Exploring Dorset: The Jurassic Coast and Durdle Door

2021 will be the ‘Year of the English Coastline’ as England braces itself to host the longest coastal path in the world upon completion. In celebration of this 2,800 mile masterpiece covering every part of our incredible coastline, I travelled to Dorset to get a taste of what keen coastal hikers can expect all across the country come next year.

  • Published on 24th June 2020
  • United Kingdom Category

The English south west coast path, currently covering (by contrast) a meager 630 miles stretching from Dorset to Somerset via Cornwall, will eventually join up with new and existing trails to make up the longest coastal path in the world, and also serves as my chosen trail for this outing.

The path takes us along the Jurassic Coast - a striking area of dramatic natural beauty including the incredibly popular Durdle Door (basically a giant rock with a ‘door’ in it), but more on that later. We’re not lining up with the tourists just yet, as we’re starting our exploration further east at Lulworth Cove.

Lulworth Cove

If Lulworth Cove is breakfast before tucking into the larger dishes later in the day, then it's definitely a delicious and mighty full English. A pebble beach lines this classic English bay with the sweeping ocean tide washing up beneath the glistening morning sun. Coves like this are wonderful for that isolated feeling with hills surrounding all sides except for the mouth to the sea. Being on the periphery of this notable area of natural scenery, it was almost deserted minus a few dock workers, also adding to that feeling of isolation. That, in itself, worked for me.

Lulworth Cove seen from on-top of a neighbouring hill

The south west coast path picks up from the Lulworth Cove car park and, having finished scoffing on my "breakfast", I made my way to it and up an unexpectedly enormous hill. Those with fears of unrelenting steepness may despair, but those who love hiking/sweating even on what was meant to be a chilled out day at the beach can rejoice!

The uphill walk of doom: an unexpected twist on the way to Durdle Door

Many minutes and complaints about sore knees later and the uphill path plateaued and presented magnificent views over the south coast and the English channel, as well as our eventual destination.

Spectacular views of the English channel with the destination in-sight

The trail took me alongside St Oswald's Bay Beach and what was essentially the edge of England, allowing spectacular views of where I'd come and where I wanted to go.

People who are known to awe at the vastness of the ocean with nothing whatsoever on the horizon from a vantage point will most certainly want to suffer that surprise hill climb. I am one of those people. The idea of nothing but the deep blue sea for miles and miles manifests this weirdly pleasant gut feeling of abandon, isolation and opportunity. Like there's nothing here but me and I can do anything, yet the thought of what could be lurking in that deep blue sea keeps me trapped on land alone, but not alone. Nature sure can mess with your head.

Nothing but blue... just the way I like it

The path continues along the coast with views of the next important meal of the day approaching - Man of War Bay.

The south coast path taking me to the meatier scenery.

Man of War Bay

If the funny door-shaped rock doesn't impress you as the prize for your cardiovascular efforts later on then at least the Jurassic Coast offers plenty of beautiful coves and bays, if nothing, as recompense! Man of War Bay, however, is so much more than an apology:

Man of War Bay shows off a vibrant display of colour and beauty

Like a coastal fingerprint, it is instantly identifiable by the perfect line of rocky islands peeking out of the ocean just a stone's throw from the beach. Apparently these are named the Bull, the Blind Cow, the Cow and the Calf respectively… of course. Between these island outcrops and the coastline sees the emerald-like tone of the tide washing up on the sandy beach to create a vibrant scene.

Beach-goers begin filling up the stunning sandy beach at Man of War Bay

It was becoming as clear as the skies above and the views ahead that the Jurassic Coast is like nature's theme park (Jurassic Park? Too easy...) with so much to do, in a relatively small space, with something for everyone. Not that nature is there to be played with or abused, in fact the complete opposite. Remember to respect and treat with kindness these wondrous and living sites, people!

Moving on, literally, and right next door to Man of War Bay, as difficult as it was leaving such a Mediterranean-esque gem behind, was the mouthwatering dinner I drove 250 miles to visit...

Durdle Door

Yep, that is indeed an enormous rock with a hole in it. To be slightly more scientific about it, Durdle Door is a limestone rock protruding from the main coastline with an arch formed via natural erosion. A sweeping sun-kissed sandy beach curves away from the rock and continues to follow the striking cliffs further west.

Durdle Door - a compelling natural structure unmistakable in its uniqueness and a cornerstone of English coastal scenery

A hotspot for fun-seeking families and avid explorers alike, the south west coast path at this juncture serves up a tasty view with so much to see. The unique archway provides a captivating focal point and a doorway to the vast English channel, with the enormous white chalk cliffs and the beautiful beach completing the scene.

Please enter here: Durdle Door invites the ocean to England's southern coast

Instead of continuing along the path, which would take me up and over to Bat’s Head, I joined a small crowd of my fellow outdoors-y types in walking down the steps to Durdle Door and to continue walking along the beach. It felt like it was time to swap the coast path for a sandy path.

Following the shoreline and with Durdle Door disappearing into the distance, I continued along the beach.

Durdle Door is indistinct looking back along the beach

My aim was to reach a bizarre looking rock, standing alone in the tide alongside Bat’s Head, simply because it offered up a point of intrigue. Eventually reaching the rock, the beach crashed into the side of the cliff and the sandy path was no more. I stopped to rest and ponder the origins of this weird rock just sticking out of the water and a fair distance from the mainland, before heading back.

And here it is, standing tall alongside Bat's Head and shrouded with mystery

A complete outdoors experience and a taste of 2021

If, like me, you’ve struggled in the past to recognise beaches and coastlines in Britain as distracting and beautiful figures of natural scenery, and have avoided such places in favour of mountains and lakes because they aren’t worth your time, then take a walk down south.

The Jurassic Coast has been one of the few home-grown, coastal experiences that made me feel excited. The beach, to me, has always been a means of relaxing and unwinding... and a place for parents to unleash their kids. I often steer towards mountainous national parks to guarantee that tingly sense of awe and a truly epic escape from the norm. The English south coast, however, has been a total game-changer.

Fans of striking cliffs, mesmerising bays and coves and frankly weird but wonderful natural structures with funny names like ‘Durdle Door’ should expect similar treasures along the completed 2,800 trail hopefully open for business next year. It will surely be an achievement that Englishmen and women should be immensely proud of.

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