First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
From a viewpoint high above Lulworth Cove we got a Jurassic Coast geology lesson in a million. To the east lay the almost-perfect circle of the cove, where the sea has broken through the hard Portland limestone and is busy nibbling away the soft chalk at the back of the bay. To the west, Stair Hole opened at our feet, the sea sloshing through rock arches to devour the clay of the cliffs and expose strata of limestone fantastically folded and contorted by subterranean convulsions hundreds of millions of years ago.
We climbed away up the stone-paved coast path to the crest of Hambury Tout and another remarkable view, west along a Dorset coast of sheer white cliffs, walls of chalk and freestone sculpted by wind, weather, frost and the sea. Beyond these the Isle of Portland lay skirted by rainstorms, a grey wedge sloping south to a jumble of white tide races off the narrow snout of Portland Bill.
The next ‘big reveal’ stayed concealed until we were almost on top of it – the great rock arch of Durdle Door, tall enough to sail a ship through. The good old Dorset word ‘durdle’ has its origin in Old English: the arch is a door that the sea has ‘thirled’ or pierced out of the Purbeck stone of the cliff.
Just to the west, the promontory of Bat’s Head is being durdled, too, the nascent arch of Bat’s Hole showing as a tiny blob of pale luminescence where the rainy light shone through.
Down in Scratchy Bottom we turned inland up a green chalk cleft. Under a twisted old elder we sat to have our picnic in a spattering shower. A solitary walker traversed the ridge across the valley beneath a slate grey sky on which a brilliant double rainbow slowly shaped itself.
Up on the ridge we followed a puddled track east, then dropped down among the thatched roofs and pale stone cottages of West Lulworth. A trudge across the hill, a steep descent on slippery steps, and we were crunching round the pebbly curve of Lulworth Cove between the wave-burrowed cliffs and the circle of sea eternally reaching for them.
Start: Lulworth Cove car park, near Wareham, BH20 5RQ (OS ref SY 820801). £8 fee for 4-6 hours.
Getting there: Bus X54 (Weymouth-Poole)
Road: Lulworth Cove is signed from A352 (Wareham-Dorchester) at Wool.
Walk (8 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer OL15): Coast Path (CP) west, passing Durdle Door (806803). In another ¼ mile, opposite ‘Scratchy Bottom’ sign, right through gate (802804); follow fence on left; in 750m, through gate, then another (806809). Half left up field; left at top (809811) through gate. Follow path for ⅔ mile; right on bridleway (800811) for ¾ mile to Daggers Gate (811814). Cross road; follow track past West Down Farm (820815); in 400m, right (824816, yellow arrow/YA) on path to West Lulworth. Left at road (825807); left at bus shelter; opposite Castle Inn, right along School Lane (827808). In 100m, right (arrow) up paddock to upper path; right for 400m to T-junction (824805). Dog left/right (‘Coast Path’); fork right (‘Lulworth Cove’); follow path east above Lulworth Cove. On far side, right (828801, ‘Fossil Forest’) down steep steps to cove; right along shore to car park.
Conditions: Lulworth Cove shore path walkable except at very high tide (tidetimes.org.uk). Some steep steps.
Lunch/accommodation: Castle Inn, West Lulworth BH20 5RN (01929-400311, castleinn-lulworth.co.uk) – cosy, characterful village inn.