Branksome to Kimmeridge Bay / Tynham to Sidmouth


WarningBetween Kimmeridge and Lulworth are 7,000 acres of MOD property that can only be walked between the wire fences during the weekend when the army aren’t playing games with their tanks. The army may own some of the best parts of the coast but it would be nice if they could find a less sensitive location to blow up.

old phone boxHowever, it remains unspoilt because of the Army's activities and the area is rich in wildlife because pesticides have not been sprayed. Wildflowers, butterflies, glowworms and dragonflies are common and the rare sand lizard and smooth snake can also be found here.

In the middle of the range is the village of Tynham that was evacuated in 1943 in order that the army might have space in which to practice for the invasion of Europe, but whose inhabitants are still waiting to come back!

TynhamWhen the residents left they pinned the following note to the church door:

Please treat the church and houses with care; We have given up our homes where many of us have lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. we will return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.

schoolroomThe village decayed in the 1970s and has now become a bit of a tourist attraction with a museum.

In the little school the children's work is still on display on their desks. All very sad but very well worth the visit.

Durdle Door

Durdle DoorWe finally found the path to Durdle Door through a huge caravan park. Like most of the coast, it is inaccessible by car, you have to walk or take a boat.

Rock archThis natural arch of Portland stone ranks high amongst Britain's coastal wonders - it should not be missed! The arch is a remnant of the hard limestone cliff which protected the chalk behind. It is big enough to permit a boat to pass through in calm weather.

There are a lot of steps down to the beaches on either side and going back up is a bit of a puff but it is pretty spectacular.

Facing eastThe first record of the name appears in 1811 when it was called Dirdale Door perhaps meaning the hill with a hole.

The folding in the rocks is pretty amazing. Eventually the bays from here to Lulworth and beyond will merge leaving a remnant reef offshore.

Facing westFolded Rocks

Lulworth Cove

Lulworth CoveWe drove through East Lulworth with a mass of thatched cottages and cream teas advertised on every other building. On reaching Lulworth Cove we found an enormous visitor centre and car park which are probably filled to the brim in the summer. I’m not quite sure whether I would rather see the place in all its sunny glory surrounded by tourists or on a day like today with minimal people and a wind that held you up if you leaned against it. The latter I suspect, as the cove is beautiful with huge waves crashing on the cliffs.

Lulworth CoveOnce called Lulvorde meaning the enclosure belonging to Lulla, Lulworth is a beauty spot, a freak of geology, the circular cove being formed when the sea broke through a narrow band of hard limestone into an area of softer chalk.

Stair HoleThe Lulworth Crumple is a severe distortion in the chalk strata that remains from the process that built the Purbeck Ridge. The same process built the Alps and the Pyrenees. Twenty million years ago Purbeck must have been a place of frequent earthquakes.

We climbed above Stair Hole and attempted to stand up straight in the wind, supporting each other in an attempt to hold the video camera steady. The folding in the rocks is absolutely amazing and Lulworth Cove itself is almost a circle, entirely surrounded by white cliffs.

Fossil treesAt the top of the cliffs is a fossil forest. The Fossil Forest is an amazing example of fossils left behind by trees millions of years ago. The 'tufa' are fossilised rings of algae that gathered around tree trunks as a forest flooded nearly 150 million years ago.

Lulworth CoveWe walked along the narrow beach and there were a few people around; the sound of the sea on the pebbles was brilliant. We had a look in the heritage centre which was a bit of information but mainly ‘how much can we sell to the tourists’ and retreated to our van for sustenance.

Lulworth CastleIt became apparent by now that the rain had beaten us so we headed for the dry interior of Lulworth Castle and were pleasantly rewarded. This was begun in 1588, finished in the 17th century and destroyed by fire in 1929.

Lulworth Castle kitchenDuring the last ten years English Heritage has performed a fantastic restoration it in a very fitting way. The small Catholic chapel in the grounds is also worth a look.

Around Dorchester

Bovington CampTo the north of Wool is Bovington Camp which is a tank training area and has an overpriced tank museum that is the peace offering for the mutilation of the heathland. The roads are full of 'tank crossing' signs and are quite wide - for the tanks no doubt - and there is a tank viewing area for the anoraks. We found Laurence of Arabia’s Cottage hidden by the tank training area at Clouds Hill which is now a National Trust property.

Back on the road to Dorchester we drove along the River Piddle flanked by odd-named villages - Affpuddle, Briants Puddle, Piddlehinton, Piddletrenthide and Puddletown.

TolpuddleAt Tolpuddle there is a little museum where the six Tolpuddle Martyrs were tried for forming the first Trade Union to get a better wage for their starving families. They were transported, but later pardoned after public outcry. On a hillside not far away, the 180ft Cerne Abbas Giant was carved into the chalk before the Roman invasion and is very impressive.

Maiden CastleMaiden Castle is an astonishing monument of the past, a huge 115-acre hill-fort that was begun around 2400BC and was used by Bronze and Iron Age people is the largest hill fort in Britain. 'Maiden' derives from the Celtic 'Mai Dun', which means 'great hill'. It was known to have been the stronghold of the Durotriges tribe, until The Romans trounced them and went on to found Dorchester, their main southwestern town.

DorchesterDorchester is the county town with many buildings of Portland stone and famed as Casterbridge in Hardy’s novels. Other local authors include Jane Austen, Henry Fielding and John Fowles. We went into the lovely county museum, bursting with the interesting history of the area.

DorchesterKing John lived in the long gone Norman castle and it became famous for cloth and ales in the Middle Ages. It became Puritan by the Civil War when Judge Jeffreys presided over the Bloody Assize and sentenced 292 men to death after the Monmouth Rebellion.

Further evidence of Roman occupation can be found south of the town at Maumbury Rings, where the Romans built an amphitheatre capable of seating 10,000 people.

Cerne Abbas GiantTo the north is the famous Cerne Abbas Giant, carved into the chalk in a field by the road.

Not on the coast but worth a mention!!


Ringstead Bay The weather was better the next day so we went back to the coast to Ringstead Bay where there are marks of an abandoned middle age village. It lies east of the 'Burning Cliff', named because a chemical reaction ignited the shales in 1826 and smouldered for several years.

OsmingtonOn the road from Osmington Mills to Bowleaze Cove a huge figure of George III on horseback is cut into the chalk hillside.

George IIIWe arrived at Weymouth with its Georgian terraces along the esplanade and fine sandy beach where George III 'took the waters' and started the bathing fashion in 1789. There is a statue of him on the front. Weymouth is very nice as resorts go and there is plenty to do.

clock towerThe brightly painted clock tower was built in 1887 for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

A port since medieval times, Weymouth takes its name from the original settlement on the west bank of the River Wey, the one on the east bank was where the Black Death arrived in England in 1348. The two towns were united in 1571. The large river harbour is full of yachts, cruisers and cargo ships.

Nothe FortClimbing up the Nothe Headland there is an old fort with gardens and fine views over Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour. Nothe Fort was built in 1860 as part of the defence of Portland Harbour to house a 12 gun battery of massive cannons. Later adapted for modern guns, it remained in active service until 1956 when coastal Defence was abandoned. It has been restored and opened to the public by Weymouth Civic Society.

HarbourWe walked to the old harbour where a tall ship was moored, it was busy with fishing boats, pleasure craft and ferries to Jersey and Guernsey.

Brewers QuayNearby, is the tarted-up warehouse/shopping village called Brewers Quay, where we bought some locally made pasties and chutney for lunch.

It is a redevelopment of the former Devenish Brewery with original paved courtyards and alleys and a Timewalk attraction.



View from Verne YeatesThe Isle of Portland juts out like a bird's beak into the English Channel but is not really an island, although it is only joined to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. The road is about two miles long and runs between Chesil Bank and the huge man-made naval harbour.

Portland CastleThe land is formed from a massive block of limestone rising from near sea level in the south to over 400 ft high in the north. Portland Castle is a fortress built by Henry VIII and lost amongst the naval buildings and a prison.

Almost immediately the road went up a very steep hill to Verne Yeates with immense views of Chesil Bank and the coast as far as Lulworth.

dinosaur footprintsPortland has been inhabited since early times and traces of occupation have been dated back 7,000 years. The Romans knew it as 'Vindilis' and Thomas Hardy wrote about it as 'The Isle of Slingers' due to the fact that Portlanders used to throw stones to keep Kimberlins (strangers) away.

SculptureThe isle is an austere place, densely populated, with no trees and a lot of quarries, some still producing Portland Stone and some with dinosaur footprints in the stone. The island is a Royal Manor and many of the quarries are owned by the crown.

Tout Quarry contains many sculptures, some of which are easy to see while others are much harder to find.

Portland BillThe breakwater, which forms one of the largest harbours in the world (2130 acres), was finished in 1872. The twenty-three years of construction had cost the lives of twenty-two men. Most of the construction work was carried out by convicts, who had hewn stone to form the breakwater at a cost of £1,167,852

Trinity House TowerPulpit RockAt the Bill of Portland there is a red and white lighthouse, built in 1906 and the Trinity House Tower that is now a bird observatory. In spite of the difficulty of actually standing up in the severe wind, several people had climbed onto Pulpit Rock. The 'Races', fast flowing currents, meet here and have been responsible for many disasters. The waves are spectacular.

Chesil Beach

Chesil BankWe were attracted to the phenomenon of Chesil Bank which connects Portland to the mainland and runs westwards along the coast for 17 miles, enclosing a massive elongated lagoon known as the Fleet. We parked the van facing into the howling wind in the carpark on the landward side of Chesil Bank and ate our lunch, before climbing over through ankle deep pebbles to reach the sea.


The gales hit us as we reached the top and the waves were crashing in - the sea was awesome and quite magnetic to watch. The pebble bank disappears out of site to the west in a very straight line. It was brilliant.

The area was used in the 1940s by Barnes Wallis to test his bouncing bomb and it was the setting for the smuggling novel Moonfleet.

The bank was formed during the last Ice Age; the pebbles are graded from large at the Portland end to smaller in the west and the bank is 40 ft high in places. It has become a graveyard to many ships over the centuries.


SwanneryThe only way to keep by the shore is by walking along the pebble bank or on the coast path inside the lagoon. At the other end is Abbotsbury with its swannery that has existed since 1393.

swansThe swans are wild but return to the sanctuary to nest and be fed. We saw sick and orphaned birds that are being protected and hundreds of cygnets hatch in June.

Once dominated by a large Abbey, the only building remaining is the stone Tithe barn - one of the largest in England.

Tithe barnThe Abbey was surrendered during the dissolution of the monasteries and much of its stone has been used elsewhere. Overlooking the village is the 14th century St Catherine's chapel that survived the dissolution because of its importance as a navigational landmark.

The sun on the pebble bank creates a mild mini-climate for the plants in the sub-tropical gardens located here.

Bridport and West Bay

BridportThere is a beautiful stretch of coast with lovely views all the way to Lyme Regis, we drove through Burton Bradstock to Bridport.

West BayBridport was the focus for the rope and netmaking industry in the 13th century, hence the long, narrow rope-walks used originally for twisting and drying the cord and twine.

The Georgian Town Hall has a clock tower and white painted cupola and most houses in the town are 18th and 19th century.

West BayBridport is a mile inland but it has a small harbour where ships were built until 1879. Soon afterwards, it was renamed West Bay in an attempt to develop the area as a resort.

There is a big caravan park for summer visitors and the BBC series 'Harbour Lights' was filmed here.


Golden Cap from SeatownThere are a couple of little shingle beaches at Eype Mouth and Seatown and a mile to the west is Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast. It got its name from the yellow gorse bushes and golden sandstone at the top. It is an excellent for views from Portland Bill to Start Point.

This area is known as the Jurassic Coast, a tribute to the vast number of marine fossils that have been found crammed in the cliffs and at one place, you may see dinosaur footprints.

We found a campsite at Charmouth, complete with a fish and chip van and indoor pool.

CharmouthThe rocky shore near Charmouth was very pretty in the morning sunlight. At high tide no sand can be seen but it is possible to walk along the beach to Lyme at low tide - if you are quick.

ammonitesOn the way, there is a fossil beach with massive ammonites and it was here that the first complete ichthyosaurus was discovered in 1811.

The main cliff is called Black Ven and it is a cliff of mud which acts like a large conveyor belt depositing fossils on the beach.

Black VenThe west Dorset coastline in and around Charmouth is one of the most studied areas in England for studying Jurassic geology, and for collecting Jurassic and Cretaceous fossils as the cliff faces are continually collapsing.

The day after we were there, a family got caught in a rock fall. Several geology enthusiasts were out hammering. We went and had a look in the small fossil shop by the shore and then drove back up the small hilly street.

Lyme Regis

Lyme RegisWe immediately liked Lyme Regis although this may have been enhanced by the sudden appearance of a cloudless sky and warm day. The Regency town is charming but is a traffic nightmare with all the traffic being squeezed between tea and gift shops on a steep hill.

Marine ParadeThere seems to be a local practice of ignoring double yellow lines and making the situation worse. We found this even more annoying on returning to the vast EMPTY car park to find a parking ticket for not being in the correct place! If we had first driven round the entire carpark, we would have found the bays designated to camper vans!! Nevertheless we dutifully paid up - as you do.

Gun Cliff WalkLyme Regis's history reaches as far back as the 8th century when monks distilled salt from the sea water.

The CobbDown on the beach the fossil hunters were out here as well and we walked along the Gun Cliff Walk and the beach to the old harbour with the famous 600ft long Cobb breakwater. This was originally constructed in the 13th century from massive oak beams and boulders to provide protection for the harbour.

Lyme Regis harbourThis little harbour was built for fishing but is now thick with pleasure boats; its claim to fame was the filming of The French Lieutenant’s Woman starring Meryl Streep. The sand flies were out in force as we walked on the top of the sea walls as the waves crashed onto the promontory.

BewareThe little church, built on three levels, is said to be slowly sliding down the cliff. The coast is liable to mudslides as can be seen to the west at Dowlands Cliffs where the main fall occurred on Christmas Eve 1839. This is now part of the Undercliffs nature reserve - 6 miles of unspoilt coast.

We bought a large hotdog beside the harbour and climbed the steep hill back to the carpark.

The Axe Valley

SeatonWe left Dorset and crossed into Devon. The River Axe has a very wide estuary beside the sleepy village of Axmouth (once a port until a landslide blocked the entrance) and reaches the sea at the town of Seaton.

This is a small seaside resort with a decent beach but has no special appeal.

Colyton stopThe major attraction is the old electric tramway that winds along a single track to Colyford and Colyton. The trip takes half an hour and is rather pleasant once it has passed the enormous car park and run-down Haven holiday centre (if you can call it that). The tramway is run by a group of enthusiasts and kept in tip top condition; there is even the novelty of a level crossing en route.

Tram Seaton Tramway

AxmouthWe took a cursory look at the town and promenade and then headed for the small town of Beer with its steep and narrow streets. Beer Head is an isolated chalk cliff set against its red sandstone neighbours with numerous smugglers caves. We found parking the van difficult and decided to return later.


SidmouthQueen Victoria grew up here when her parents left London to flee their debtors. One of the most select of resorts in the 19th century, we arrived during a rain storm but were impressed by the massive red sandstone cliffs.

SidmouthAccess to the beach from the west of the town is down a huge wooden ladder and round a newly built path around the 500ft Chit Rocks. The shore is pebbly, but the exposed sands are quite red in colour.

People were surf boarding in spite of the rain, but unsurprisingly the beaches were deserted as the rain started.

SidmouthThe architecture is a Regency style called cottage orné with wrought iron balconies and there are a number of large hotels.

We were surprised at the number of buildings with thatched roofs, even beside the sea.