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4 Days Walking the Jurassic Coast of Dorset
If you are looking for a short break by the UK coast without the crowds, Dorset is a good choice. Walking offers the perfect opportunity to explore this peaceful part of the world at a slow, relaxed pace. You can travel a long way and not find views to rival those you can find on the Jurassic Coast. Who needs the Coromandel Walkway when you have all this right on your doorstep at home?! So leave the car behind for a few days, lace up your hiking boots and get ready to do some exploring …
Where to Stay
We chose two bases for our 4 day stay in Dorset. Bridport – a thriving, hustly bustly little market town – has all the necessary facilities for a short stay by the coast. We spent our first 2 nights here at the Bull Hotel and then moved on to the Manor House Hotel, West Bexington for a further 2 nights.
Getting from A to B - Finding a Taxi Service
There are a large number of taxi firms based in Bridport, so there should be no difficulty getting a cab when you need it, but it is advisable to give at least a couple of hours notice – more if you can – to avoid disappointment/unnecessary delays – particularly in the height of Summer. We used West Dorset Taxis for all our transport arrangements and they proved to be completely reliable.
We booked three journeys with them over the 4 days:
Day 1 – There is no parking at the Bull Hotel, so we left our car at the Manor House Hotel West Bexington and pre-booked a taxi to transport us and our luggage to our first hotel in Bridport.
Day 2 – Bridport to the start of our trail at Chideock.
Day 3 – Bridport to West Bexington (to drop the bags off at our car) and then on to the start of our trail at Shipton Gorge.
Tips for Future Travellers
Budget around £80 for taxi fares if you are planning to do the same route. Paying by credit card is fine – although it is wise to take some cash with you just in case there is any difficulty getting a signal.
Day 1 - Bridport, Hyde, Bothenhampton, Wych, West Bay
Afternoon walk – 7.1 miles – 11.5 kms – 3.5 to 4 hours.
Bridport has been famous as a rope making centre since as early as 1211.
The Main Street of Bridport is very wide – it was used to lay out all the ropes to dry. Ropes for gallows were made here, hence the phrase “Stabbed with a Bridport Dagger”.
Hidden Gem - Hyde Real Tennis Club
There are only 50 “real” tennis courts in the world – and one of them is in Hyde in the pretty village of Walditch just outside Bridport.
Built in 1884 (refurbished in 1998), the Hyde Real Tennis Club is a fine example of a real tennis court and is in regular use. Real tennis is like a cross between tennis and squash and has to be played in a building with the exact features required by the original game. Lawn tennis took over from real tennis because buildings like these are expensive to build and to maintain, so it is rare to be able to see a real tennis court in action these days. The balls here are all handmade. You can book a court if you want the full experience of playing real tennis yourself – see the link below. I was content just to take a photo.
Continue your walk through the villages of Bothenhampton and Wych and on to West Bay – a pretty little seaside town with a pebble beach overlooked by an impressively large chunk of Jurassic Coast cliff.
Seaside cabins with Union Jack’s fluttering proudly on top line the quay. Families gather around plastic buckets decorated with crabs and dangle their crab catchers over the edge of the quay loaded with bait to tempt their prey.
Remember that gripping drama series Broadchurch? -Well this is where it was filmed.
The cliffs are fragile and rockfalls are common. Stay clear of the edge – honestly – the view from a few steps back is just as good!
On your way back to Bridport, you will pass Palmer’s Brewery which has been brewing cask ales since 1794, which makes it one of the oldest breweries in the UK. It is also the only thatched brewery in the UK.
Palmer’s “Tally Ho!” Ale – A strong, dark ale with a rich toffee flavour, rather like Werthers original toffees in a glass.
We saw very few people along the trail today – cows and sheep were our most frequent companions.
Day 2 - Chideock, Golden Cap, Seatown, Thorncombe Beacon, Symondsbury
Day walk – 10 miles – 16 kms – 6 hours (excluding stops).
We started our trail today with a short taxi ride to Chideock Bridge. Chideock is a typical little Dorset village – brim full of traditional thatched cottages with roses trailing around their front doors – flowering noticeably a week or two ahead of their counterparts up North.
The Golden Cap
A steep climb around Langdon Hill past the ruins of St. Gabriel’s Church and on up the hill leads you to the top of the Golden Cap. It is well worth the climb up the highest sea cliff on the south coast. From 620 feet above sea level, you are rewarded with 360 degree views from the top.
To the West, you get a great view of 18 mile long Chesil Beach.
To the East, you can see the length of Lyme Bay stretched out before you. Windsurfing is popular in this area – something to try – if you are brave enough to give to a go?
Continuing along the coast path brings you past “The Bowl” – a giant dish of grassland nestled into the cliffs with peaceful views over the shore beyond.
Seatown makes a good place to stop for lunch – the varied menu at the Anchor Inn makes it a reliable choice. Food is served all day during the Summer – last orders are at 2pm in Winter. Get there early in the afternoon if you can though – queues had begun to tail back by 1pm (although Covid restrictions were still in force when we visited).
Wind your way back to Bridport along the coast path via Thorncombe Beacon and Symondsbury. The Symondsbury Kitchen Café is open between 9 and 5 every day and makes a good place to stop for afternoon tea on your way back home.
Day 3 - Shipton Gorge, Chilcombe, Litton Cheney, Puncknowle, Chesil Beach, West Bexington
Day walk – 12 miles – 19.5 kms – 6 hours (excluding stops).
In contrast to the previous two days. our walk today was largely inland through fields and farmland, finishing with a thigh busting walk along the stones of Chesil Beach back to our hotel at West Bexington. The pebble beaches in this part of the world make for demanding walking. Your feet sink into the stones which find their way all too easily over the top of your hiking boots and bury themselves irritatingly deep in your boots. It is sometimes a bit easier to walk nearer to the sea than along the stone ridge.
The dew laden bracken was armpit height at several points along the walk and patches of stinging nettles had to be carefully navigated at times. Long trousers and socks and good walking boots are a “must do”.
There is little in Litton Cheney except a Youth Hostel and the White Horse Inn, which was not open for trade when we visited.
Puncknowle (Pronounced Punnel)
Fortunately, the friendly Crown Inn at Puncknowle – which serves food all day – was happy to provide us with lunch when we eventually arrived there (after a few route detours!) at 2.45. The big advantage of leaving the car behind and exploring entirely on foot is that you can enjoy a glass of beer with your lunch without having to worry. I can vouch for the fact that Tally Ho tastes even better when accompanied by a generous helping of chunky chips.
A cheerful sign just inside the front door reads “There are no strangers here – just friends who haven’t met yet.”
Barnes Wallis and his team used Chesil Beach as a testing site for the Dam Busters bouncing bomb during the war.
The pebbles vary considerably in size along the Jurassic Coast. They are pea sized in West Bay but the size of potatoes by the time you reach Portland. It is said that smugglers could easily always tell whereabouts they were along the coastline by the size of the stones beneath their feet.
Chesil Beach is advancing towards the mainland at the slow but steady pace of 15cm per year.
Flora and Fauna
Giant Sea Kale covered the stones at the start of our walk back along Chesil Beach.
Back at West Bexington, we saw some magnificent examples of the endangered Echium Pininana (Tree Echium/Pine Echium/Giant Viper’s Bugloss). This amazing plant produces a dense spike up to 4 metres high and carrying a dense mass of small blue flowers. Today, it was also carrying a large number of very busy bumble bees.
Day 4 - West Bexington to Abbotsbury along the South Dorset Ridgeway
Day walk – 11.1 miles – 17.9 kms – 5 hours (excluding stops).
The British weather had been very kind to us for the last 3 days, but today, a thick mist rolled in from the sea and hung over the coast all day. The mist was so dense it made our hair damp enough to stick to our heads and steamed up our glasses. There are meant to be beautiful views from the South Dorset Ridgeway, but today, it was difficult even to spot the cows and sheep in front of us. You could hear them, munching peacefully on the grass, but you couldn’t see them until they appeared suddenly on the path as if from out of nowhere. Maybe it was us singing “Mull of Kintyre, Oh its rolling in from the sea” that brought them out onto the path?
We decided to walk back along the Ridgeway in the afternoon in the hope that the sea mist would clear, but it hung stubbornly over the coast all day. The alternative route back is along Chesil Beach.
Abbotsbury is another achingly pretty thatched Dorset Village. It has an arts and craft shop as well as two really good tearooms. The Old Schoolhouse Tearooms has a huge collection of vintage china which it puts to good use every day. If you want some good conversation with your brew, choose Bellenie’s Bakehouse. The friendly owner there does everything he can to make sure your stay in Dorset is enjoyable.
Abbotsbury Sub Tropical Gardens
From the centre of Abbotsbury, it is only a short walk to visit the sub tropical Abbotsbury Gardens. Pre-book before you visit and enjoy 30 acres of rare and exotic plants many of which were first introductions to the UK by the avid plant hunters who first established the gardens. There is also an entertaining Woodland Sculpture Trail featuring celebrated characters from classic literature cast in bronze. The gardens are open all year round and there is always something to see whatever the season. If you are a Gardener’s World subscriber, you can benefit from a 2-for-1 entrance ticket to the gardens.
St. Catherine's Chapel
From the gardens, you can (just!) see St. Catherine’s chapel. St. Catherine was a fiercely intelligent woman who decided that she would remain a virgin and only marry someone who surpassed her in beauty, intelligence, wealth and dignity.
Catherine was condemned to death by Roman Emperor Maxatius for trying to convince him not to persecute Christians. The death was to be carried out on a wheel with sword points, giving rise to the origin of the Catherine Wheel.
Wish I Had Seen - Abbotsbury Swannery
The world’s only managed colony of nesting mute swans is housed at the Abbotsbury Swannery. You can buy a joint ticket with the Gardens and save a bit of cash. May and June are great months to visit because that is when the cygnets hatch. The downside of being on a walking holiday though is that it does take a long time to walk between places and we just didn’t have quite enough time to fit in a walk all the way to the Swannery and back. It is a 1.7 mile walk between the two, so the trip would have added 3.4 miles as well as the time needed for the visit. The only way to do this really would have been to have booked a ticket for the following morning and stopped on the way back home for a visit by car.