The Jurassic coast , England’s first natural World Heritage site , is 95 miles of coastline stretching from Studland Bay in Dorset to Exmouth in East Devon. Fossils and rocks found in its cliffs and beaches date back to 185 million years, from the Triassic to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. It offers something for everyone – sandy coasts for a family beach holiday, cliffs and rocky beaches for fossil hunters , the South West Coast Path for walkers and hikers. We spent 4 days exploring the Jurassic coast and it was just about enough time to see the main sights.
Studland Bay, Dorset is the perfect place to start a road trip along this spectacular part of England. Owned by the National Trust , it comprises Shell Bay, Knoll beach , Middle beach and South beach. We stopped at Knoll beach first – a sandy stretch of coast which is perfect for playing in sand and building sandcastles. You can hire kayaks and boats here and of course , there is a cafe from which to buy ice cream!
South beach was our next stop. Instead of heading for the sandy beach again, we set off on the coast path to see Old Harry Rocks. The path is about a mile each way and is a relatively easy walk. At the end, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the chalk stacks known as Old Harry Rocks and the blue waters of the English channel.
Driving on the A351 , we stopped at Corfe Castle – its ruins were the inspiration for Kirrin castle in the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. With our little one fast asleep by now , we decided to not go in and instead drove right on to take the A352, driving past Osmington’s iconic white horse on the hillside to reach our Bed and Breakfast in the village of Sutton Poyntz near Weymouth.
The next day, we took the scenic B3517 which meanders along the coastline , making numerous photostops on the way. This road though is not for the fainthearted – being narrow with sharp bends and blind turns, it is best for those used to driving within the UK. The road goes right through the heart of quaint little villages with stone houses and thatched roofs , with the 13 miles between Abbotsbury and Burton Bradstock being the most picturesque.
The seaside resort town of Lyme Regis was our first stop of the day. Big mistake – we struggled to find parking in the town, which was heaving with tourists on Bank Holiday Monday. The beach was crowded with families and the ice cream shops had a queue which stretched for almost half a mile! After the mandatory ice-cream-on-the-beach stop , we wound our way through the crowds to Dinosaurland fossil museum. My 4 year old went completely beserk here and could not contain his excitement on seeing the huge dinosaur skeletons and row upon row of fascinating fossils!
Wanting to escape the heaving mass of humanity , we then left for the quieter beach of Branscombe nearby. Navigating the narrow lanes of this village was an adventure in itself – often we had to hug the hedges or reverse to a wider section of the road to let oncoming traffic pass. The Branscombe beach is mainly a shingle beach – perfect for spending hours throwing pebbles into the calm blue waters. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, it is a beautiful place to spend a few hours under a beach umbrella, against the sound of waves lapping at the shore and the winds blowing salty sea spray.
We saved the best for the last – Lulworth cove and Durdle Door, the most recognisable images of the Jurassic coast. On our last day , we parked in West Lulworth and walked the 1.5 miles to Durdle Door along the South West coast path. Steep for the most part , this requires some level of fitness but my 4 year old managed it without a whine! The path offers some stunning views over the cliffs on one side and beautiful wild flowers growing on the other before descending to the Durdle Door car park with the obligatory ice cream shop. You can also start a shorter walk from here to Durdle Door rather than from Lulworth cove. The trail then ascends again , to take in the vistas of the sheltered cove of Man-O-War beach first and then the famous limestone arch Durdle Door. We did not go down the steps to the beach here but quite a few people were down there despite the cloudy sky and chilly winds.
Where to Stay:
We stayed in The Cottage , a Bed and Breakfast in the village of Sutton Poyntz near Weymouth. It was excellently positioned to explore the coast , midway between Studland Bay and Exmouth. The vegetarian breakfasts were a delight with a varied choice everyday, served in the conservatory overlooking the beautiful gardens. At a 120 pounds per night for a triple room , it was not exactly cheap but it offers a typical English BnB experience which is not to be missed.
Best places for food :
Bankes Arms pub , South beach , Studland Bay – The pub has several plus points- outdoor seating with stunning views over the coast , veggie options, reasonable prices and it is situated right at the doorstep of the coast path to Old Harry Rocks.
The Millside Restaurant ,Lyme Regis – We discovered this little gem purely by chance. Hidden in one of the pretty winding lanes of Lyme Regis, away from the beach with its typical food joints, The Millside has plenty of vegetarian options, shaded outdoor seating and friendly service.
The Springhead , Sutton Poyntz – At a walking distance from our BnB , this pub is in a beautiful location by a duck pond. With a children’s play area , outdoor tables and more than 1 vegetarian main course to choose from , it is a nice place to stop for dinner.
What we did not manage to see :
Visit the Abbotsbury Swannery
Visit the village of Beer and its Quarry caves
Take the steam train from Swanage to Corfe Castle
Hunt for fossils on Charmouth Beach
After all, there has to be reason to visit again, right?!
Have you been to Dorset’s Jurassic coast? Did you like it ? Tell me what you did and what you loved about it!