Route: South West Coast Path, returning slightly inland
Approximate distance: 10km
Start / Finish: Lulworth Cove parking area
Highlights: Lumpy chalky beauty where the iconic Dorset countryside crumbles into the sea
I cannot entirely credit my father for my love of walking. I am an independent being after all and would happily wander off long before he became an eager companion on countryside rambles and coastal clambers. However, genetics must have played a part, visibly manifest in the struggle both of us face in sitting still for lengthy periods, a restlessness exaggerated when in each other’s company. There has to be a plan, a purpose – even an excuse – to get off the couch and to go outdoors.
I will be very happy if I inherit Dad’s enthusiasm and capacity to march on well into his sixties. Perhaps less enamoured if I develop his almost uncanny knack to take a misguided shortcut over a boggy creek or a densely brambled thicket, a misstep correlated with reliance on a guidebook from the 1950s that he picked up at the village fete. Some things in rural England have actually changed since the 1950s, believe it or not.
While I’m pretty sure I’ve developed a better sense of direction, he’s often the one taking the lead. Both in planning and execution. Thus, when I floated the prospect of a walk on the Dorset coast – prompted by exposure to iconic pictures of crumbly rocks, perfect curves and rolling downs, coupled with a belief that I had never been there before – Dad was all too happy to provide an education. Aided by some walking notes that he had discovered somewhere on the internet. Fancy relying on the internet for walking information…
What I can accurately say now is that this walk is both a beauty and a beast. The beauty is self-evident, but the beastly undulations are at times lung-busting and leg-sapping. In fact, undulations is such a tame descriptor given the steepness of some of the climbs and descents on this transverse wave of a coastline. Up one precipitous hummock, down the next. And so on. Thankfully, Dad’s research and generally sound sense of direction this time around created a loop walk, cutting out some of the undulations on the return.
It’s a clear and mild early September day, a glare reflecting off the English Channel as we set off from the large parking area at Lulworth Cove. A sign of what’s in store is immediately apparent as the South West Coast Path heads west from here up a steep hill which includes some steps. But the accompanying views provide ample excuse to stop as we pass over the first climb of the day and head down towards Durdle Door.
Quickly into the walk, this section provides the most iconic and memorable highlights, as the anvil headland of Durdle Door is flanked by quiet gravelly bays and azure waters. The ‘door’ itself is a popular spot for selfies and picnics and, well, Bollywood movies. With such captivating scenery, it is a spot to make a bit of a song and dance about.
With these sights ticked off and the prospect of what lies ahead, there is validity in turning around here and heading back to the car. Continuing west along the coast path brings us to a spot known as Scratchy Bottom, a place name that screams Dorset, but one that could also justifiably be Scratchy Head, as you ponder whether to take on the next lump of a climb. These hills, this coastline resembles a wine rack abutting the sea, and we’re in between bottles about to take on a Magnum of Veuve Clicquot.
Still, the path is clear and steps have been naturally carved out by millions of individuals scrambling up the hill over the years, chalky white holes in which to seek refuge and thrust forward with momentum. Again, views encourage pause and reflection and time for a sup of water before getting over the top and heading downhill once again.
The path continues in this general pattern for a while, though the gradient of each hill seems to get more gradual and the descent more placid. The dazzling white cliffs and eroded rocks continue to crumble into inaccessible fringes of beach, past Bat’s Head and Middle Bottom, before rising up once more to a Beacon and yet another arse of a place, West Bottom. It is from here that you can look back on the ‘undulating’ course you have taken, clearly having given those glutes a good workout.
After West Bottom, the coastline abruptly changes, with the perpendicular cliffs dissipating into Hardy countryside, dotted with thatched villages and cloaked in sweeping green pasture. Vicars drink tea and ladies eat cucumber sandwiches before engaging in an illicit romp with the groundskeeper. In the distance, the Isle of Portland seemingly hovers above the sea, beyond the genteel sands of Weymouth.
It is from here that the walk veers inland and, of course, the navigation can seem a little trickier. But it is open, lofty countryside and keeping the general principle of having the sea to our right, we turn and comfortably follow a reasonably flat ridge bordering a farmland plateau. At points you can see further into England, making out other downs and ridges. But you are never that far from the ocean, walking above places you had earlier traversed and paused and panted. From up high, the various bottoms appear deep and curvaceous, bowl shaped valleys leading down to the sea.
The walk encounters civilisation again nearing Lulworth, passing beside a caravan park and meandering down through a farm dotted with cows and sheds and plump blackberries waiting to be picked. Cute cottages nestle into the cluster that is West Lulworth. The cows seem content, the countryside ample, the villages oozing charm.
We end this walk similarly blessed, a touch weary but thankful for the journey and the return to the car. There is more to take in at Lulworth, with its famous cove and its presence of ice cream, proving that walking is not the only passion I share with my Dad. The ice cream gene is strong in our bloodline, and we’ll happily hike a long, undulating distance to get one.
- The walk we did didn’t explicitly take in Lulworth Cove, but its western end is just a short detour from the car park where we started out. It’s definitely worth the visit to take in the bay and marvel at the geography. There are also facilities in the area, including ice cream!
- Weymouth is the nearest large town with ample provisions and activities. It also seems to be quite a pleasant spot, with a large sandy beach and numerous places for a bite to eat or drink.
- Of course, you could continue on and on and on from here…the South West Coast Path is estimated to take a good solid eight weeks to complete!
This might have been Dad’s walking notes, from Countryfile: https://www.countryfile.com/go-outdoors/walks/durdle-door-dorset/
Dorset meets Delhi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj6q4JR_Ppw
Walking the Jurassic Coast: https://jurassiccoast.org/visit/walking-the-jurassic-coast/
National Trust, Jurassic Coast: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/days-out/regionsouthwest/jurassic-coast
A previous blog post from my time down in Dorset: https://gbpilgrim.com/2015/10/10/walking-in-an-unknown-wonderland/