Rambling Rose: Travel Blog
Katie’s Fantastic Jurassic Dorset Adventure
V: Riding the Backs of Dinosaurs to Durdle Door
Today’s the breezy, sunny day I’ve dedicated to walking the South West Coast Path from Weymouth to Durdle Door. Having walked parts of the South Downs Way along the Seven Sisters back in 2019, I’m seeking the blissful absorption that happens when the mind is washed clean of everything but focusing on the next step. Some sort of magical perspective-restoring, cobweb-blowing, home-coming process occurs when I’m enfolded in panoramic landscapes. Tracing the strata of the magnificent coastline catalyses a therapeutic reformation and reorganisation of mental timelines. This is what I came for.
The warm-up involves following the arc of Weymouth Bay past quieter stretches of beach overlooked by colourful beach huts and Victorian gardens towards the Spanish-inspired now-abandoned Riviera Hotel, the last building before the cliffs assert their dominance.
Weymouth beach huts
After that, there is no more flat, the path climbs up at Bowleaze Coveway, followed by a helter-skelter scramble past the empty ghost trains and arcades of Fantasy Island Fun Park lodged like a thorn in the foot of a pretty bay.
Looking back to Weymouth
The outline of Weymouth Bay will remain visible throughout my journey, but it’s already shrinking as I follow the coastal path up and over the cliffs, tracking the edges of campsites, passing under leafy archways and dipping into woody dells. There’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere amongst walkers and stone posts that pop up every quarter of a mile with encouraging progress markers.
Permissive Path… you can do what you like as long as you don't fall off!
The first stretch is the longest in time and distance before reaching Osmington Mills and The Smugglers Inn, a thatched traditional pub, dating to the thirteenth century, renowned for smuggling by the seventeenth century. As I arrive, suitably raucous pirate-like laughter wafts up over the garden sound system.
The next stop, Ringstead, seems just round the corner by comparison - it’s easy walking rewarded by a kiosk, where families stop for beans on toast and small children clamber over picnic benches.
The Smugglers Inn
The final stage of the walk becomes an exhilarating ride along the spines of dinosaurs. White Nothe (nothe means nose in Old English) is the first chalk cliff I’ve reached - a steep ascent, but the best is yet to come. It's topped by a WWII outpost and a row of lifeguard cottages, at one time inhabited by 44 people including captain, crew and families, still functioning off-grid today. It’s possible to zig-zag down from White Nothe to Ringstead along the Smugglers Path thrillingly described by
J Meade Falkner in Moonfleet - “I do not believe that there were half a dozen men in England who would have ventured up that path. The ledge was little more than a foot wide, and ever so little a lean of the body would dash me on the rocks below.”
Back on top of the cliffs, there’s no high drama yet - the climb to White Nothe is rewarded by a serenely quiet walk along its flat-topped nose. The tide soon turns - narrow paths track the undulations of West and Middle Bottom - this dinosaur has one hell of a big Jurassic bottom! Whilst ascents require plenty of huff and puff, the descents seem more perilous - the tracks are scattered with ready-to-roll pebbles and misformed steps - a quick slip could bring on a one-way trip to the sea-smashed beach. There are, however, plenty of pausing places to take a breath, water and photos of spectacular views. I share a moment of enchanted stillness with a group of walkers clustered by a needle-looking-monument, absorbed in the sonorous seascape of crickets plucking their harps, the wind rustling the grass and the waves washing the shore.
Yes that's the path, right there going up and over that cliff !!!!??
Up, up, up to the summit of Bats Head which yields knee-jellifying views of a tiny little bat door carved out in a vast sheet of chalk, flanked by a chunk of chalk peering out over swirls of seaweed and variegated aqua-teal shades of sea. A family of rocky promontories further out in rippling jade waters, the Calf, Cow, Blind Cow and Bull, trot after each other in what would have been a through line of rock to the Man O’War rocks in Lulworth Cove.
An increased presence of bodies dotting a distant beach nestled in a crooked cliff arm reveals that I have now arrived at the very far end of Durdle Door Beach. There are however still two dino-humps to navigate including the Swyre’s Head. Whilst only three miles or so, this part of the walk certainly feels as if it has taken the longest and I certainly would not want to do this in wind and rain.
Still two peaks to go yet…
Coming face-to-face with the renowned archway, crisscrossed with arteries of time, it's absolutely the most exhilarating way to arrive, feeling like a wild, windswept thing of nature. It's no small reward to sit amongst the truly international audience gathered to view this great spectacle, a variety of languages peppering the breeze. I take a bracing, invigorating dip in the sparkling waters, cleansing and releasing the toil of the journey. Memories surface of swimming through the archway with my Dad at Whitsun in 1988 - yes, we came out blue - but the absence of anyone attempting this and the prospect of being turned into surging froth at the giant Durdle foot is not encouraging. So I'm happy just bobbing about in the aqua waters, gazing up at this feat of nature whilst literally chilling - it takes the walk to Lulworth Cove and a hot cup of tea to fully warm back up.
Durdle Door Beach
The rugged nature of Durdle Door precludes anyone from building anything near it - fortuitously protecting this geological marvel. It also means that to access the essential 3 T’s of Travellers - Toilet, Tea and something Tasty - requires ascending the rickety steps up from the beach, pausing to take a turn at the viewing platform of Man’ O’War bay before climbing the steep hill to a field of food vans and the campsite. From there it’s a leisurely walk on a luxuriously wide, smooth path with shallow steps to Lulworth, where a welcome selection of shops, cafes and restaurants are scattered like pebbles to one side of the Cove.
Looking down to Lulworth Cove
One final section of the dinosaur spine takes me past Stair Hole - two mini archways sea-sculpted out of dramatically compacted rock. The path ends on a rocky outlook overlooking the cove, and a daring group of young people have edged along a narrow ledge to perch on the precarious end of the dino-tail. I find a slightly less hair-raising, knee-wobbling spot to rest and enjoy the dizzifying views.
Dazed and happy, I enjoy gift shopping and tea on the rugged beach before climbing aboard the bus. What took 3.5 hours to walk plus two ten-minute pit stops, takes just 25 minutes to travel inland to Weymouth, on top of a very windy open-topped bus, waving to King George III trotting over the Osmington Hills on his White Horse. It's been a truly exhilarating Jurassic Day Trip.