Ambling around Wessex (Pt 3)

On our final day, @alice-mccoy and I chose to literally follow in the footsteps of @helpful_mammal, taking the coastal path from Lulworth Cove to Weymouth. Unlike @helpful_mammal, who is walking around the entire British coast (and blogging each walk as he goes – I highly recommend a read if you haven’t already), we had no qualms about cheating as it was just a day trip.

We arrived at Lulworth Cove as the morning settled into brilliant sunshine and blue skies. The tide was in, so the effect was entirely picturesque. We stood on the pebble beach and marvelled at the geology lesson – Portland Stone (limestone), Purbeck stone (limestone/marble), Wealden beds (clay), greensand and chalk. There’s some gorgeous deformation of the Portland and Purbeck limestones – the beds now look vertical, which certainly isn’t how they were laid down – and the sea has eaten its way in to form a perfect natural harbour. There’s a reason it’s a tourist trap: it’s absolutely beautiful as well as educational (so make sure you get there early and get out before the coaches arrive).

(not my photo!) Lulworth Cove in October (c) Mike Searle
We promptly climbed up for a few of Stair Hole (not all the local names are romantic; several are simply descriptive. This is a wave-cut hole in some rock that you can see by climbing some stairs). Stair Hole is a nascent cove and one of the UK’s best examples of folded limestone. When the tide drops, the arches become rather more impressive.
Stair Hole – check out that vertical limestone!
Having warmed up (and procured emergency bananas), we felt ready to tackle the coastal path. The sun was beginning to hit its stride too, so we were soon red-faced and puffing. The track from Lulworth to Durdle Door is particularly well-travelled (and occasionally well-collapsed – spot the stories I didn’t tell @alice_mccoy beforehand), with broad shelving steps cut to ease the way as you climb up about 800ft up Hambury Tout. Thankfully, there’s a handy ice-cream van on the far side, where we were able to refresh ourselves with tea.
If Lulworth is a textbook cove, Durdle Door is actually the picture in the dictionary next to ‘sea arch’. It thoroughly deserves the mad amount of footfall it attracts, and the beaches around Man’o’war Bay were all well inhabited by the time we hove into view.
I was more worried about what came next. Swyre Head is the first in a series of ascents heading west from Durdle Door. We failed to recall that the dip at the foot of it – called Scratchy Bottom (you can snigger) – was the turning to a less daunting inland route, so we missed our opportunity to wimp out of the incredibly steep climb. This climb is no joke, to the extent that even walking guides say useful things like “The mass of Swyre Head looms close and yes, that is the path you’re going to take, ascending straight up the side”, and I have no head for heights. Halfway up, I realised that turning back to the hill to rest for a moment was actually increasing my heart rate with the terror of the drop.
Swyre Head seen from Durdle Door. See, it’s quite high. And steep. Oh, just humour me.

Worse was to come. The next hill (Bats Head, with its own tiny sea arch) is equally steep, if not quite so high, and was rather dustier and more slippery. There was no way I was taking the cliff-edge path (that head for heights again), so we persevered up the shorter, steeper path along the fence-line. There was much swearing – not least when some charming ladies coming down the hill stopped to laugh at how hard we were finding it. They didn’t have backpacks on, and it presumably wasn’t their 3rd day hiking. Not that I was irritated. At all.

Hard work must be rewarded, so we stopped for some salt and vinegar crisps atop Bat’s Head and gazed at White Nothe. Having spotted a useful landmark – an obelisk, presumably used as a beacon by shipping – we agreed to push on before opening the ginger beer. Bribery is the best way to get up hills.

Here the path cut across the slope of White Nothe as the cliff slides down in the sea. This made me feel much better. Honest. The view to inland was just fascinating, I tell you.


There’s no denying it’s all gorgeous. And falling apart – as evidenced by the fresh chalk on the beach. Not worrying. At all.

Ginger beer is a fabulous restorative, as is the realisation that there may be miles of undulation left to go, but no more actual climbs. We began to get excited about reaching Ringstead, where we would find lunch. The path markers at this point proceeded to add miles to Ringstead rather than reduce them and we began to worry that we were so hungry we were hallucinating. And that we wouldn’t have time to get to Weymouth before our trains left. The fretting handily distracted me from the drop of the Burning Cliff to my left, and kept me focused on making up time.

Thankfully, Ringstead appeared on the other side of a pretty clump of woodland, and was able to furnish us with some much-needed sustenance. The post-lunch walk west should have felt easy, except that stopping for lunch had allowed us to realise just how tired we were. While we enjoyed the woodland and coastal villages (and were slightly terrified by the PGL camp, complete with burnt brush perimeter – all the better to spot any escapees), it was something of a relief to catch sight of the slightly surreal art deco bulk of the Riviera at Bowleaze Cove – and even more of a relief to see a bus stop right outside the gates.

Although our pace had improved markedly since Ringstead, neither of us took any persuading that we’d rather hop on the next bus and have time to find a cuppa before catching our trains than hotfoot it along the shore and throw ourselves through the closing train doors. So we did.


Distance covered: about 9.5 miles
Sustenance: another enormous English breakfast, salt and vinegar crisps, a pasty, chocolate macaroons and (when I got home) PIZZA. Because we’d certainly earned it.