Logistically, this is another tricky walk, but it is also a very good one. The previous stretch of coast (from Lulworth Cove to Weymouth) I stated was the best walk on the South West Coast Path. That being the case, I rate this one as the second best!
Lulworth Cove has a very limited bus service. But further east things are even worse. From Lulworth I head through the Lulworth Ranges, where there is not even road access. The first village outside is Kimmeridge, but it doesn’t have a bus service. The next town that is actually on the coast is Swanage, which is too far. So in the end I settled on looking for a bus from Worth Matravers. This has a bus, but it runs twice a day on weekdays only, which gave me two problems, the first being it was the weekend, the second being the last bus was at 12:45, which is far too early. I therefore opted to end this walk in the village of Kingston instead. Not to be confused with Kingston-upon-Thames or Kingston-upon-Hull, this is a small village on the B3069 a mile and a half south of Corfe Castle and it has the benefit of a regular bus service between Swanage, Corfe Castle, Wareham and Poole, but it does mean I have quite a walk inland at the end of the walk.
This meant I could not easily catch a bus from Lulworth to Kingston, so I settled on coming by train, travelling to Lulworth Cove first by bus and then I could walk to Kingston and catch the bus to Wareham, then a train back to Christchurch, where I was staying. It was August which means there was also the X43 bus running, which only runs during part of July and August. I took the train from Christchurch to Wool and timed it so arrived when both the year-round 104 bus and the summer only X43 were due within a few minutes of each other. In the end, the 104 arrived first so I got on it, but most tourists seemed to be afraid of this little minibus and carried on waiting for the X43, which was odd. Despite it’s infrequency, this bus is cheap and fairly quick, so I reached Lulworth Cove just before 11am.
There is another logistical problem with this walk. A large part of it is through a military firing range, with no rights of way. Thankfully, a number of permissive paths have been created, including the South West Coast path, but these can only be used when the ranges are not in use. The walks are therefore open most weekends through the year (with the exception of 6 weekends each year) and weekdays during the main school holiday periods. It is worth checking before you set off, helpfully, Dorset County Council publish the times when the range walks are open, and already have the dates for 2016. There are also signs on the roads in the area indicating if the ranges are open (as some roads close, too).
Actually I’m first going to take a quick diversion. The previous walk I had headed straight down the hill to the car park as I came into Lulworth Cove. However, from here there is a small stretch of the coast path which leaves the road and takes in some impressive geology. This is Stair Hole, and these photos were taken on a different day.
Here the sea has eroded through some softer parts of the rocks to form a little bay behind some obviously harder rock, with the sea now coming and going through a few caves. It is spectacular.
To the left here too there is more impressive geology, with the cliffs giving the impression of having been folded over the years. There is also a popular viewpoint on the top, as you can see.
From here there is also a view down to the cove itself.
Now back to this day, once I arrived in Lulworth Cove I headed down to the beach. Although the current maps show the South West Coast Path as going around the cliffs at the back of the cove. However this path was closed in 2014 (it used to go up behind the now demolished cafe). Whilst you can still get to the top of the cliffs here (I’ve been up there before) it is a long route round into West Lulworth village and back. Dorset County Council are not good at repairing and maintaining rights of way, so I expect this path to stay closed for some time, if it ever opens again. However a much easier route at most states of the tide is to walk along the beach, which is what I did.
Lulworth Cove is beautiful, almost a complete circle, where the sea breached the rocks (much like at Stair Hole) and eroded the much softer chalk behind, to create an almost circular bay. This also makes it very sheltered and boat trips run here during the summer.
It was busy on the beach but soon it became less crowded as I headed away from the main access. The beach is mostly pebbles and shingle, although there is the odd bit of sand.
I got a wonderful view looking back around the beach, too.
At the far end there is a path up steps off the beach to the first little headland and around here the Lulworth Ranges begin. First though the height gained meant I had a good view back over Lulworth Cove.
I went through the gate into the Lulworth Ranges. Once in the ranges you are meant to keep between the yellow posts, as this is the only area that is cleared of explosives, shells, etc. Immediately you come to another famed beauty spot, the fossil forest. Here the fossilised remains of trees can be seen. There were steps down to the old forest at the time I did the walk, but sadly these too have closed.
Returning from the fossil forest I followed the steps up onto the coast path. This is initially a fairly easy walk, following a good path of mowed grass along the low chalk cliffs. It is fairly easy going and there are views back over to Portland, still visible on the horizon when I look west. Soon I reach an area called Mupe Rocks and I can see the coast becomes quite spectacular again ahead.
The path now climbs to go around the back of a small bay, Mupe Rocks and ahead there is a larger shingle beach, Mupe Bay.
There is access to this beach too, when the ranges are open as there are steps down to the beach. It is a quiet and sheltered beach (facing east) and the difficult access (no car parking nearby) means it is also usually very quiet. Today was no exception there were just a few people on the beach and I suspect most of them had arrived via the boat moored in the bay.
This time I didn’t go down to the beach but instead stuck to the coast path which now climbs, gently to start with, around the back of the bay. The coast here clearly suffers erosion, as there was evidence of two cliff falls on the beach and I have heard they are often triggered by explosions when the firing range is in use.
Soon though I could put it off no longer – there was a very steep climbs ahead, up Bindon Hill, to the Purbeck ridge of chalk. It was a steep climb which I was glad to get out of the way. At the top I had a good view back over Mupe Bay, and the Mupe Rocks just beyond.
The view inland too was also rather spectacular, with Lulworth Castle visible in the trees, and the woodlands and heathlands behind Poole harbour also visible.
I think this is the better way to do this walk too as once up, I now had a nice genetle descent for a while along the cliff tops, as I approached Arish Mell. Looking inland, I could see all the various tracks over the ranges and old rusting tanks which I think are now used for target practice.
Soon I was approaching Arish Mell itself. This is another beautiful shingle beach backed by chalk cliffs at the mouth of a valley. Sadly, this beach is not accessible to the public (although I admit to once having climbed over the gate onto it) although there is an outlet pipe of some sort here which seems to get regular maintenance work, hence the collection of containers and a car park, although this is a private track not open to the public. Happily, an old right of way (which was closed when the ranges were expanded) has been re-opened from here along the valley north to East Lulworth. I’ve followed it, but not on this walk.
Having said the descent was gradual, it now becomes very steep as I descend down to sea level here.
I knew there was no chance of accessing the beach today though (without getting told off, at least) because there were already some people on it, in fluorescent jackets doing something or other.
At the bottom of the valley there are a couple of welcome picnic benches and I stopped on one of these for a rest, because I could see that the path ahead was tough and climbed very steeply out of the bay.
Heading up the valley the path briefly heads a little away from the coast as it climbs steeply up Halcombe Vale. As I climbed I was a bit surprised to see a number of vehicles on the path ahead, and had to squeeze round the side of some of them. Beyond were lots of soldiers in camouflage along with some people not in camouflage going around the field after some yellow and red flags. A small stretch of the path had been closed for this, but I was directed around the edge. I have no idea what they were doing but I’m sure it had some top secret purpose!
The path continued to climb, but at least it was well maintained with short grass and mostly a slope rather than steps. It was worth it for the view – I could now see back to Mupe Rocks at the end of the first headland, Arish Mell and beyond Portland.
Soon the path returned to the cliff edge and continued to climb up to an old hill fort, Flower’s Barrow, although it is not that obvious, as much of it has been eroded. Once at the top there are more welcome picnic benches and a couple of information signs about the fort. I stopped for another rest and enjoyed the view inland from here, it is a high point with the land falling away sharply in all directions. I could see Lulworth Castle which opens to the public, although I’ve never actually been there, so I can’t tell you what it is like.
The view back the way I had come was breathtaking with all the undulations I had walked over very visible!
The view ahead too was stunning, this is Worbarrow Bay, a remote little beach which is still within the firing range. You have to be a bit careful to find the right route here, another path heads along the top of the chalk ridge, but the coast path now descends very very steeply over grass. There are no steps, but some have been worn by walkers over the years, but I can vouch for if it is wet, the grass is very slippery! The cliff at the end is Worbarrow Tout.
The path soon became gentler as I neared the bottom and at last was more less level as I neared the beach. Worbarrow Bay has now always been in the Lulworth Ranges, but the ranges were expanded during World War II and took in the beach. There were once some cottages right above the beach here, but they have since been demolished, only the foundations can be seen now.
Once I reached the beach, I took the steps down to the beach to stop for lunch.
The view back shows the geology is changing, with the white chalk cliffs becoming softer sand stone as they get nearer to me.
This is a great beach, one of my favourites in Dorset in fact, it is remote and stunningly beautiful. It is a great place to spend some time, listening to the sound of the sea moving all the pebbles about.
Looking to the far end of the bay I can still see Mupe Rocks at the end.
Once I had finished lunch I returned to the coast path. This goes over a little stream via bridge and there is then access to another little shingle and pebble beach, Pondfield behind Worbarrow Tout.
There are also some old concrete blocks in a row here, old tank traps from World War II – they were designed to stop any tanks that were landed on the beach from being able to drive off the beach.
The coast path now climbed steeply out of the valley again, giving me a fine view back over Pondfield.
The number 3 on the cliff is one of the targets used when the firing range is in use. Officially there is no public path up there, but it does look to be quite well accessed. Even more impressive was the view back over Worbarrow Bay. You can see the high cliffs and changing geology. If you look down on the flat area of grass near the bottom, this is the area where there were once cottages (you can see the foundations of a couple to the right of this).
This whole area has a sad history. The community at Worbarrow Bay, along with the larger village at Tyneham, further up, were forced to leave during World War II. The army decided they needed to expand Lulworth Ranges and so the villagers were given short notice that they would have to leave their homes. They were told they would be able to return once the war was over. The villagers of Tyneham left a rather poignant note asking the army to look after their homes. Sadly, they were never allowed back, the army did not keep it’s promise and today is still part of the Lulworth Ranges. The people clearly knew they were doing the right think, making a huge sacrifice for the greater good of the nation, but it is a real tragedy they were betrayed once the war was over, I still find myself feeling angry about it when visiting Tyneham.
The abandoned village of Tyneham is now open to the public when the ranges are open, and there is a road down to it and a large car park, and it’s a short walk from there down to Worbarrow Bay (hence the sudden presence of people again on the last few photos). The buildings are now ruins, the roof and top floors of most of them removed, and bullet holes in some of the walls. The school and church however have been preserved and maintained and you can visit these. At Worbarrow Bay, just the foundations remain, as you can see.
I still can’t really make up my mind about this area. On one hand the treatment of the villagers was appalling. But on the other hand, without the presence of the army, I suspect this area would now look very different. I doubt it would be so remote, I’m sure there would be more development and Tyneham and Worbarrow might end up rather touristy like Lulworth Cove. The army presence has kept this coast remote, beautiful and undeveloped so we can thank them for that, at least.
Anyway on with the walk, the coast path now climbs fairly steeply out of Worbarrow Bay and I can look down on the track that goes between Worbarrow Bay and Tyneham inland, where more ruined buildings can be seen.
The height gained means I can now see all around the coast back to Arish Mell, the steep drop around 1/3 from the left edge of the photo and Mupe Bay and rocks just to the left, with all of Worbarrow Bay layed out before me, it is wonderful.
Soon the path levels out as I near the top of Gad Cliff and can look inland to Tyneham. Ahead though there is another change in geology, as the white chalk cliffs give way to shale and clay as I am now approaching Kimmeridge. The ledges formed as the cliffs have eroded (the ledges are the base of the old cliffs), are one of the sights this area is famous for and you can just make one out at the end of the first cliff.
At the top of Tyneham Cap, there is again a path heading along the top of the right, which it is easy to take instead of the coast path, but the coast path now heads south between yellow posts which zig-zag about to make a slightly gentler path. I say slightly, because it is still a very steep descent.
The view back is spectacular too with a little area of woodland forming on what looks to be an old landslip below the cliff face.
The drop is once again very steep but I make it down OK and the path then descends more gently over Hobarrow Bay. There is no access to this beach though. The path continues around the coast, now at the edge of a field and along a track to leave the Lulworth Ranges via a gate.
The coast is now a mixture of shale, slate and clay and there is a lot of oil in the area, including under Poole Harbour. There is a nodding donkey beside the path here, extracting the oil into a pipeline and making virtually no sound. There are steps down to the beach here. The sign said they were closed, but I ignored this and climbed over the fence (which is well bent down where others have done the same) and followed the steps down anyway.
It is a mixture of pebbles and sand. The red sign warns of the start of the Lulworth Ranges, although the map suggests you can go beyond it when the ranges are open.
Kimmeridge is a much loved location for photographers, as the base of the old cliffs form smooth ledges of rock which head quite far out into the sea with the water reflecting off the smooth rocks. You can see these smooth rocks near the shoreline. I decided to follow the beach around, since the tide was out.
The beach soon gave way to these remarkable Kimmeridge Ledges which certainly justify their name.
As I’m walking around towards the main beach I spot some fossils in one of the rocks too.
Rounding the corner I see I’m going to have an awkward walk around to the main beach at Kimmeridge over the lose rocks.
Still I make it round to the pebbles of the beach below the grey cliffs. The cliffs are very soft here and you can often see bits of stone blowing down the cliffs. It is also popular with fossil hunters and many fossils have been found here over the years. The beach was proving surprisingly popular (it can’t be very comfortable and the ledges make bathing tricky).
A little stream flows out to the beach at one point, where one of the main paths is and there is an old World War II pillbox that has fallen off the soft cliffs. As you can probably guess from the crowds there is easy access to Kimmeridge now we are outside the ranges, there is a toll road down to the beach from the end of the road in Kimmeridge and there is a large car park at the beach (it’s free, but the toll on the road is essentially the parking fee). At this valley I returned to the proper route of the coast path which runs along the coastal edge of the car park to a small visitor centre and toilets.
I was pleased to be able to do the part of the coast path ahead – the coast path between Kimmeridge and Houns Tout Cliff, several miles ahead, had been closed for a couple of years previously because of cliff falls taking a couple of small sections of the path and the diversion was quite far inland (to Swyre Head), so it was good to be able to get back to the coast – I had feared this might be another one to go for good.
It is a steep climb up steps out of Kimmeridge to the cliff top and then to Clavell Tower. This unusual tower is owned by the Landmark Trust now and used as a holiday cottage. It was originally built as a folly in 1830 and erosion meant it had become increasingly close to the edge of the cliffs. As it is Grade II listed, it was actually demolished brick-by-brick and moved back from the cliff edge in 2006. You can still see the circle of the old foundations, although for how much longer remains to be seen.
Once at the top of the cliffs by the tower I once again have a stunning view back over the amazing scenery I had walked so far.
The cliff path now wended it’s way along the coast, right on the cliff edge with the grey slate cliffs lined with thicker stone now the main feature. It was gently undulating, with a couple of wooden footbridges over a couple of small streams and valleys. After the hard climbs of earlier in the walk, I was glad it was now flatter.
Zooming on the coast where I had been walking, you can see just how varied the scenery is, it is wonderful.
Ahead too I had some more stunning scenery. The headland in the distance is St Aldhelm’s Head, behind Chapmans Pool. I could see though that the gentle slops of the coast path were not going to last!
The path began to get a bit steeper opening up the views back the way I had come again.
Ahead I soon had the little wooded valley of Egmont to go over. There is a little waterfall here, but you can’t really get a good view of it. More puzzlingly, there were also old railway tracks jutting out from the cliff edge here. I’ve no idea what this is used for as I would have thought if it was used to ship material out, the rail tracks would need to get to ground level?
In any case the path soon became much steeper, with many steps to finally reach the top of Houns Tout Cliff. This is a truly spectacular place and one of my favourite viewpoints in Dorset. It is high enough that the view back looks almost like an aerial shot!
Ahead to I think is one of the hidden gems of Dorset, Chapman’s Pool. To my mind at least this is nearly as spectacular as Lulworth Cove, forming quite a crescent shape as again the soft rock has been eroded, but it is much less known than Lulworth Cove.
It is also much less visited than Lulworth Cove, again likely because there is difficult access and no parking nearby. It is possible to get access to the beach, but is not easy. From the top of the cliff the coast path now descends back down some more steps and turns a little inland to a little stream. This brings you down to a concrete farm track which eventually becomes the road to Kingston.
Once over the valley there is a path to the right that led down to Chapman’s Pool beach. Sadly the lowest point of this has a stream flowing over clay, so it becomes very soggy. The footpath used to give access to the beach, but Dorset County Council have given up maintaining it, because the soft clay is always eroding. I have tried to get down to the beach this way, but you basically have to walk over an area of mud (much of it soft), soft clay and them jump a metre or so down a little waterfall to reach the beach – not ideal! However, there is easier access to the easy of the beach, but that is for a later walk.
I left the coast path here, to head inland to Kingston. The footpath here follows a concrete track along the valley which is part of a farm. The sheep seem to like it too, or at least they like going to the toilet on it!
The pretty farmhouse nestled just below the trees off to my left.
The track gradually gained height and after around 3/4 of a mile I reached the gate that marks the end of the footpath and the start of the public road. This soon headed through an area of woodland known, rather unimaginatively as “The Plantation”. Soon the houses of Kingston begin, and it is a lovely village, typical of Purbeck, with the cottages built from the local stone.
I am now in an area known as “The Isle of Purbeck”, although it is not really an island, more a peninsula. Like Portland, it is famed for the quality of it’s stone, and there are still many active quarries in the area.
I soon passed the large church and the popular pub, The Scott Arms. This is another building made of the local stone, although it might not be obvious under all that ivy!
The Scott Arms also boasts one of the best views from it’s beer garden, as you can see over the ruins of Corfe Castle. The pub is the junction with the B3069 and I continued ahead along it to the bus stop, which is just on the right.
From here I took the bus to Wareham station and changed onto a train back to Christchurch. Thankfully all my connections ran to time, so it was an easy journey.
This really is a remarkable walk. It is not easy, but the scenery is ever changing and always spectacular. The high chalk cliffs, near Lulworth, such lovely sights as Worbarrow Bay and Kimmeridge, and another impressive bay to end at, Chapman’s Pool. Despite the difficult access it is very well worth making the effort to do this walk, I am sure you won’t regret it!
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
I suggest driving or taking the train to Wareham station (there is a pay and display car park). Then the following schedule, which applies Monday – Saturday only. Take the train from Wareham to Wool (1 stop) departing at 08:38 arriving Wool at 08:44. Then take bus 104 from Wool station (the bus stop is outside the station building) to Lulworth Cove, departing at 08:55 and arriving at Lulworth Cove at 09:19. At the end of the walk take bus 40 which runs hourly, at 20 minutes past the hour until 17:20, then at 18:18, 19:18 and 21:58 (last bus) arriving at Wareham station 22 minutes later.
Dorset Community Transport bus route 104 : Wool (Rail Station) – Winfrith – East Chaldon – Durdle Door (main road) – Lulworth Cove – West Lulworth – East Lulworth – Coombe Keynes – Wool (Rail Station) – Bovington – East Stoke – Wareham. 2 to 3 times a day Monday – Saturday only in each direction, but the last bus from Lulworth Cove is at 13:08. This bus departs from the road end of the visitor centre at Lulworth Cove. It is typically a small mini bus with only around 18 seats.
South West Trains London Waterloo – Weymouth : London Waterloo, Clapham Junction (not all trains), Woking (not all trains), Basingstoke (not all trains), Winchester, Southampton Airport, Southampton Central, Brockenhurst, New Milton (not all trains), Christchurch (not all trains), Bournemouth, Poole, Wareham (not all trains), Wool (not all trains), Dorchester South and Weymouth. Trains run twice per hour Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays. It takes a little under 3 hours from London Waterloo to Weymouth. Although not all trains stop at all stations, generally there is at least an hourly service to all the stations listed above, including Wool. Some smaller stations (which I have not listed) are also served by some trains.
Damory route X43 (go to page 22) : Weymouth – Preston – Osmington – Winfrith Newburgh – Durdle Door (Main road) – Lulworth Cove – West Lulworth – Wool (Rail Station) – Wareham – Stoborough Green – Norden Park & Ride – Corfe Castle – Harman’s Cross – Herston – Swanage. 4 times daily (including Sunday) during the school summer holidays only (late July to the end of August). No service for the rest of the year. This bus departs from the entrance to the car park in Lulworth Cove.
Purbeck Breezer route 40 : Swanage – Langton Matravers – Kingston – Corfe Castle – Stoborough Green – Wareham (Town) – Wareham (Station) – Holton Heath – Orangford – Lytchett Minster – Upton – Poole. Hourly Monday – Saturday and summer Sundays. Once every two hours on winter Sundays.