For this walk I’m actually going to describe two different walks. I first did this walk in 2003 and have done it several times since then. The most recent was in November 2013, but I did not leave early enough and so when darkness fell I took a short cut into Swanage, missing out Durlston Head. That is cheating of course, so I will cover my earlier walk for the part between Durlston Head and Swanage and use the photos from that occasion. But for the walk in November 2013 I had the most beautiful light, so I was pleased with the photos and hence prefer to use these ones, although I have mixed and matched a bit.
I was staying near Christchurch and set off later than was perhaps sensible for Kingston. As I mentioned last time, there is no public transport to anywhere actually on the coast between Lulworth Cove and Swanage and so Kingston was as close as I could get so that is where I started. I had originally thought I might take the train to Wareham then the bus but in typical British fashion, the train arrived at Wareham at 28 minutes past the hour. The bus to Kingston and Swanage departs at 4 minutes past the hour, meaning a nearly 40 minute wait, which was not appealing, particularly in November. So much for integrated public transport then!
So I ended up driving. This means using the A351, a road notorious for the terrible congestion it suffers at peak times and for much of the summer months. This is the main road onto the Isle of Purbeck from the nearby towns of Poole and Bournemouth and with the poor public transport the area has, it is heavily trafficked, to the point that it is common for the road to be queuing traffic all the way from the A35 (and sometimes beyond) to Wareham. This is a journey I have done quite a number of times, so my tip if trying to get to Purbeck from the Pooole direction in the peak periods is to continue on the A35 past the A351 junction (Bakers Arms) and instead turn left onto the B3075. This usually allows you to jump the worst of the queue, but it only really works when heading to Wareham not from it, since you have to make a right turn onto the A35 on the way back and there isn’t a roundabout or traffic lights so you often get a queue there too.
Once through the beautiful village of Corfe Castle I turned right onto the B3069 to Kingston then followed the road west through the village to the car park marked on the Ordnance Survey map in the woodland to the west of the village, The Plantation. This has only about 10 spaces and is actually within the woodland (so easy to miss) but has the benefit of being free of charge.
Once parked up I followed the road back to the village centre, which is very picturesque – a typical Purbeck village where the buildings are made from the local stone and slate.
I also headed a bit down to the road to the Scott Arms pub to take in the fine view I could get over to the imposing remains of Corfe Castle, in the village of the same name.
This is well worth a visit if in the area in my opinion. On with the walk I headed past the impressively large church.
I followed the road (South Road) south past The Plantation woodland heading to Westhill Farm, and re-tracing the route I took last time. At the end of the public road I went through the gate and followed the track down through the field and valley that I walked previously. When the track ended I continued on the footpath straight ahead, crossing the coast path and the path that goes down to Chapman’s Pool. The coast path avoids the beach and instead heads up the valley for almost half a mile before crossing it, a route it shares with the Purbeck Way (another excellent local walk I have also followed). A check at the current map shows this path as a dead end but you might also see a dotted black line heading down to the beach. This used to be a public right of way and head to the end of the field at the coastal end and you will see the footpath sign and stile, along with (I expect) a sign telling you the path is closed for health and safety reasons or some such.
This area has soft clay and mud and is very prone to landslips and movements. Sadly Dorset County Council, as they so often seem to, appear have to given up maintaining this path and closed it, but I headed down it anyway (it is well used, despite the closure) crossing the bridge (which was covered in about 2 inches of water, so I had to make my way over by stepping on the sides of the bridge). I could then follow the rough track down to the beach. However near the end this detoriates into a mixture of mud and wet clay which is subject to frequent landslips, so going was hard, but I made it in the end. It certainly is worth making the effort, it is a beautiful beach.
Sadly all sorts of rubbish collects at the end of the (former) footpath as this remote beach is not regularly cleaned (if at all). Looking back you can see the difficulty that exists in accessing this beach, you have to walk over all that lose mud.
I stopped for lunch enjoying the solitude and wonderful beach. Once done I headed west along the beach which soon became rocky.
Soon the path was heading over rocky levels, like at Kimmeridge, presumably where the coast had eroded and left these the base of the old cliffs.
I headed past a small waterfall and looking back I could see others were now making their way down the broken path I had followed and having the same difficulty I did with trying to access the beach.
At the far end of the beach there are a couple of fishermans huts or boathouses and you can follow the track up from this. There is a footpath marked on the map, which does not quite follow the track and seems also to not exist, so I suggest sticking to the track that is marked on the map.
This too had been subject to landslips and at one point just a narrow part of the path still remains. As I headed further up there was another area where a large landslip had occurred here and I stopped to chat to another man heading down who commented on how much the cliff had moved since he was down here last and that the track I had been following used to be usable by vehicles (presumably how those huts got down there), but whether it will again remains to be seen.
I was however well rewarded for my efforts with this wonderful view of this remote beach.
As I said last time I think this part of the coast is just as spectacular as Lulworth Cove a few miles west, but seems to be much less well known (and visited). It is one of my favourite places in Dorset.
Now back on the official coast path I past a circle of stones. It doesn’t remember seeing it before so I suspect it is some sort of art work – it is not marked on maps, suggesting it is recent.
It was time for another view back over Chapman’s Pool and now with the extra height gained I could see back to the chalk cliffs at Worbarrow Bay and beyond.
Zooming in I got a clear view of the shale cliffs around Kimmeridge and the chalk cliffs beyond.
The path ahead appeared to be level and I could make out the old coastguard cottages at St Aldhelm’s Head ahead. However the view does not initially reveal a large drop straight ahead. In a rather cruel twist the cliffs suddenly plunge down a steep valley and then straight back up the other side. There are steps more or less the whole way, I think this picture clearly illustrates it!
Once back up I stopped to catch my breath and take in the wonderful views. The light on this day was wonderful and made some great (in my opinion) photographs, the almost circular Chapman’s Pool now disappearing as I headed south.
I soon reached the remote row of cottages I suspect most of which are now holiday cottages but were presumably originally coast guard cottages.
Next to it however is the St Aldhelm’s Chapel. This tiny little chapel is open to the public although I don’t know the reasons that it was built here.
I didn’t look in on this occasion, but I did on my previous walk and it has a simple interior with a couple of wooden pews around the side. It is very peaceful.
Heading past the chapel the cliffs were showing signs of quarrying and someone was taking advantage of the wonderful, if rather precarious viewpoint that it offered.
I soon past some sort of odd artwork I didn’t bother to see what it was about.
The coast path now started to descend and gave me a look back at the sheer cliff face of the coast I had just been walking over.
Ahead the sun was beginning to get low in the sky, but I could make out the white lighthouse of Durlston Head lighthouse, with Swanage out of sight beyond it.
I continued on the coast path which was now fairly flat again along the top of the now lower cliffs.
As on the Isle of Portland, the hand of man is quite visible on the Isle of Purbeck too. The area is famed for it’s stone and so like Portland, it has a number of quarries, some active, some disused. I soon reached one of these, Winspit.
The valley ahead had obviously housed a large quarry and the remains of the buildings were still clear to see.
The coast path rounded the back of the quarry, but there was an obvious path down to it and I couldn’t resist heading out to it. Here the old caves could be explored. Some, like this one, were not very deep.
However others headed a long way back and soon became quite dark, so I was reluctant to explore too far. However it did allow me a good view along the coast I was soon to be walking, under the late afternoon glow.
Conscious that time was getting on, I headed back out of the quarry and back to the coast path. This older photo back over the quarry gives an idea of the size of the place.
Once out of the quarry the path headed up steps back onto the fairly low cliffs where it then follows the field edges alongside the coast to reach another area of quarrying, this time Seacome Quarry, another that is dis-used.
There is a path down to this one too, but I didn’t take it and continued on past more quarry workings.
Continuing on the fairly easy coast path I soon reached the famous Dancing Ledge. Here the quarrying has left a much lower platform below the cliffs, which is a very popular place with climbers. There were a few down there today, as I think there always has been on my various visits.
This time I didn’t go down, but here is a view from a previous occasion when I did.
This gives an idea of the scale of the quarrying that has taken place! The path away from Dancing Ledge climbs up again away from the ledge and makes it’s way around the grassy cliffs. Ahead you can now make out two metal posts. These are mile post indicators and as the name suggests are one nautical mile apart.
The coast path ahead from here was good, sticking close to the sea and becoming rather more hilly as it undulates along the various contours, the coast now getting a bit more hilly.
Soon I reached the sign for Durlston Country Park. I always find the name Country Park a little odd. Is it a park or the countryside? What it seems to mean is countryside with lots of paths and a visitor centre, and here it is no different. The first feature though is the lighthouse at Anvil Point.
The path rounds the coastal side of the lighthouse, which is enclosed by a stone wall to reveal a view of the Tilly Whim Caves.
These are again formed from old quarries and used to be open to the public. I think they closed for safety reasons in the 1970s. On the day I did this walk in November, I decided to take the more direct route inland from here to Swanage, as the daylight was now fading fast. The path climbed too, giving me a good view back over the lighthouse.
The rest of the photos were now taken on a different day. So now I’ll jump back to a previous occasion where I walked this part of the coast. This time I could watch one of the Condor Ferries heading into Poole I think.
The very well worn path now heads along the cliff edges, and this part is much visited from the large car park at the country park. Birds nest on the cliffs here in spring, and a camera is placed on the cliffs, which can be viewed in the nearby visitor centre. There was another surprise ahead though.
A stone globe! Despite being in Purbeck, it is made from Portland stone and is around 3 metres in diameter. It was a gift from a local quarry owner and was actually made in Greenwich, transported by sea and put in place in 1887, where it has remained ever since.
The coast path now continues at a fairly low level to the Durlston Castle. This is not a defensive castle, more of a folly and was derelict for many years, but opened as a new visitor centre and cafe a few years ago.
Once past the visitor centre the coast path initially continues on a wide path towards the car park but then turns off to the right to head through woodland with glimpses through the trees to the coast. There is a sort of stone maze built along here now.
At the end of this pleasant path (I think Victorian originally) the path emerges on the road by the access road to the country park. Here you have to follow the road for a short while turning right of Durlston Road into Belle Vue Road, past a quite hideous 1970s block of flats, on the edge of Swanage. The path emerges from the corner of this road onto the grassy banks heading down to Peveril Point, at the eastern edge of Swanage. I followed the coast path down to the assorted buildings at the far end of the point which even includes a heliport! The grassy slope offers a view back along the wooded coast to Durlston Head.
Peveril Point itself is a low headland and I could now follow the road along beside the houses heading west to reach the small pier. The pier is mostly used for parking these days but you can walk to the end of it and I think the boats to Brownsea Island depart from here in the summer. The path continues past an odd amphitheatre and along past a derelict building with some odd artwork on it.
Swanage Bay is quite attractive with the white chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks and Ballard down ahead.
I continued past the front of some flats and past the Jurassic Coast visitor centre and musuem. Old railway tracks were still visible in the cobbled streets here. I continued along the narrow road in front of the Victorian houses now mostly flats (holiday flats mostly I think). At the end you pass the rather horrible looking Mowlem Theatre, a 1970s building which rather dominates the coastal view at Swanage, but being a small town I guess it is lucky to have kept it’s theatre.
I then headed inland along Station Road to the station. The road is so called because it leads to the station, but sadly it is not part of the national network any more.
Swanage had a branch line which headed down from Wareham via Corfe Castle to Swanage. Sadly it was a victim of the Beeching cuts and pulled up – something which I suspect has been regretted much since as Swanage is fairly isolated on a peninsula with poor transport links, as the main road (the A351) is very congested as it heads through Corfe Castle, Wareham and Sandford whilst in the other direction you can cross the mouth of Poole Harbour via a chain ferry, but again there are long queues at peak times. However a dedicated band of volunteers have restored the trains as a popular steam railway, the Swanage Railway. I travelled on it as a child when it went only as far as Harmans Cross. Over the years they have extended it further and finally reached Corfe Castle in 1995. By now the railway was linking two of the most visited places in Purbeck and began to enjoy increasing popularity. Due to the limited parking in Corfe Castle, the railway also had the sensible idea of building (along with Dorset County Council), a park and ride site for Corfe Castle, Swanage and the railway a little further north at Norden. This has proven very popular and is I think the only park and ride using a steam train in the country. It is perhaps rather ironic that the steam railway now runs probably more frequently than the line ever did when it was part of the national network, with trains sometimes as often as every 30 minutes or so. A few years ago the line was extended back as far as the remaining track, owned by Network Rail, meaning the line has now been re-connected to the National network. Despite being in private ownership, the Council have provided some funding to fund the re-signalling required to allow regular trains from Wareham to Swanage, finally providing through trains from the national network again. It is hoped the first of these services will run next year.
However for now, I can’t travel by train, so I had to take the bus back, which departs from in front of the station. This took about 15 minutes, but as I had reached Swanage as it was getting dark, by the time I got back to Kingston it was dark. After getting off the bus, I soon realised it was really dark. I walked confidently along the road going ahead, when the main road forked right. However I then could not remember which road the car park was off and it was too dark to read the map. I thought it was the first road, but after walking almost to the end of the woodland, I realised I had gone wrong! I had to head back and then turn left past the church again and finally found my car still there in the dark woodland car park. It was so dark I had to click the key fob to make the light flash so I could actually see the car park entrance! Once I had located my car I headed back thankfully not getting stuck in traffic.
This is a lovely walk. The first part is quite tough, with the high hills around Chapmans Pool and St Aldhelm’s Head, but after that the walk is gentler and with some more stunning and very varied scenery. Although there are no beaches to speak off after Chapman’s Pool (if you go down there), there is a good sandy (blue flag) beach at Swanage, at the end of the walk.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Purbeck Breezer route 40 : Swanage – Langton Matravers – Kingston – Corfe Castle – Stoborough – Wareham – Wareham railway station – Holton Heath – Lytchett Minster – Upton – Poole. Hourly Monday – Saturday. 5 times a day on winter Sundays and hourly on summer Sundays.