I was travelling from the other side of Dorset for this walk. From there it takes a similar amount of time to get to Abbotsbury as it does West Bay. I wanted to get the bus journey done first, as at the time the bus was just once every 2 hours and the times worked out more convenient from West Bay to Abbotsbury than the other way around. It is also cheaper and easier to park in West Bay. The buses now are hourly, at least in the summer.
I had a good journey down to West Bay and arrived about 15 minutes before the bus was due to depart. I had time for a quick wander around West Bay and was amused to see it was the day of the Bridport Sea Cadets Crockery Smash. Which sounded like fun, but sadly I would not have time before the bus. It had finished by the time I got back. The bus arrived within a couple of minutes of schedule and soon had me in Abbotsbury.
Abbotsbury is also not on the coast, being about 1 mile from the sea, but the coast path heads inland to go through the edge of Abbotsbury, to get onto the inland side of the fleet lagoon which begins here and runs behind Chesil Beach. It is also a very attractive village. The stone around here, as can be seen on the cliffs at West Bay are light yellow. The houses in Abbotsbury are mostly made of the local stone, some also with thatched roofs, making it a very pretty place, quite like the Cotswolds.
I have been to Abbotsbury before and decided this time to initially follow the road to see the Abbotsbury barn. Abbotsbury once had an Abbey. At the dissolution of the monasteries the Abbey was demolished and the stone re-used, but the thatched barn that was once alongside it remained. Today it is the largest thatched barn in the world. So it looked worth seeing, as indeed it was, although it is now used as part of a children’s farm, which I did not want to pay to enter and to be honest I’d feel a bit out of place at a children’s farm without any children.
Having seen this I decided to take another short diversion up to the top of St Catherine’s Hill, where St Catherine’s Chapel can be found. This is believed to date from the late 14th Century, a similar time to the barn I had just passed. So clearly in times past Abbotsbury was far more important than it is now. It’s a peaceful spot and the top of the hill gives a good view back to Abbotsbury.
It also offers a lovely view over Chesil Beach which now stretches ahead.
Now finally time to begin the coast walk! The path runs alongside the raised banks which presumably mark the site of an old hill fort that had the chapel on the top. The path does follows this first south then west and finally cuts away south west over grass to reach the beach.
On reaching the sea you can look back and see the chapel on the top of the hill and all the earth works around it, clearly signs of the ancient settlement that existed here.
Looking west, all I can see for miles and miles is shingle. Abbotsbury is the start of Chesil Beach, or at least the start of the part that is seperated from the rest of the land by the Fleet lagoon, with Portland at the end. Portland is not quite an island, being joined to the mainland naturally only be Chesil Beach, but these days there is also a road, called Ferry Road because of course there was once a ferry. But I am heading the other way, west. Chesil Beach is also unusual in that the stones vary in size, with the larger stones and pebbles at the eastern end, and smaller shingle at this, the eastern end. It is said that a fisherman landing on the beach at night can work out where they are by the size of the stones, although I don’t know how true this is!
The first part of the walk is along the back of this shingle, which is quite hard on the feet although in places it is beginning to grass over, making for an easier walk. After a short distance though it comes to a car park and beyond the coast path continues as a minor road. This starts out as tarmac, but soon becomes increasingly shingle. I think legally it is a road but it seems it is not really maintained much if at all now. It turns entirely to shingle further west.
The coast path follows this track, or the edge of the beach for around 2 miles. Soon the beach to my left is devoid of people after I get a few hundred metres past the car park. The shingle is being colonised by all sorts of unusual plants that can cope with the dry shingle and salt.
Inland tracks lead off the road to a couple of isolated cottages, again made out of the attractive yellow stone. On the beach I pass an old World War II pill box. The area was quite heavily defended during World War II and at Abbotsbury you can also see old tank traps (concrete blocks) on the beach, designed to prevent any tanks that were landed from getting off the beach.
I notice that the road, single track, has a few passing places and at almost every one the “Passing Place” sign has been amended by the removal of the first P. It is a peaceful if a little hard going walk to reach West Bexington, where once again there are rather more people on the beach.
West Bexington is a small village, largely on one street which links the B3157 with the coast. It is also unusual in that there is a variation of the coast path. Another path heads inland, cutting off the Isle of Portland and linking West Bexington to Osmington Mills. It used to be called by the rather ridiculous name of the “Inland Coast Path” and is officially part of the South West Coast Path but has now been, rather sensibly, renamed the South Dorset Ridegeway. I’ve walked that too and can recommend it, but I’m not going to write any more about it here.
It does not look that attractive from the coast path though, seeming to consist of small chalet type properties from the beach.
The coast path continues on the shingle track at the back of the beach, so can be quite hard going. To my right now is the West Bexington Nature Reserve, a marshy area with some large ponds and lakes which is now a bit of a wildlife haven. Although at this time of year the reeds are largely too high for me to see anything much. The shingle of Chesil Beach is now piled up to the left, so I can’t see the sea either. I could walk on top of the shingle I suppose, but it is hard going.
At times I head onto the bank for a view west and soon I can see the low cliffs of Burton Bradstock beginning ahead.
It is a pleasant peaceful walk with only the sound of my feet on the shingle and the sea on the shingle. The sea always sounds much louder on a shingle beach. About midway between West Bexington and Burton Bradstock there is a small lake, Burton Mere. Again this is a nature reserve and officially the coast path goes behind it, but there is a good path in front of it, so I stick to that instead.
Not long after this, there begins to be some low grassy cliffs, which the path heads up. The height this offers gives a good view over the expanse of shingle that makes up Chesil beach, although it is a bit misty to make out Portland clearly at the far end.
It also gives a good view west, where the coast is getting more interesting now.
I follow the grassy path to soon come down to Hive Beach at Burton Bradstock.
The beach here is busy and popular and is now owned by the National Trust.
Ahead are some absolutely beautiful cliffs. These yellow sand-stone cliffs have ridges of harder rock in them, giving them a striped appearance. I have never seen anything quite like them anywhere else. I understand the path along the cliff tops was closed here in 2013 and a diversion inland created but I believe now the route is now more coastal again.
Before I followed the coast path I walked a bit along the beach to get a view of the cliffs without people in front of them.
I think if the tide is low, it is possible to walk along the beach to Burton Freshwater, but I’ve not tried it. It is also advised not to stand under the cliffs, as they are soft and unstable and a cliff fall killed someone at nearby West Bay a few years ago. They are really beautiful though so I can’t resist heading along the beach for a few photos.
You can really see how the waves have undercut the cliffs here. Which probably means they will collapse soon, so with that in mind, I headed back to the beach at Burton Bradstock.
The path now headed gently up right along the cliff top on a well worn path. As I gained height I could look over the edge towards West Bay. You can’t actually see West Bay at this point, but you can see the large rock armour that sticks out from one side of the harbour wall. Beyond that in the haze is Golden Cap.
It is only a short climb and soon I am descending back down again. This is because there is a small river, the River Bride, which flows out to see, cutting a valley. It is therefore such a shame that someone has allowed this otherwise pretty valley to be crammed full of caravans.
You can only see a few of them here, they continue much further off to the right. Such a shame, although I am sure it is a nice place to stay. The river is not that wide and possible to wade at low tide, but there is a bridge a couple of hundred metres inland, so I headed for that along the official coast path to cross the river.
Behind the mouth of the stream is more high shingle banks, I suspect the course of the river shifts a bit at times.
I walked along the beach rather than the coast path which goes along the edge of the caravan park. Heading a bit down the shingle I can hardly see the caravans!
At the other end of this little valley the path heads back up the cliffs from the end of the caravan park. The climb is short lived, as I’m soon descending down to another little valley, now with a golf course on the right, which is far more pleasant than those caravans.
I was also lucky enough to spot a bird of prey in amongst the grasses at the cliff edge. It is a Peregrine Falcon (not a kestrel as I originally thought, thanks Snowgood (see comments)).
As I got closer, it took off so I wasn’t able to get a better shot, but it was a nice sight. The coast path now climbs again with the cliffs and I can see right back to those cliffs again at Burton Bradstock and the edges of the similar cliffs I am standing on.
The path is now descending for the last time on this walk, to West Bay, which was formerly known as Bridport Harbour, and I can see the houses of the now sizeable town of Bridport inland.
Soon ahead I can see the familiar sight of West Bay.
The path then descends to the beach at West Bay. The walk hasn’t taken me quite as long as expected, so I spent a bit of time taking photographs of those amazing yellow cliffs I had been walking on. They are quite something and now with the early evening sunshine shining on them they are particularly stunning.
It has been a lovely walk, and by South West Coast Path standards not that demanding either. The first part is mostly on shingle though. The highlight was the beautiful yellow cliffs at Burton Bradstock and West Bay. There is such amazing variety on this stretch of coast.
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 Abbotsbury and West Bay the service is hourly seven days a week. The bus stops near the railway stations in Poole, Weymouth, Wool and Wareham.
Doctor Ian West from the University of Southampton also has an excellent website, with the following parts covering this stretch of the coast:-
- Bridport Sands of East Cliff
- West Bay Harbour and Beach – including some photographs of the 2014 winter storm.
- Burton Bradstock