Walks in Dorset - 5 of the Best

Walks in Dorset - 5 of the Best

Lulworth Cove, Dorset

The Jurassic coast of Dorset is a geological wonderland where hard rock meets soft and the collision of tectonic plates led to dramatic rock formations. Feast your eyes on striking features such as the scallop-shell-shaped bay of Lulworth Cove, the rock arch at Durdle Door and the folded rocks at Stair Hole. The coast path allows easy access to these and other highlights. Inland, the elevated ruins of Corfe Castle provide evidence of the area’s colourful history.

Our Top 5 Walking Routes on the Dorset Coast 

All these walks are available on our guided and self-guided walking holidays in Dorset. Many other routes also available - three each day of different grade for maximum flexibility and choice.

Clavell Tower, Dorset Coast1. Kimmeridge to Lulworth

Distance: 8.5 miles (14km)
Total ascent: 1,700 ft (520m)
Estimated walking time: 5 hours

The walk in a nutshell: This walk takes place on the Isle of Purbeck – not actually an island – but a large peninsula surrounded by water on three sides. The route includes traversing the ridge of the Purbeck Hills so there will be some steep ascents and descents to navigate.

Don't miss: The iconic Clavell Tower on the cliff above Kimmeridge Bay. In 2008 it was dismantled and carefully reassembled 25 metres further inland to prevent it from falling into the sea as the cliffs eroded.

The Route:

The walk starts in the village of Kimmeridge – a pretty chocolate-box settlement with stone-walled thatched cottages and a church which dates back to the 12th century. From here, it’s a short walk to the coast where the route joins the South West Coast Path. The path sweeps around Kimmeridge Bay and past the ‘nodding donkey’ oil pump which has been pumping oil from the Kimmeridge shales since 1961.

On reaching Gad Cliff it's worth making a detour inland to the village of Tyneham. Shortly before Christmas during the Second World War, its 225 residents were given one month’s notice to leave as the army needed it for training purposes to prepare for D-Day. The villagers were promised they would be able to return to their homes when the war was over - but in fact no one would ever live in the village again. It is now known as a ‘ghost village’. Wander through its deserted streets past the ruined buildings and imagine what it might have been like in its heyday.

Heading back for the coast, Worbarrow Bay heralds the start of the most dramatic scenery as the end of the Purbeck Hills meet the might of the sea. Up and over the ridge, the route continues towards Lulworth Cove. Just before the cove, the path passes through the ‘fossil forest’ – the petrified remains of a cypress forest which was alive during the Jurassic period 145 million years ago – when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It's possible to see the fossilised remains of tree stumps in the rocks.

A little further on the magnificent sight of Lulworth Cove from its east side comes into view. The path heads down to the beach to walk along the pebble shore back to the accommodation in West Lulworth.

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Rock Arch of Durdle Door, Dorset2. Durdle Door

Distance: 5.5 miles (9km)
Total ascent: 1,050 ft (320m)
Estimated walking time: 4 hours 30 minutes

The walk in a nutshell: This route is designed to take in the beauty of the Jurassic coast whilst avoiding the steepest sections of the coast path. The walk starts inland in the hamlet of West Chaldon and follows a public footpath south to join the coast path to the east of Ringstead Bay. Ringstead’s beach is a magnet for fossil hunters, especially after winter storms have revealed fresh spoil in the cliffs.

Don't miss: Sitting on the cliffs above the famous rock arch of Durdle Door wondering at the power of the waves which formed it.

The Route:

Heading east, there is nothing but hilly farmland to the left and unspoilt coast to the right for several miles - enjoy the fresh air and sweeping views. At West Bottom this route leaves the coast path to join a route slightly further inland to avoid the steep sections around Swyre Head. Down below, the sheer chalk face of the cliff is punctuated by a narrow tunnel – the natural arch of Bat’s Hole underneath Bat’s Head.

Heading back to the coast path, the day’s main highlight is finally in sight – the dramatic limestone rock arch of Durdle Door. This geological masterpiece was formed by the sea eroding an area of rock that was weaker than that which surrounded it. It would have started as a sea cave before becoming an arch. One day, the arch is destined to collapse, leaving a sea stack rock pillar. 

Having absorbed the beauty of Durdle Door, it’s an uphill walk along the coast path before heading down to return to the accommodation at Lulworth Cove.   

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Coast Path Near Kimmeridge Bay3. Coast Path to Kimmeridge

Distance: 11 miles (17.5km)
Total ascent: 1,450 ft (450m)
Estimated walking time: 5 hours 40 minutes

The walk in a nutshell: A rewarding walk taking in both the windswept coastal path and walking along the Ridgeway atop the Purbeck Hills.

Don't miss: The dramatic views from the Ridgeway towards the coast and to the village of Corfe with its ancient ruined castle.

The Route:

The route starts in the inland village of Kingston, full of classic Dorset character. The path heads south-west towards the sea until it reaches Swyre Head – the highest point of the Purbeck Hills. On a clear day you can see the Isle of Wight, Poole Harbour, the Isle of Portland and splendid views of the Purbeck Hills.

From here the route heads down to the coast path which follows the cliffs westwards above the Kimmeridge Ledges. On the cliffs above Kimmeridge Bay the path passes close to the wedding-cake-like Clovell Tower. Originally built as an observatory and folly in 1830, by the late 1990s the tower was in real danger of toppling into the sea as erosion gradually removed the cliffs on which it sits. In 2008 the entire building was carefully dismantled and reassembled 25 metres further inland.

Descending to sea level, the route then heads inland again up to the quaint village of Kimmeridge with its characterful stone cottages. From here it’s a steady climb to the village of Steeple – the smallest village on the Isle of Purbeck. Although the village does have a church, its name is thought to derive from a description of the landscape – ‘steep hill’.

A very steep but fairly short climb leads up to the spine of the chalk Purbeck Hills – the Ridgeway. It's a great places to stop, catch your breath and drink in the rolling landscape which stretches out in all directions. From here, the route undulates as it heads towards Cocknowle and on to Corfe Castle. Nearing Corfe, the iconic shape of the ruined castle becomes clearer and larger – a great backdrop against which to end the walk.

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Corfe Castle, Dorset4. Corfe Castle to Studland

Distance: 7 miles (11km)
Total ascent: 1,050 ft (320m)
Estimated walking time: 4 hours 55 minutes

The walk in a nutshell: Much of this walking route is from an elevated position along the ridge of the Purbeck Hills. Sweeping views in all directions are a feast for the eyes and a test of your local geography! The walk starts in the ancient town of Corfe Castle, dominated by the ruins of its ancient castle.

Don't miss: Panoramic views from the ridge top - north to Poole Harbour, east to the Isle of Wight and south to Swanage and the English Channel.

The Route:

After a relatively level start weaving through the streets of Corfe, the route heads up towards East Hill and Rollington Hill and the start of the chalk downland scenery which is the backdrop for much of the route. All around a patchwork of fields and farms create this most classic of English landscapes. In late spring and early summer the hills are punctuated with areas of bright yellow as the gorse bushes bloom.

The route climbs steadily up Brenscombe Hill and on up to Ailwood Down before finally climbing Godlingston Hill – the highest point in the eastern part of the Purbeck Hills. Looking east there are good views towards Old Harry’s Rocks and the Isle of Wight.

After a short downhill section, the route climbs again to reach Ballard Down – an important site for the rare Adonis Blue and Lulworth skipper butterflies. From here its downhill all the way across farmland to Studland with its glorious sandy beach, dunes and heath. Studland is the only place in the British Isles where all six native species of reptile can be found. Studland also marks the beginning (or end!) of the South West Coast Path. It's a great place to rest any aching legs and perhaps have a paddle.

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Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset5. The Wessex Ridgeway

Distance: 10.5 miles (16.5km)
Total ascent: 1,500 ft (460m)
Estimated walking time: 5 hours 20 minutes

The walk in a nutshell: An undulating circular walk which starts and ends in Cerne Abbas and crosses wonderful areas of chalk downland and through landscapes designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Don't miss: Great views of the Cerne Abbas Giant – a hill figure of a naked, club-weilding man carved out of chalk.

The Route:

Quintessentially English Cerne Abbas village is full of picturesque, historic houses. Look out for rows of thatched cottages and the Grade 1 listed Pitchmarket – a 16th century building once used by farmers to sell their corn on market day. The building has since been used in a number of film and TV productions. Little remains of the Benedictine Abbey from which the village takes its name; founded in 987, it was destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.

Leaving the village behind, the route heads over downland in a north-easterly direction to reach the Wessex Ridgeway – one of the UK’s great long-distance walking paths. From here the English countryside stretches in all directions with the fields below looking like a patchwork quilt.

Leaving the Wessex Ridgeway, the route heads north via a series of footpaths to reach Buckland Newton village at the head of the Blackmoor Vale. The village has a gothic Grade 1 listed church and a popular pub – the charmingly named 'The Gaggle of Geese'.

Heading west, the route follows a little part of the Hardy Way – a long distance walking route named in honour of Thomas Hardy who based many of his most famous works in the area. The village of Minterne Magna marks the point where it’s time to head south, back towards Cerne Abbas. This wooded parish is best known for its grand Manor House which was once the home of Winston Churchill.

As the route approaches Cerne Abbas, there are wonderful views of the Cerne Abbas giant – the enormous club-wielding naked man etched into the side of a chalk hill. His exact date of origin is still debated and it is thought that he once held a severed head in his hand and had a cloak over his arm. There are some tea rooms in the Cerne where you can mull over the giant's history with a cup of tea.

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Dorset Coast Walking Holiday Options

All of our walking holidays on the Dorset coast stay in our own accommodation - West Lulworth House in the picturesque village of Lulworth Cove.