Durdle Door there and back 11 miles (4hrs) or 13 miles if you press on to Lulworth Cove. Parking in laybys as you enter village. Pub at Osmington Mills. Cafes, pubs at Lulworth. Easy going until last section of steep climbs and jarring descents too close together for comfort.
The Dorset coast path isn't as consistently wonderful as Devon's and Cornwall's but when it’s good it’s very very good, and this stunning walk covers two gems: the limestone arch of Durdle Door and (if you choose to press on) the lagoon-like Lulworth Cove. But a word of advice: go in late autumn or winter because it gets very crowded at other times and loses much of its charm. I walked to Durdle Door and back on the 13th of November 2017 and the mile extra to Lulworth Cove last summer. The difference was Cretaceous rock and cheese.
Pick up the coast path to the left of the Smuggler’s Inn, an attractive 13th century pub with good ales and a genuine history of smuggling. In the 17th century it was the hang out of French Peter, well known in these parts for his untaxed contribution to the local economy.
Gentle slopes and woodland lead onto Ringstead beach with its caravan site and smatterings of homes bordering the pebbles. Before you get there watch out through the trees for the ribs and bow of a shipwreck: the Minx, a coal barge that came to grief there in 1927. A cormorant was drying its outstretched wings on one of the protrusions when I passed.
At Ringstead the coast path is the beach. Ignore the numerous wooden steps up from it with private or the less polite KEEP OUT! (I’d suggest a psychiatrist whoever you are) signs. The final one is yours and is clearly marked, coastal path.
Another gentle rise follows to a few homes and more woodland before giving way to open fields. Now you can enjoy uninterrupted views to Portland Bill across the water (fabulous at sunset) and the peak of White Nothe, a chalk (Cretaceous) cliff, ahead. A terrace of former coastguard cottages sits on top. If any are for sale when you pass let me know (I might have won the lottery by then).
For those of you who don’t know, this is called the Jurassic coast. It’s a World Heritage Site full of the prehistoric leftovers of massive beasties my grandson can name but I can’t. After the Jurassic period came the Cretaceous and this time it was billions of tiny creatures who left their remains (we are talking 145 million years ago, give or take an hour) this time in chalk rather than fossils. These chalk cliffs stretch (with lengthy breaks and sudden reappearances) from Dover to Beer (in Devon) and there are no bluebirds over any of them.
With farmland to your left and grass underfoot, it’s now a steady walk down toward a navigation point and beyond. I’d imagine this open stretch of coast is pretty horrendous in wind and rain, so pick a nice day.
Watch out for and relish the small stone way-markers telling you how far to Scratchy Bottom. Unfortunately they don’t warn you it's a bummer to get there with steep climbs and knee jarring descents in the way. Expect ankles and knees to complain but ignore them and take in the view.
Scratchy Bottom is a serene green valley. It was were the sheep ran over the cliff in the 1967 film version of Far from the Madding Crowd . Ahead of you is the remarkable limestone arch of Durdle Door, sheltering one of many beautiful beaches along this stretch. In winter, without the tourist hordes, it’s magical.
Not to be seconded by Scratchy Bottom, Durdle Door has had its share of fame and as it's near Christmas I have a treat for you. In the nineties, no Christmas was complete without a Cliff Richard single. They were the modern equivalent of Christmas jumpers. This video for Saviour’s Day was shot at Durdle Door. Enjoy the geology, wonder at the clothes and blush at Cliff attempting cool.
Beyond Durdle Door are more fine beaches and Lulworth Cove, another geological wonder but marred by excessive tourist development. Still worth a gawp tho. These final pictures from last April.