I grew up on tales of fossil hunting on the beaches dotting Dorset’s stunning Jurassic Coast. I’ve long wanted to visit to hunt for ammonites of my own, but the very long drive (7+ hours) from North Yorkshire to Dorset on England’s south-west coast was always a daunting prospect.
What is the Jurassic Coast?
The Jurassic coast stretches 96 miles along the South West of England, from Exmouth in the county of East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset. Its geological importance was recognised in 2001, making it England’s first site to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When an opportunity for a sneaky visit to the Dorset coast presented itself unexpectedly last weekend, naturally I grabbed it with both hands.
Rudely awoken by the joyful crowing of cockerels heralding the approach of dawn, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. Light streamed through the thin curtains of our Airbnb caravan and my itchy feet needed somewhere to explore.
With everyone else (the ex, his girlfriend and my son) slumbering on oblivious to the advent of another bright new day, I got up, dressed silently and snuck out like a cat burglar. No one even stirred or noticed. I could probably have put the radio on, made a cuppa and danced a jig in hobnailed boots…
We were in Dorset for the weekend to visit Tankfest, as a treat for the teen boy. Our schedule was tight and I’d not planned in time for a trip to the coast. But, Durdle Door was an enticing 45 minutes’ drive from our caravan in Wimborne, and I could see that the rest of the party would sleep for hours yet. It was only 5 am after all.
This was the chance I had been waiting for. Grabbing the car keys, I closed the car door quietly, backed out of the campsite and headed off excitedly to Lulworth to see the great limestone archway at Durdle Door.
The Journey To the Coastal Village of Lulworth
Driving through picturesque Dorset villages on a sleepy Sunday morning, just after sunrise is enchanting. I recommend it. As the sun rose, the same roads that had been jammed with traffic just 12 hours earlier were eerily empty and still. Birds chirped, bunnies hopped, bees laden with pollen buzzed and trees rustled as I passed. The occasional languid cat looked up as I drove by, but there were few other signs of life.
Some of the villages are chocolate-box pretty, with roads lined with ancient thatched cottages and roses round the door. Abundant old-fashioned hollyhocks, foxgloves and honeysuckles peep out from every nook and cranny, in scenes reminiscent of a Thomas Hardy novel. Ancient trees intermingle to form a green canopy across the roads, dappling the early morning sunlight that manages to sneak its way through. Far from the madding crowd indeed.
The scenery was so quaint and rural, I half expected to see yeomen with pitchforks in the fields, milkmaids scurrying in and out of barns and great farm horses pulling carts through the streets. Instead, I saw a couple of MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra) furiously peddling off the calories from the night before.
Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door
Lulworth Cove and the natural limestone arch of Durdle Door are two of the most loved and photographed locations on Dorset’s stunning Jurassic Coast. Privately owned and managed by the Lulworth Estate, this area of outstanding natural beauty is spotlessly well maintained. Luckily for my limited time budget, these two sites are also close to each other.
I drove through Lulworth, heading for the parking area at Durdle Door Holiday Park and paid my £4.67 to park for two hours. It’s an easy system to use – tap in your car registration number and then tap your bank card. When you return to the car park, tap your card again and you’ll be charged the appropriate amount for your stay.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to “check out” or you’ll be charged the full fee for a 24 hour stay.
After paying for the parking, I made for the well-signposted cliff path. Immediately, I realised my first mistake. Inappropriate shoes. I’d only brought one pair of shoes for the weekend – open-toed, leather-soled sandals. Very pretty, but completely impractical and zero grip factor.
Access to the Jurassic Coast
The beautifully maintained chalk path down to Durdle Door and the neighbouring Man O’War beach was steep. Very steep in parts, with loose stones and chippings. And no railings.
Luckily at 6 am there was no one around to see me gingerly picking my way down that path, fearful with every slippery step that I would fall and roll the rest of the way down the hill like a rather rotund middle-aged barrel. Or that I would roll off the path completely and plunge headlong into the jagged rocks far below.
I was very careful and a little bit scared. In a flash, I remembered that no one even knew where I was, so I stopped for a moment to send a quick text to my son, just in case….
Pro Tip: Take proper walking shoes or at the very least a half-decent pair of trainers. Leave the flip flops at home..
The View of the Jurassic Coast at Durdle Door
The view from the path is incredible though. Half terrified, half elated, I had a crystal-clear view across the sea to the west, to the Isle of Portland.
As I neared the end of the path, the top of the Durdle Door archway was revealed, and I could see some of the 150 steps carved into the cliff, down to the Man O’War beach far below.
Sadly, despite the plethora of signs instructing visitors to take litter away with them, I was horrified to see a festering pile of rubbish (trash) abandoned on the path.
Who, I wondered could be so thoughtless and lazy as to do this? Discarded plastic bottles, takeaway boxes and (horror of horrors) full nappy sacks were dumped brazenly in one of the country’s most scenic spots.
As I approached the viewing area, the gentle breeze tousled my hair and the iodine tang of sea air filled my nostrils and lungs. Dorset’s stunning Jurassic coast is a truly beautiful place and it was astonishing to have it to myself – I’d half expected to jostle for position and to vie to get the best place for photos free of other people.
From the lofty heights of the white chalk cliffs, I spied cormorants on the rocks near a couple of hardy kayakers bobbing in the waves, then flurries of jackdaws, rooks and ravens swirling high above me, riding the air currents and calling loudly. More than a few pecked at the rubbish pile, relishing the spoils…
The limestone archway itself looks rather like a giant dinosaur, with its head in the water and the headland forming its enormous body. How appropriate for a Jurassic coast. One day the archway will collapse, as the sea continues to erode the soft limestone at the base, so I’m glad I made the time to see it.
The best place to see the archway is from the pebble beach itself, or from high up on the cliff paths. With my time for exploring limited, I scrambled up to the highest point on the cliff path and did my best, but I wish I’d had the time to walk along the beach, hunt for fossils and take even more photos.
I can only imagine how incredible Durdle Door must be at sunrise or sunset but wouldn’t want to negotiate that perilous path in anything less than full daylight!
Access from Lulworth Cove
The solution is to take the easier, more accessible path from Lulworth Cove, which is suitable for all ages and abilities. I wish I’d found that first!! Apparently about 200,000 visitors a year use the path, making it Britain’s most visited coastal path.
Man O’War Beach
I stopped to admire the Man O’War beach too, but the prospect of schlepping down the 150 steps in my stupid sandals, then hiking back up again put me off venturing down to sea level. I had visions of shredded feet, a sprained ankle or worse! Plus I didn’t have any water with me. There’s always next time!
Checking my phone, I realised I’d spent an hour just mooching around this lovely corner of the West Country, drinking in the sights and taking photographs. As the early morning dog walkers started to arrive, heading for the dog-friendly beaches, it was time for me to tackle the rather breathless hike back up the promontory to the car park. Suffice to say the calf muscles had a good workout.
Short of time, I managed to finish my visit to Dorset’s stunning Jurassic coast with a quick peek at Lulworth Cove to see the beautiful, secluded sandy beach. I can only imagine how popular this safe little cove must be for families and how it must bustle with life on sunny days in the summer.
How to get to Durdle Door
Find all the up to date information to help you take a trip to Durdle Door by road or public transport here.
Places to Stay on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast
Lulworth is a small village with a limited, but good selection of quality accommodations that gets booked up quickly. Lulworth Cove Inn and the Lulworth Lodge are perfect for a romantic getaway, with excellent facilities and food.
If you prefer something a bit quirky and enjoy self-catering, you can rent Roy’s Retreat Shepherd’s Hut in West Lulworth or choose a glamping experience in the pretty village of Winfrith Newburgh through Airbnb.
Places to Visit Nearby
Have you enjoyed days out at Dorset’s stunning Jurassic coast?
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