden in colour. Not only is this a very distinctive cliff, it is also the highest cliff on the south coast of the UK, so as you can imagine it is a long climb to the top. But that is for later.
The path up passes an unusual wooden building, I think a private dwelling, but one that is getting increasingly close to the eroding cliffs. The path climbs past a camp site on the right via a large grassy field soon reaching the top at Thorncombe Beacon. This is marked by one of those old cages where fires were once lit as a means of communication, hence the beacon in the name. There are some unusual hills here, I wonder if it is part of an old hill fort. It is a long and steep climb but the views are outstanding, with the harbour of West Bay clearly visible and Portland in the distance.
The view inland are a little hazy but also rather stunning. This is a favourite area of mine with the beautiful rolling countryside taking in many hills inland too.
I particularly like the in the distance with the trees on top, Colmer’s Hill, I think it is called.
Continuing the walk I can see the misty weather has stretched to the top of Golden Cap, which is now foggy cap!
The coast is now a little briefly fairly flat before the next hill, Doghouse Hill. Quite how that got it’s name I have no idea. However the view back is impressive and shows the sheer scale of this coast. Golden Cap might be the highest, but these cliffs also give it a run for it’s money!
Inland the mist seems to be clearing as I can make out the village of Chideock inland. Ahead though it is a very steep drop right down to sea level into the next valley which takes me to Seatown, one of many such named villages on the coast. This is a little larger than Eype and even boasts a beautifully located pub (I’ve eaten there before and it was good). Ahead the mist has now cleared from the top of Golden Cap which really dominates the view ahead and rather looms over Seatown. Behind that I can make out my destination, Lyme Regis.
It is a steep descent into the valley floor to the village and I stopped here for a rest and some lunch.
There is a little stream flowing out to sea, which presumably has cut this steep valley over the years. But it is easy to cross via some stepping stones or a bridge by the car park.
This is quite a tough walk, but suitably refreshed and rested I continued the walk. There used to be a good path up right along the coast in front of the toilets at Seatown, but sadly erosion has taken it out. I’m now in Dorset, and my impression of Dorset County Council (as we’ll see later) is they are truly terrible at maintaining their footpaths. This stretch of coast has been particularly badly hit. So no new coast path was created and instead the route diverted inland a couple of hundred metres through fields – one of many diversions.
After the first field, the path soon began to head back to the cliffs as I now made the long climb up to Golden Cap. The path became increasingly steep, so I stopped a few times and used the opportunity to take a photo of the view.
The view inland was excellent too, over the rolling fields of West Dorset.
Soon I reached the top of Golden Cap and hence the highest cliff in the South of England, marked by the customary Ordnance Survey trig point. And the view back – well what a view!
As you can see it had now cleared to perfect weather with beautiful blue sea and the sun really bringing out the colours of the cliffs. The hill is now in the ownership and care of the National Trust and there is a stone monument on the top for the chairman of the National Trust at the time. Now it is is downhill all the way to Charmouth, which I can see ahead.
The path twists and turns through an area of bracken and I met a couple coming up who asked if they were nearly there and were pleased to be told that they were! Ahead I could just make out the white chalk cliffs of Beer Head in the distance, beyond Lyme Regis.
The path now descends steeply to another valley this one St Gabriels Mouth. This is in the parish of Stanton St Gabriel. Unusually this village is largely lost, having been largely abandoned when the Bridport to Exeter turnpike opened and the villagers moved further inland. Now all that remains is the remains of the church and a few farms.
The path from St Gabriels Mouth (where there is access to the beach) now heads up the unstable cliffs of Broom Cliff. I followed a more coastal path that had been formed (I suspect unofficially) nearer the coast than the official path.
This soon returned to the official coast path, which undulated past another couple of smaller valleys, Ridge Water and Westhay Water, but did not drop right to sea level this time. Below me to the left there was no a good sandy beach stretching all the way to Charmouth.
There was also a good view back to Golden Cap, where I had come.
As you approach Stonebarrow Hill unfortunately there has been some coastal erosion. As I have said before my impression of Dorset County Council is that they are very poor at footpath maintenance and re-routing paths and the impression I get from them is that they feel there are too many paths, so when one goes it is not replaced and instead the coast path re-routed inland. That has happened here, with the path marked on the maps (and still part of the Monarchs Way) closed due to erosion. Instead the official route is now to head inland to the top of Stonebarrow Hill and then follow Stonebarrow Lane down to Charmouth.
In practice it seems to me that few people do this. Instead there is a well worn path along the cliff tops and through the eroding cliffs. If you choose to follow it you do so at your own risk of course, but as I said it looks to be well used and is the route I took.
There is soon a fine view ahead of Charmouth.
I soon came across this sign looking back on the path I had been on.
Note the date, now almost 5 years ago. As you can see, nothing has been done about restoring the route.
I continued on my path to reach the shore at Charmouth. Here I’m going to go off at a bit of a tangent (and rant). As you can see on the map, the official South West Coast Path is now diverted inland along Stonebarrow Lane and then via a path along private roads and beside a caravan park into Charmouth near the west side of the river. But it is an urban path with no views. There is also a path on the eastern side of the River Char which looked far nicer to follow.
When this coast path was first closed, back in 2011, I decided to follow this route instead, although starting from the coast this time. It was easy enough alongside the river and soon entered woodland. At the top there was board walk, but this was the state I found it in
I got around the side of the board walk and as the path descended from the woodland it was meant to follow an enclosed track inland. Here I found this.
The correct route is straight ahead, which had been obviously deliberately blocked by the landowner. Thankfully other walkers had bent apart the barbed wire on the right, so you could get around it by squeezing through this gap into the adjacent field and then climbing over a gate. I reported this to Dorset County Council who told me that the issues were caused by “the river changing its course” despite the fact the problems were clearly not caused by that but rather neglect and a deliberate obstruction of the path. They did nothing about the problems on the path refusing even to put up a sign indicating that the route was blocked (and that, in my opinion at least), the boardwalk was dangerous, claiming a lack of resources. Indeed a subsequent check on the Dorset County Council website showed problem reports about this footpath going back as far as 2007. Despite a complaint by me, and several more reports by other members of the public nothing had changed. A year later I tried to walk the path again. I now found that the board walk looked like this.
Despite this the path remained open and was not even signed as closed or impassable. A further complaint to the Council did at least get them to close the path. Initially for 21 days, then 1 year, then 2 years. It has since been extended as a “temporary” closure for another 2 years. The Council claimed the reason for the closure was not that they intended to extinguish the path due to “coastal erosion” even though the path is not even on the coast. A complaint to the Department for Transport (who has to approve closures of footpaths after 6 months) got nowhere so it was taken up by the Ombudsman. They did agree that the reason given by Dorset County Council was not correct and that they had not checked it (as they should have). However Dorset County Council had now provided an updated reason (which they won’t tell me for “confidentiality” reasons) to justify the latest 2 year closure. They continue to claim to be “negotiating” with the landowner, the same reason they have been giving since 2007. This sort of lack of action makes me pretty angry, as maintaining footpaths is something the Council is legally required to do (rather than something it might choose to do). It is now (at least) 8 years since Dorset County Council were made aware that the path was not usable, but yet still nothing has been done.
Anyway, back to the coastal walk. I crossed the River Char via the footbridge and headed down to the beach.
The beach is famed for its fossils and there is a visitor centre here where you can see some of the fossils. It is proving popular on a fine day like this.
On the beach there was a good view back over the now grey cliffs I had been following since Golden Cap.
Unfortunately ahead is another problem. A footpath is shown on the map along Black Ven near the base of the cliffs. This footpath is closed an unusable, another Dorset County Council has neglected. So the coast path was diverted further inland over the top of the cliffs (Timber Hill) but as you can see from the dis-jointed paths now marked on the map this is no longer continuous either. Having also suffered erosion once again the Council took their usual approach of closing this path and diverting even further inland, so the new route of the coast path as it is today is even further inland and for a time runs along the busy A3052 road, the main road to Lyme Regis, almost a mile inland. Far from satisfactory.
However an alternative, if the tide is out, is to walk along the beach to Lyme Regis, which is far more pleasant. There was a landslip a few years ago, but erosion of the earth that tumbled down now means that it is possible again to walk along the beach at low tide. Recent coastal defence works in Lyme Regis made things tricky, but they have now finished and I believe it is possible now to walk along the beach at most states of the tide. This is what I did, but of course you should only do so if the tide is going out and be prepared to turn back to avoid being cut off by the tide (and do so at your own risk, of course).
As the tide for me was quite far out it was an easy walk, mostly along hard sand, but there are a few rocks to negotiate.
As I headed further west there were fewer people on the beach and I could look back at the coast I had walked. I was quite impressed by just how much had changed in terms of scenery since I had set off. At West Bay the cliffs were yellow sandstone, now they are grey.
Soon I reached the new promenade at Lyme Regis and from here could follow this around to the bottom of the main road.
The town was busy, it being more or less the middle of summer, so I headed up the hill to the bus stop. It is worth noting that the first time I walked here I came by bus and got off at the bottom of the hill, right by the beach. I couldn’t see a bus stop on the other side of the road to come back, but assumed the bus stop was opposite. I assumed wrong and missed the bus, which didn’t stop for me. The bus stop for buses going east is in fact half way up the (steep) main street, near the Co-Op.
Having learnt that lesson the hard way in the past, I headed up to the bus stop to await the bus. I did not know the times, but knew at this time of year it was hourly. The bus was due in 5 minutes. 10 minutes later, there was no sign. 15 minutes later, still no sign. By now I suspected it was not coming. Instead in another 15 minutes or so there was another bus, the X31, which goes to Bridport. I decided to catch this and walk from Bridport back to West Bay. This bus did arrive, and on time, so I took this back to Bridport, then followed the Monarchs Way path fromn Briidport back to West Bay. I wondered if this would be quicker than waiting for the next X53 bus and just as I reached the car park, it went past me. I had beaten the next bus by about 10 seconds – but at least I felt like I was getting somewhere!
This is a great walk, one of the best I have done so far in fact, with stunning coastal scenery and also beautiful scenery inland. There are a couple of pretty villages to explore too. This is however also a tough walk and numerous footpath problems divert you inland if you stick to the official route, which is a shame.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
First Dorset X53 : Poole – Hamworthy – Sandford – Wareham Station – Wareham – Wool Station – Winfirth Newburgh – Osmington – Preston – Weymouth – Chickerell – Portesham – Abbotsbury – Burton Bradstock – West Bay – Bridport – Chideock – Morecombelake – Charmouth – Lyme Regis – Colyford – Seaton – Beer – Sidford – Newton Poppleford – Clyst St Mary – Exeter. Only a few buses each day run the full length (Exeter – Poole), but between Lyme Regis and West Bay the service is hourly seven days a week. The bus stops near the railway stations in Poole, Weymouth, Wool and Wareham.
In addition, if you don’t mind walking from Bridport to West Bay, there is also the X31 service: Axminster Station – Lyme Regis – Charmouth – Chideock – Bridport – Winterbourne Abbas – Martinstown – Poundbury – Dorchester South Station. This runs hourly seven days a week too.
If you are interested in the Geology of the area, Ian West has an excellent page about it:-