Friday, April 1, 2016

Journey through Dorset, England

Residing in landlocked Colorado, I often yearn for a sight of the sea - something obviously that requires a plane flight either east or west from the Rockies, or a reservoir and a lot of imagination. Having grown up in England, the ocean was never too far away; there is just something about the sea/coastline that is mesmerizing.

The nearest coastline to my home county of Oxfordshire is directly south to the English channel, about a 2 hour drive. The journey south passes through several counties: Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Dorset. Dorset was my destination in March 2016, and is a county full of remarkable landscapes, coastlines, and world class man made and natural wonders.

My journey through Dorset began in the eastern part of the County, and from perhaps the best known castle in Dorset - Corfe Castle, if not the whole of the Southwest of England (perhaps next to Tintagel in fame). The castle was founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England, and through the centuries was home to many kings. By the time of the English Civil war in the 17th century the castle was no longer a royal fortress, and eventually succumbed to sieges and demolished leaving it in its present state. The castle today is managed by the National Trust and open year round.

Corfe Castle, Isle of Purbeck

5 miles southwest of Corfe Castle lies the beautiful Kimmeridge Bay. This section of the English coastline from near Swanage in East Dorset to Exmouth in East Devon is known as the Jurassic Coast, and is a World Heritage Site. The bay is noted for its rock shelf's that extend far out into the water, and for Clavell Tower that sits above the bay on watch. The tower was built in 1830 as an observatory, and today can be rented out for a romantic stay, although you better book way in advance!!.

Kimmeridge Bay

Clavell Tower

Heading west from Kimmeridge along the South West Coast Path you pass through a military firing area (this area is closed and inaccessible except for weekends). If the sound of heavy tank fire is not enough to steer you away, then the threat of being shot at will be; shells being fired, and machine guns can be heard as far as away as Weymouth. Just past this firing area though (about 8 miles west of Kimmeridge) lies the 2 icons of Dorset, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. These beautiful natural wonders of Southern England are not to be missed, and a favourite for many school geology field trips. In fact, the last time I probably visited these 2 icons, was as a nipper, and I am sure the beauty of them washed straight over my head at that time.

Lulworth Cove

Durdle Door

Continuing west along the coastline from Durdle Door you reach White Nothe and Ringstead Bay, this section of the South West Coast Path is particularly beautiful. The walk from the National Trust car park east to White Nothe is stunning, but be aware it does follow closely to the edge of the cliffs.

White Nothe looking east

White Nothe looking west

White Nothe old Coast Guard lookout and cottages

The coastal landscape west of Ringstead Bay gradually mellows out, and high cliffs give way to soft rolling hills. This more subtle landscape is equally as interesting, and some superb bays await those who love sandy beaches. The town of Weymouth lies only 7 miles west of Ringstead, and is the most significant town between Bournemouth to the East and Torquay to the West. Weymouth Bay was home to the 2012 Olympic Sailing events, and is an interesting town to wander around.

Colourful Old Harbour in Weymouth

Impressive Chisel Beach as seen from Portland

South of Weymouth lies the Isle of Portland, it is the southern most point in the County of Dorset. This was my first visit to Portland, well the first visit I remember since being about 4 feet tall perhaps. Probably the best known claim to fame for the Island is its Limestone "Portland Stone". The stone quarries are clearly visible as you drive across the island, and the stone was used in St. Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. At the very southern tip of the island, known as Portland Bill, are 3 lighthouses. The original lighthouses date from the 1700's, and the "modern" one was built in 1906.

Portland Bill modern day lighthouse

Heading west from Portland and Weymouth the coastline is less rugged, until you come across a few cliffs in and around West Bay. These red cliffs are quite different to the cliffs in eastern Dorset, and really stand out. One section of cliffs is particularly well known, since the TV series "Broadchurch" was partly filmed at this location.

The cliffs at West Bay of "Broadchurch" fame


Dorset is a County that should be on everyone's bucket list, it really has a little of everything - from rolling hills, quaint stone villages, sandy beaches to dramatic coastlines. It is a county I have visited many times, but one I never really ever explored very well. For more information click to view the Visit-Dorset website.