Slow Travel on the South West Coast Path

A couple of years ago, we made a big change to our life here in France by dividing our property and selling the part that we used for summer holiday rentals.  What a difference this has made to us!   We didn’t realise just how much freedom it would give us!  Instead of tackling ‘changeovers’ (ie cleaning the house from top to bottom, making beds etc)  in the summer heat, this year we took a between-Tours break and went on a walking holiday.

Our next favourite place to the Vezere Valley is the Dorset coast in the south of England – we reckon it’s some of the most stunning scenery you can find anywhere.

There is a coastal path which stretches for a total of 630 miles around the south west England peninsula, from Minehead on the northern coast to Sandbanks in Poole on the southern side. In the time we had available, we only did a fraction of it, but the section we walked takes in some of the most spectacular sights on the entire route.  We left from the seaside town of Weymouth following the cliffs and beaches to South Haven Point on the western side of Poole Bay, There is a chain ferry that regularly plies its way across the mouth of Poole Harbour to Sandbanks – known locally as ‘Millionaire’s Row’ and soon to be home to another of Rick Stein’s restaurants – and the end of the route.

On our first day, we set of on a sunny, but cool breezy day for Lulworth Cove from Bowleaze Cove on the eastern side of Weymouth.  Immediately we were in for stunning views – a taste of what was to come.

Looking from Bowleaze Cove across to Portland

Looking from Bowleaze Cove across to Portland

After only 2 ½ miles we encountered a tempting hostelry – the Smugglers Arms at Osmington Mills – which of course, we couldn’t pass by!

We were tempted into the Smugglers Arms at Osmington Mills

We were tempted into the Smugglers Arms at Osmington Mills

Picking up our path again, after a while, we came to a small wooden chapel on the clifftop at Holworth and looking inside, what a wonderful surprise – engraved glass windows by Simon Whistler (son of Laurence Whistler whose exquisite work we had seen at Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire and Moreton Church in Dorset).  We were so pleased we hadn’t passed it by!

Whistler engraved glass at cliff-top chapel

Whistler engraved glass at cliff-top chapel

Back on the trail – we still had 5 or 6 miles to cover our route hugging the coastline and ultimately leading us to Lulworth Cove – with a tough downhill stretch just to round off the day.   We stayed here a couple of nights – it’s such a beautiful area, and in keeping with the Slow Travel Tours philosophy, we didn’t want to just walk through it. It was worth the stop just for our delicious dinner on the second evening of superbly fresh, smoked cod and samphire from a little kiosk near the Cove.

Durdle Door

Durdle Door

Our next stage – Lulworth to Kimmeridge – passes through an area which was established in 1917 by the military as a training ground – to our right the sparkling sea and rugged cliffs, to our left a beautiful landscape (it’s designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) ‘littered’ with army tanks, targets and vehicles of various types!

Lulworth ranges

Lulworth ranges

It also contains what was for us one of the ‘must-sees’ – the Fossil Forest – fossiled tree stumps embedded in the cliffs. It is extraordinary!  95 miles of this coastline are known as the ‘Jurassic Coast’ and cover 185 million years of fascinating geology – it’s a geologist’s paradise.

Fossil Forest

Fossil Forest

Unfortunately, the great British weather intervened and we were unable to walk the Kimmeridge to Swanage part (great excuse to go back!) and so the final leg was Swanage to the end of the coastal path in Sandbanks.  Leaving the town behind us,we took a gentle climb up to be rewarded with the sight of Old Harry Rocks – another iconic landscape feature of the Jurassic Coast.

Studland dunes looking back to Old Harry Rocks

Studland dunes looking back to Old Harry Rocks

From here, the landscape changes, the highs and lows of the cliffs flattening out into sand dunes and beaches with evidence of second world war defences, notably at Studland.  Tony Robinson visited Fort Henry during one of his ‘Walk through History’ programmes.  This is the largest and strongest observation post to be built in Britain and the ‘top-brass’ including Winston Churchill gathered in safety to watch ‘Operation Smash’ – the D-Day landing rehearsals using live ammunition – it must have been terrifying for local residents.

View from Fort Henry

View from Fort Henry

The final stretch along the beach took us to the ferry at South Haven Point – what a shame Rick Stein’s restaurant in Sandbanks isn’t open yet – it would have been a great place to celebrate and reflect on the glorious views we’d enjoyed over the last few days whilst slow travelling!

The end of the South West Dorset Coast Path

The end of the South West Dorset Coast Path

Steve and Judie Burman live in the beautiful Vezere Valley in the Dordogne region of South-West France. Together they run Caves and Castles, specialising in prehistoric Cave Art and medieval Castles Tours. You can join a small group (up to 6) 4 night/5 day Tour based 2 nights each in the medieval towns of Sarlat and Montignac-sur-Vezere or book a custom Tour for a day or more.

Professional archaeologist, Steve loves to share his passion for the ‘Cradle of Humanity.’ World famous sites such as Lascaux, the ‘Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’ and Font de Gaume are close by. Coupled with gastronomic meals and superb wines, your Caves & Castles Tour is really special.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
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