Key information: Jurassic Coast
- This National Trail and World Heritage Site is part of the 660-mile South West Coast Path.
- The route, from Exmouth to Poole Harbour, passes through some of the UKs most beautiful coastal scenery and of the worlds most important geological landscapes.
- Huge choice of walks, from easy tastes of the south-wests delicious coastline to strenuous 24+ km hikes through dramatic rifts, cliffs and rock strata.
- The backyard of evolution: fossils found here led to the birth of palaeontology, the classification of the first dinosaurs and inspiration for, among others, Darwin.
- Walkopedia rating86
- Natural interest17
- Human interest8
- Negative points0
- Total rating86
- Note: Negs: pretty popular in high season
- Length: 152km in total
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The counties of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are perennially popular British holiday spots: the combination of relatively good summer weather, a relatively low population and dramatic coastlines scattered with good beaches have made this area popular with leisure travelers since the Georgian spa vogue.
The Jurassic coast, which runs from the red-rock cliffs of Exmouth to the lovely limestone of the Isle of Purbeck in the east, has a particularly powerful charisma: its rugged landscape could be said to be the birthplace of palaeontology. Though the first classified dinosaur bones were discovered on the edge of the Cotswolds, the sheer wealth of fossils pouring out of the crumbling rocks of these cliffs continue to provide exciting discoveries today. This is a great place for dino-mad children, though getting them to quit the fossil-strewn beaches and actually take a walk might be a problem.
The Jurassic coast is, ultimately, a living geology lesson; a history of the earth over hundreds of millions of years. Indeed, the Devonian Period is named after the county, where outcrops of its typical iron-rich red sandstone deposits, riddled with the fossils of the earliest land-walking fish, are common especially in the area between Exmouth and Sidmouth, which, at the time, straddled the equator as part of the continent of Euramerica.
The Undercliff nature reserve, outside lovely Georgian Lyme Regis, is a picture-perfect landslide of sandstone over clay a celebrated event in 1839 which brought flocks of visitors, including Queen Victoria. Because of the instability of the land, Lymes beaches have surrendered remains of ichthyosaurs, dimorphodons, plesiosaurs and many, many more.
28km-long Chesil beachs collection of perfect round pebbles, which increase in size as you work your way eastwards, remains a geological mystery, while the Isle of Portland, rearing majestically from the sea, hosts petrified forests 135 million years old and ancient quarries. Further east, beyond the dramatic rock arch of Durdle Door, Lulworth bay is a fine example of rock vulnerabilities: when a stream broke through the coastal limestone barrier, the sea eroded a perfect horseshoe of softer clay all the way to the impermeable chalk cliffs behind. The Isle of Purbeck, a National Trust site covered in castles and home to a wondrous collection of wildlife, rises up over the inner marshland surrounding Poole harbor, passing the petrified footprints of gigantic dinosaurs and affording majestic vistas of chalk stacks such as the celebrated Old Harry, only a few thousand years ago a sturdy part of the mainland.
The breathtaking history of the earth represented by these features, however, cannot begin to communicate their effect on eye and heart. The whole stretch of the Jurassic coast is an admirable mix of rural and elegant, of mild and dramatic, overlaid with a powerful sense of Britains age-old relationship with the cradle of life itself, the ocean.
See Routes below for details of recommended walking: Seaton / Lyme Regis Undercliff / Golden Cap; Portland; and the Studland Peninsula.
OUR FRIENDS' EXPERIENCES
SW Coast Path Weymouth to Studland 2019 - Paul Hadaway
Day 1 - Weymouth to Lulworth
2 months ago I was sitting in a small ripped tent awake at 2am with an upset stomach in the Simien Mts in Ethiopia thinking I was over camping – too rough and too tiring.
In the B&B in Weymouth in a room of Alice in Wonderland proportions and a paper-thin wall allowing the couple arguing 3 rooms away to interrupt sleep, I was nostalgic for my African tent.
We added 2.5km to the first day’s planned 18km looking for an acceptable coffee in Weymouth. I don’t have anything particular against Weymouth, the surviving Georgian architecture is fabulous (pic 1) and over 30 years ago I married Lisa here. We’re still married and walking to Studland together.
It’s our first trip to Weymouth since our wedding day, the sun is coming out and when we found it, the coffee was highly acceptable. The attraction of Studland of course is that the Pig-on-the-Beach is there. A 4-day trot to the Pig.
One of the many great things about SW Coast path is that nothing gets in its way; through town and country it carries on – 630 miles of stunningly beautiful coastline. And as a result, walking out of a town the people change noticeably, reducing in number and altering in character and dress. From Weymouth to the outer reaches of Preston walking along the sea wall with the cliffs of Redcliffe Point, Osmington Mills, Ringstead Bay and White Nothe stretching out before us, the number of people thin, they still all wear track suits but the bodies thin too. Walking carrying a bag of doughnuts can’t be exercise can it?
Leaving Preston behind we’re in.....READ MORE
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
The Official Guide to the Jurassic Coast: Dorset and East Devon's World Heritage Coast- Denys Brunsden/ Coastal Publishing.
South West Coast Path: Exmouth to Poole (National Trail Guides)– Roland Tarr /Aurum Press Ltd
Walking the West Jurassic Coast: Orcombe Point to the Fleet - Robert Westwood/Coastal Publishing.
Walking the East Jurassic Coast: Portland to Studland- Robert Westwood/Coastal Publishing.
The South West Coast Path: From Minehead to South Haven Point (British Long-distance Trails) - Paddy Dillon/Cicerone
A Boot Up Dorset's Jurassic Coast – Rodney Legg/Pixz Books
Geology of the Jurassic Coast: The Red Coast Revealed Exmouth to Lyme Regis- Richard Edwards /Coastal publishing. Companion to the official guide.
The Dorset Coast – Adam Burton/Frances Lincoln.
Professor P and the Jurassic Coast– Peter James Davidson,Alicia Tara Royce/ Positive Books. Fun children’s romp through prehistory.
Jurassic Coast Monsters– JurassicCoast Team,Darrell Wakelam/ Coastal Publishing. A children’s guide to the finds on the Jurassic coast
Time Out Devon & Cornwall - Time Out Guides Ltd
Basic online map here
South West Coast Path 5: Plymouth to Sidmouth(Route Map) – Harvey Map Services Ltd
South West Coast Path 6: Sidmouth to South Haven Point(Route Map) – Harvey Map Services Ltd
Lyme Regis and Bridport (OS Explorer Map) - Ordnance Survey
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk.An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
The UK is generally blessed with a mild climate, but be prepared for rain at any time. Hardy types who like a good sea-storm will probably get a kick out of Winter, bearing the short daylight hours in mind.
Train: There are many stations along the south coast.Try National Rail Enquiries for times and tickets (tickets bought 48+ hours ahead are generally very significantly cheaper).
Buses go to most start-points: try Traveline South-West for details
No permits are needed to do this walk.
There’s not a dull stretch along this path, but Walkopedia recommends:
Seaton/The Lyme Regis Undercliff/Golden Cap: 11/22 km, Moderate-Strenuous. A wonderful walk of contrasts which leads through marshes, clifftops, the dense, steamy pseudo-tropical woodland of the Lyme Regis Undercliff, the elegant delight of Lyme Regis itself, the fossil-strewn beach at Charmouth and a good climb up to spectacular views on the Golden Cap, the south coast’s highest point. 7 miles Seaton-Lyme; 7 miles on past Golden Cap to Seatown. Note that the Undercliff, formed by a massive 19th-century landslide, is unstable off the path, and the only way out is forward or back, with no habitations along the route; expect to spend 2-3 hours on this stretch and plan accordingly.
Portland: 21 km circuit, 9.5 km one-way with bus links; easy-moderate. Portland is essentially a limestone island jutting out into the rough west English Channel. With a coastline consisting almost entirely of spectacular cliffs, this – and particularly Portland Bill lighthouse, at its Southern tip – is a great place both for views over Chesil Beach and along the coast (you see more of it from here than from any other point) and off into the wild expanses of the ocean. Walk a circuit starting at Chesil Beach and finishing at Ferry Bridge, or walk one-way to Portland Bill and catch the x10 bus back; passing ancient quarries, ruined castles, sculptures, a tiny museum, a bird observatory, butterfly sanctuary and pirates’ graveyard on the way.
The Studland Peninsula: 12/24 km, moderate: the final leg of the south coast path and Jurassic coast leads from the lovely village of Worth Matravers (there’s a great pub here, the last time of visiting – Scotch Eggs were the only food on the menu), for a stretch of high but easy clifftop walking past St Adhelm’s and Durlston Heads, the remains mediaeval strip-farming, a quarry, a lighthouse, giant stone globe, castle and deepwater swimming at Dancing Ledge before dropping down to the former fishing village of Swanage (roughly 13km), now a popular holiday spot. Catch the bus to Poole/Bournemouth from here, or climb up onto Ballard Down for breathtaking views of the Old Harry chalk stacks before crossing from World Heritage Site to the National Trust reserve of Studland Heath. Backing on to three celebrated miles of sand beach (and – be warned – an equally celebrated naturist strip), the heath is a haven to much wildlife that is almost extinct elsewhere, including smooth snakes and sand lizards – and also, beware – adders. From near the steel sculpture at South Haven that marks the end of the trail, catch the chain ferry back to Poole. Keep an eye out for dinosaur footprints all along this coast, and also keep an eye trained on the sea for local, much-loved, dolphins.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Heights: much of this coast consists of cliffs not all of them 100% stable. If in doubt, stick to the paths, especially in the Lyme Regis Undercliff, which is both isolated and riddled with hidden crevasses.
- Southern England’s moors and heathlands are home to poisonous adders, though they’re not exactly swarming. But take appropriate precautions and wear boots.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently. A useful company, Luggage Transfers, will carry bags between pretty much every overnighting point along the South West Coast Path.
While this walk can be done independently, a number of companies run organised trips. They include:
- Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation
- List on the England tourism site
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
Jurassic coast central site
South West Coast path official site
Useful information to be winkled out here
National Trust page
Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
Coast-to-coast: this is one of the narrower parts of the UK. Inland from the Jurassic coast lie, among other areas, Dartmoor and Exmoor, the rich ancient farmlands of rural Devon and Dorset and, further on, the Somerset levels, the wilds of Cornwall and, beyond Bournemouth, the pony-filled New Forest.
Castles, fishing, swimming, diving, birdwatching, museums, many old markets towns and their churches, a range of great places to eat…
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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