The Jurassic coastline seems more prone to coastal erosions here; there are several diversions in place due to cliff slides, with the most serious affecting two miles of path immediate east of Lyme Regis. There are some fine by-products of the coastal erosion, such as Durdle Door with the well-photographed rock arch and at Lulworth Cove, you are spoiled between its perfectly scallop shaped bay and the rocky inlet of Stair Hole. The coastline is less populated than Devon's, with Lyme Regis, Weymouth and Swanage being the main towns on the route, with each retaining its own distinctive character. There are however a number of charming villages along the route: Osmington Mills, Abbotsbury, which wouldn't look out of place in the Cotswolds... There is also a possible diversion to visit the ruins of Tyneham, a village forcibly abandoned for war effort, its inhabitants never allowed to return.
Leave Seaton along the Promenade and cross the River Axe. The route crosses the golf course and runs along High Barn Lane before returning to the coast at Haven Cliff. The route crosses Sparrowbush Ledge and then passes the aptly named "The Landslip" at Culverhouse Point. It is a superb walk through the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve before the route drops down approaching Lyme Regis; it passes the Cobb where Meryl Streep's "French Lieutenant's Woman" once stood.
The coastline of Lyme Regis is fossil rich and the town itself is absolutely charming, full of period buildings along sloping cobbled streets.Following large scale cliff falls and the fact that the area is still unstable, a major route diversion has been put in place indefinitely between Lyme Regis and east of Charmouth. The diversion affects 2 miles of the Path, much of which is unfortunately along busy roads. Once back on the original route, the Path again undulates, twists and turns with a considerable climb up to Golden Cap, which at 190 m (619ft) is the highest point on the south coast. A steep descent then follows to Seatown.
Despite its size, the fishing hamlet of Seatown boasts a pub on a lovely beach! The Path leaves along low cliffs which undulates, the rise and falls becoming gentler until Burton Beach. Between these two points sits West Bay, where the River Bride flows to the sea. The area around the harbour is lovely and there is a decent size marina. From Burton Beach, it is a long walk to Abbotsbury. At first it passes behind Chesil Bank and along several freshwater ponds; views of the sea are lost. You come out past West Bexington with the Island of Portland in constant sight until the turn inland to Abbotsbury, passing a sub-tropical garden just outside the village. The honey-coloured stones of the houses are very reminiscent of those in the Cotswolds.
Abbotsbury is a lovely village, unspoilt by modern developments. There is a lot to offer including a sub-tropical garden, a Benedictine Swannery and the remains of a 14th century chapel and 11th century abbey; most of which you will pass close to if you were to take the official route to Weymouth. The official route is inland, passing south of Abbotsbury and along the other side of Fleet Lagoon. It is a longer route but has more to offer walkers. The Path climbs up Chapel Hill to the remains of the chapel and abbey. After passing the entrance to the swannery, the Path crosses fields and hills and rounds the edge of woodlands before dropping down to Fleet Lagoon. This is a long stretch of water that runs along the other side of Chesil Bank; the Path weaves in and out around the shoreline. There is a hotel and a church along the way and just outside Charlestown and there is an alternative route around the Tidmouth Army Rifle Ranges when they are in use. Nearing Ferry Bridge, the view inland is more suburban. The alternative option is along Chesil Beach, which runs with the Fleet Lagoon, a nature reserve on the one side and the sea on the other. However, this can be slow and arduous as the pebbles get larger and larger in size. It is also closed to the public during the breeding season between the months of May and August to avoid walkers stepping on terns' eggs which resembled the pebbles on the beach. There is also no possibility of refreshments until nearing Weymouth. At the end of Chesil Beach, the two routes meet on the edge of Weymouth. Here you have a choice: continue out to the Island of Portland, or turn left along Portland harbour into Weymouth.
George III and the Prince Regent were frequent visitors to Weymouth, and their influence is evident in the Georgian and Regency houses that line the Seafront. The houses along the River Wey behind the seafront, now a harbour, are quaint, by comparison and less fussy in style. Weymouth is today still a popular resort, visitors are attracted to its two miles of sandy beach, most of whom probably stay overnight in these grand buildings on the seafront. You may recognise Weymouth as being the venue for the London 2012 Olympic sailing competitions.
Walkers have the option at Weymouth to include the loop of the Isle of Portland, which is part of the official SWCP route. As well as being of historic and strategic importance to Britain's sea defences, Portland is also famous for its limestone, used in the construction of many important buildings. Walk around London, and you will see its use in grand buildings such as St Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace and as far afield as the UN Building in New York. There are constant reminders of the island's quarrying history on this walk. From Ferry Bridge, cross the causeway to Portland along a footpath by the A354 or along a disused railway track. The Path starts on the west side, along the cliff tops, offering lovely views back towards Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon. Further on, this section passes through an old quarry that is now a SSSI and sculpture park. There is the opportunity to photograph Pulpit rock, from Portland Bill or pose next to the red and white striped lighthouse. The Path turns northwards here, initially along quarry tracks. There is another disused quarry below the remains of Rufus Castle. There is also the not-so-scenic former military buildings that is now a young offenders institution and the 19th century Verne Citadel, which is now a medium security prison.
The Path leaves Weymouth along the Esplanade, between the beach and the Georgian and Regency buildings. Where the buildings end, they are replaced by the Lodmoor Country Park and Nature Reserve. Gentle undulating cliffs follow around landslips and crumbling cliffs, becoming progressively steep and arduous. Pass along the way the pretty hamlets and beaches of Osmington Mills and Ringstead. Further on is the impressive rock arch of Durdle Door, before the route descends to Lulworth Cove.
Tourists flock to the beautifully scallop shaped Lulworth Cove and the quaint and charming village that is a little inland. The cliffs to the right of the Cove have been fenced off, and you can see where the old fencing used to be by the posts that have been left behind. These posts will, no doubt, soon fall into the sea. Further along is Stair Hole; where the sea has created a number of small arches in the rocks that cup this inlet. The Path leaves the cove along its ridge with lovely views back down to the bay. The large area of land along the coast from here is owned by the Ministry of Defence. When the ranges are closed for military practice a considerable detour inland is required to take you back to the Path at Kimmeridge. The opening times are published but could be subject to last minute changes! The military's presence has protected this lovely coastline from development. It is tough and arduous with a lot of steep and deep rise and falls but the beautiful bays and views of the white cliffs will make up for it. There is the fossil forest that records a world from 144 million years ago. Further on, the views down to Mupe Bay are tremendous. A possible short diversion at Worbarrow Tout are the ruins of Tyneham, a victim of World War II when the villagers were forced from their homes and never allowed to return. Above Kimmeridge Bay is the "Nodding Donkey" ,which has been extracting oil since 1959. On the other side of the Bay, stands Clavell Tower. This beautiful folly has been painstakingly dismantled and relocated to its present position to prevent it from falling into the sea, before being restored. A few miles earlier, the rampart remains of the Iron Age hillfort at Flower's Barrow have not been so lucky. However, as more of the coastline is allowed to be eroded, more archaeological history is revealed.
The walk from Kimmeridge is quite challenging with a couple of tough, long climbs. The views are tremendous though, in both directions. Chapman's Pool is a lovely short diversion before the climb out to Worth Matravers. There is the option to divert from the official route at Chapman's Pool to visit Corfe Castle. Although it is a couple of miles off the route, Corfe Castle is well worth a visit and is an option for an overnight stay.
Worth Matravers is roughly 1 mile/1.6km inland from the coast. It is an attractive little village with a pub, church and a duck pond! Depending from which path you take out of the village, you could reduce the distance of your walk. Obviously you will miss some lovely scenery, such as the view back to Houns Tout Cliff as you walk along West Hill to St Aldhelm's Head, on which stands a square stone chapel! Pass the headland, signs of quarrying for Purbeck marble, past and present, are evident in the cliffs ahead. Walk through Durlston Country Park and Nature Reserve to the 40 tonne stone sphere that is the Great Globe and get a view of, or even visit, the newly renovated castle. Views of the sea and coastline are occasionally obscured here by woodlands as you decend to Swanage.
Take a second look at the trompe l'oeil along the harbour- the amazing murals painted by local artist, Nina Camplin - stroll along the pier or take the steam train to Corfe Castle before you leave Swanage. The Path climbs out to the high cliffs on Ballard Down. You will be able to inspect more closely the white chalky stacks that dot the coastline, with the most notable being Old Harry off The Foreland, and enjoy the tremendous views across Studland Poole Bay to Bournemouth and across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. The Path descends towards the pretty village of Studland, before a four mile stroll across Studland beach or the sand dunes on slightly higher grounds, if you are so minded. A small stretch of this beach is used by naturists, so don't be surprised to see unclothed bodies walking around!
At South Haven Point, a beautiful blue sculpture, in the shape of two sails mark the end of your epic trek round the South West coast line of Britain. You can now relax as you savour the views across to Sandbank and inland, up the estuary. If you have time, you may want to wander through Studland Heath, which entrance is just adjacent to your journey's end.
All the following stations are on or close to the route:
Axminster (Seaton 7.6miles/12.2km)
Wool (West Lulworth: 4.4miles/7.1km )
Wareham (Swanage 10.8miles/17.4km)
Poole (Sandbank: 5.3miles/8.5km)
The National Rail Map provides a map of the rail network for you to plan your journey.
National Express Coaches stops at the following locations along this stretch of the SWCP: Bridport (West Bay 1.7miles/2.7km), Weymouth, Swansea and Poole (Sandbank: 5.3miles/8.5km)
National Express has a route network with over 1,000 UK destinations. The best value tickets will be secured with advance booking.
There is generally a good bus network in Dorset. There are reduced services on Saturdays, and more so on Sundays, public holidays and over the Winter months.
Dorset is readily accessible by car with being close to the M5 motorway and A303 dual carriageway in the west and A35 in the east.
We may be able to arrange car parking at your first nights accommodation for the duration of your walking holiday. This will be subject to availability and may incur a small extra charge.
It is possible to return to the start of the walk using public transport, but may include a catching a few different buses. We will be happy to advise on the public transport options and also to get quotes and book a return journey by taxi for you if you prefer.
The South West Coast Path offers a wide range of options. We have grouped some of our favourite itineraries into the three categories below. Click on each one for details.
Please contact us for a tailored itinerary.
The path is waymarked with the coast path sign and acorn logo. Basic navigational and map reading skills are recommended.
March to October.
We specialise in providing walking holidays in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Pembrokeshire and Somerset. We are enthusiastic about outdoor pursuits and have experienced climbing, canoeing, skiing, caving and potholing and windsurfing as well as walking throughout the UK, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
We use our experience to provide self-guided, pack-free walking holidays, tailored to the requirements and abilities of our clients.