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Jurassic Coast - England, South-west, United Kingdom

SW Coast Path Weymouth to Studland

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 proper countryside and within minutes we can’t believe the unspoilt beauty of the Jurassic Coast (when did it adopt that name?) and apparent solitude.  We’re the only walkers on a Saturday morning in May.

By the time we reach the Smuggler’s Inn at Osmington Mills the crowds are gathering – and why shouldn’t they?  The Smuggler’s is a great place to start and finish a circular walk and it’s a fine stopping point for those on the Coast Path.

We continue east past the historic Ringstead Village and the rises and falls of the path begin to increase.  For those who haven’t done any of it, don’t think that the Coast Path is flat; the first stage I walked in Devon involved the same climb as sea level to the top of Snowden.  Totally mis-calculating we did it in an afternoon and could hardly move the next day.

Today we ascend Burning Cliff and pass White Nothe Coast Guard cottages on the cliff edge looking down on millennia-old debris from collapsed cliffs, now greened over.

Approaching Bat’s Head with its open arch, we descend through the moraine of historic sea erosion which has been farmed for centuries.  Walking through West Bottom, Middle Bottom and the impossibly named Scratchy Bottom (pic) the number of walkers increases further.  It is busy.  Very busy.  Why aren’t they all watching the FA Cup final?  Durdle Dour and Lulworth Cove are ahead and with them car parks and people; lots of them.  The scenery is no less beautiful, that’s why they’re here, but as we descend into the village of Lulworth the path can only be described as a motorway.  The additional 2.5km looking for coffee are starting to tell on my legs.

Rudds of Lulworth, a small hotel and restaurant advertising fresh lobster, has been here for 60 years.  After a hot shower, all thoughts of the African tent have gone.

The walk was about 17.2km plus our 2.5km on the coffee hunt.  Total ascent 576m, total descent was 578m m on a barometric altimeter (a bit more accurate than GPS on a watch or phone).


Day 2 – Lulworth to Kimmeridge

At 8 am Lulworth was sunny and free from visitors; apart from some hardy early morning swimmers we had the place to ourselves.  After eggs benedict we set off.  The first part of the path heading east from Lulworth was closed due to collapsing cliffs and the diversion wasn’t obvious.  You can walk round the cove on the beach, depending on the tide and your willingness to scramble over rocks halfway round.  We chose to follow a signpost up the road towards West Lulworth and then double back through the start of the “range walks” adding about 1km to the day.  You have to pick you time for this stage; it can only be done at the weekend or on a bank holiday.  The Lulworth Camp army base practice shelling here at other times; hence “range walks”.

Climbing out of Lulworth Cove we were alone again – the contrast to the descent into it the evening before couldn’t have been greater.  Strolling along past Bindon Hill towards Mupe Rocks the walking was gentle and we looked forward to a relatively short day of about 13km.  However, as we swing left and inland round Mupe Bay we saw the 100m climb to the top of Bindon Hill in front of us.  With steps cut into it, it looked almost vertical.  At the top we chatted with two walkers who were training for the Poole – Weymouth 100km – their target time 28hrs.  They had just been on what would be their overnight leg.  When we told then we were walking to Kimmeridge, their reply was “Good luck! It’s lumpy!”.  What a great word – “lumpy”. Seasoned sailors use it to describe seas when what they should be saying is terrifying.

From there follows a series of steep 150m ascents and descents, down into Arish Mell, back up through the remains of a hill fort to Flowers Barrow, down to the remains of the village of Worbarrow and up again to the top of Gad Cliff.  We see runners presumably training for the 100km and at Worbarrow, several people who have parked at the abandoned village of Tyneham and walked down to the sea.

As we drop off Tyneham Cap for the last descent of the day, the rock colour changes from white to grey, as does the weather; forecast rain begins to spit and the clouds take on a brooding, dense green-grey appearance.

We turn inland again, up through the rape fields towards the village and the miles seem to get longer as tired legs won’t kick in.

Kimmeridge has an excellent restaurant, Clavell’s, which serves Sunday lunch until a very civilised 4-o’clock.  A fine end to the day.

Total ascent 608m, total descent 581m.  Not much more than yesterday but much steeper!


Day 3 – Kimmeridge to Swanage

We’re into the Isle of Purbeck now and the sense of greater isolation is immediate; for the 22km or so from Kimmeridge village to our overnight stopping point in Swanage no roads reach the coast.  It’s Monday morning so the weekend walkers are back at work, but as we pull up a small rise past Clavell’s Tower – a lookout built by one the many eccentric 19thC English reverends and similarly eccentrically moved inland in 2005 by the Landmark Trust to avoid crumbling cliffs – the path becomes quite overgrown.

The weather is rather grey, humid and oppressive; the bright limestone cliffs are behind us replaced by grey crumbly slopes.  I normally have Mr Walkopedia with me to elucidate on rock types; not today.  We have walked for several km above Kimmeridge Ledges with some alarming cracks adjacent to the path without seeing anyone and it’s not until Rope Lake Head that we see a figure walking towards us. 

The first part of the day is much gentler than yesterday but as we see St Adhelm’s Head in front of us we are faced with a steep climb up steps at Houns-tout Cliff above Egmont Point. Once over the top we descend steps into a deep, grassy valley system of woods and meadows, cattle and sheep, different to previous landscapes.  We contour round half way down and follow a stream through a wooded valley, before we make a sharp turn, cross the stream and start to climb, again, towards the top of Emmetts Hill, the flat top to the headland.  Worth Matravers is not far inland and we see walkers doing a circuit from there.  We can see the coast guard cottages and chapel at the point, level in front of us from a couple of km away, but as we get close there is yet another steep drop with steps down and back up the best part of a 100m deep.  Lunch at the top by the look-out station and after the exertions of the morning we both dose for 30 mins in the sun in the improving weather.

It’s a long haul today and when we wake at 2pm we realise that we still have 11km to walk. We can see Anvil Point, the beginning of the turn around the corner to Durlston Bay and then Swanage Bay, but it’s about 7/8km away.  We walk along the edge of farmed slopes and cross valleys as streams meet the coast.  The closer we are to Swanage the more people we see, school groups doing coasteering trips and bizarrely a photoshoot for bridal wear. But still compared to previous days we feel we are in remote countryside.

As we pass the lighthouse, then the dolphin lookout point and Durlston Head Castle we see people who have the look of not being far from their cars.  The evening is now glorious and as the view towards Bournemouth opens up, evening sailing boats are streaming out over the glistening sea.

Our B&B tonight is not well-located and we have to cut diagonally through the suburbs of Swanage for 1.5km and, guess what, cross quite a steep rise.  Tired legs make it seem much further and finally we find our stone clad home for the night, a mile inland from the sea.

We tackled nearly as many hills as yesterday and walked much further - total ascent 608m, total descent 581m. 


Day 4 – Swanage to Studland

At 11km and little climbing, the shortest and easiest walk of our 4 days – we should finish in time for a late lunch.  We don’t quite re-join the coast where we left off last evening, but head down the High Street towards the sea and branch right.  The loop round Peveril Point is well worth it for the view across to Bournemouth on this clearest of days. 

A brief stop in town for emergency supplies and then we walk across Swanage Bay on the beach front before briefly cutting back inland through more houses and emerging some metres above sea level when we re-join the coast.  Another school group and excited chatter about the dolphin just seen. The walker in front of us grumbles that they’ve been coming for years and never seen one.

The day is delightful.  A dazzlingly bright and clear late spring morning.  Our last day now and we skip up the hill to Ballard Down and Ballard Point, the same geological spine that we left after Lulworth Cove; a wide view of Swanage Bay behind us.  More school parties, day walkers and some who have the look of being on the last of many walking stages; all are out in the sun above Harry’s Rock and Handfast Point with the wide and expansive view of the Isle of Wight and Bournemouth.  Walking down the grassy slope there is a strong smell of wild garlic, the source of which we irritatingly fail to find.

We stroll along the final stage with The Pig Hotel now in view, only a 4-day walk, but with the satisfying glow of achievement

Total ascent 608m, total descent 581m. 

Day 5 - Studland to The End

After a luxurious night’s sleep with the view of Harry’s Rocks in the sunset and a cooked breakfast in the morning we stroll 4.5km along the beach barefoot to the sign; “Minehead 630 (miles)”.  Which stages do we do next?

Total ascent 0m, total descent 0m. 

By Paul Hadaway ()

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