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Hiking the South West Coast Path on the Jurassic Coast in England

Author: Carolyn Boyle
Date of Trip: August 2015

This review describes a four-night stay in Weymouth, England, as a base for day hikes on selected portions of the South West Coast Path (SWCP) through the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site (popularly known as the Jurassic Coast). We were inspired to try hiking here following a recommendation from a friendly officer (from Dorset) we met on a Princess cruise ship last fall. This review is primarily a journal of how we spent each day, including suggested resources and web links to tourist information web sites and maps.

We had no intention of hiking the entire 630 miles of the SWCP or even the ~86 miles of the path in Dorset. Instead, we planned to use one city as a base and take public transportation to access some of the most distinctive and scenic sections. Taking buses or trains eliminated the risk of killing ourselves by having to drive on the left and allowed us to undertake long one-way hikes. However, it was more difficult to plan because there are multiple bus companies that each operate their own routes; some of those routes only run on particular days and at particular times of the year. The Dorset County bus route map ( provides a good overview of all the routes and specific itineraries can be found using Google Maps. Timetables and links to the different bus companies are available at

We chose Weymouth ( as our base because of its access both to public transportation and to necessary services (lodging, food outlets, groceries, ATM).


South West Coast Path (SWCP), Rodwell Trail, Sandfoots Castle, Axmouth-Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve, Lyme Regis Museum, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door, Old Harry Rocks


John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our mid-sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times.

We have traveled extensively worldwide and enjoy both land tours and cruises; often our trips combine the two. On cruises, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other roll call members or shared public tours. We favor nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view.

Hiking the SWCP requires a moderate level of physical fitness and preparation. The path is not simply a stroll along the beach: it has both very easy and very strenuous sections. John and I routinely walk 5 days a week for 6 miles on rolling terrain (elevation change of about 200 ft) on hard surfaces and gravel paths. We make those walks in roughly 90 minutes or about 4 mph. When hiking on trails, we generally achieve a walking speed of 2 mph. Because of poor weather and trail conditions on the SWCP, on some days we only managed about 1.8 mph. When estimating the duration of a hike, additional time must be allowed for stopping to enjoy and photograph the scenery, for snack and water breaks, etc.


“Dorset & South Devon Coast Path (South-West Coast Path Part 3)” by: Henry Stedman & Joel Newton (

“South West Coast Path Dorset A-Z Adventure Atlas” ( (Detailed information on the SW Coast Path, including route changes and suggested walks of various length.) (Detailed information on the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site, including the gateway cities and the geology and history of the area.) (Detailed information on traveling in Dorset by car, bus, cycle, foot, rail, boat and air.) (The official tourist information site for Dorset.)



John and I had made a concerted effort to pre-adjust to British Summer Time, which is five hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Over the two weeks prior to the trip, we had gradually moved our bedtime and dinnertime back two hours and our wake-up time back three hours. We also planned to sleep for most of the 7.5 hour nonstop flight on British Airways (operated by American Airlines) from RDU to LHR. The flight was almost completely full and left RDU 15 minutes late.


The pilot was not able to make up any time during the flight, so we arrived in Terminal 3 at LHR behind schedule at 9:15 a. m. Despite the difficulties of sleeping on the plane, we were feeling pretty good when we deplaned. Passport control was quick but the baggage claim took longer than expected; customs was a walk-through since we had nothing to declare.

Next was a long walk to the Central Bus Station, where we arrived at 10:15 a. m. When I had originally booked our National Express ( bus trip to Weymouth via Bournemouth, I had been disappointed that the first departure was not until 10:45 a. m. However, with the late arrival, delay at baggage claim and long walk through the terminal, I was glad that we did not have to rush to catch the bus. I had booked our tickets (22.30 GBP pp) ahead of time online and printed out an e-ticket to show the driver when we boarded. The bus departed right on time.

During the two-hour drive to Bournemouth, there were only three stops; the steady movement of the bus caused both John and me to doze intermittently. There was a four-day air festival going on in Bournemouth and the traffic on the expressway was extremely slow and congested. We were supposed to have 30 minutes to change buses at the depot in Bournemouth but our bus arrived 40 minutes late. Fortunately, the connecting service was also running late and we made the connection, finally arriving in Weymouth about 30 minutes behind schedule at 3:15 p. m.

The National Express bus stop in Weymouth is on the waterfront Esplanade, across from a Marks & Spencer department store. From there, it was only a 10-minute walk to our guesthouse. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and there were many people enjoying the nice weather. The side of the street opposite the waterfront is lined with all sorts of places to eat and drink, souvenir shops, hotels and guesthouses. Along the beautiful sandy beach are stands selling refreshments and souvenirs; others were renting beach chairs, cabanas and water sports equipment. This all reminded us of seaside resorts in the USA but with distinctive English touches like the ubiquitous fish-and-chips shops and a Punch and Judy puppet show.

At the Cornubia Guest House (, we were greeted warmly by our hosts, Alan and Linda Potter. This four-room guesthouse is in a heritage-listed building only a block from the beach; the front of the brick building is attractively festooned with hanging baskets of flowers and there is a narrow front garden filled with flowering plants. There are many other guesthouses along this same quiet street and a nearby convenience store with an ATM. Alan put the bag with our cruise clothes in their storage room so it would not be in our way.

Linda showed us the breakfast room, where we had our own reserved table. On most days, we would be unable to partake of the hot breakfast that all the reviewers on Trip Advisor rave about because it is served from 8:30-9:00 a. m. John and I planned to be on our way to the trail heads much earlier than that, so Linda arranged for a continental breakfast plus two extra bottles of water for our hike to be waiting for us every morning. Then she showed us our room, which was small (as expected) but very clean and included a flat screen TV and free WIFI with an excellent connection. The bathroom had a wide assortment of toiletries, including items such as tampons in addition to the usual shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. The room had radiators and a portable fan for climate control. There was also a tiny refrigerator and a kettle to heat water. Tea, jam, packets of biscuits (cookies) and two bottles of water were also provided; there were two chocolates on a bedside table. All of the food items were replenished daily when the room was made up.

Once we had deposited our luggage in the room and stopped at the ATM for some cash (1.75 GBP surcharge for withdrawals), we were off on our first hike, part of the moderate-difficulty “Legacy Trail 3—Nothe Gardens & Rodwell Trail” ( We walked to the Westham Bridge, where we crossed over the River Wey on the footbridge. The river is dammed there and the reservoir was filled with swans and other water fowl. Then we followed the pedestrian path through an underpass to the twin pillars marking the start of the Rodwell Trail ( That trail is a pleasant walk along a disused railroad right of way. The Rodwell Trail intersects the SWCP near Sandsfoot Castle (, the ruins of a fort built by Henry VIII to defend Portland Harbour. The castle has definitely seen better days; much of it has fallen into the sea and many stones have been removed for other purposes. However, it is surrounded by a pretty garden and there are catwalks that allow visitors to view the picturesque remains up close.

From the castle, we walked along the SWCP through the Nothe Gardens, past the Nothe Fort and back to Weymouth Harbour. Naturally, there are a multitude of restaurants, cafes, pubs, chippies (fish-and-chips shops) and other food outlets around the harbor, catering to all price ranges. We decided to try one of Alan and Linda’s favorites, The George Bar & Grill ( We each ordered the beer-battered cod with chips, one order of onion rings and two local ales: Piddle Brewery’s Uncle Sam and Sharp’s Doom Bar. Both of the ales were served warm. The Uncle Sam was the better and we each had a second pint of that. The food here was good but not outstanding.

After dinner, we returned to the guest house for a good night’s sleep to prepare for our first full day of adventure.


Early this morning, we caught First Dorset’s X53 Jurassic Coaster bus ( to Lyme Regis. Although a 7-day pass (20 GBP pp) is offered, we decided that it would be more economical to buy single/return tickets as needed. The return ticket to Lyme Regis ( cost 8 GBP pp (cash only). On our bus ride, we saw hares in the fields.

We originally thought we could hike one-way from Seaton to Lyme Regis (about 7 miles). However, part of the SWCP was closed in 2014 due to a landslip. Although there is an alternative inland path (, that was not attractive to us. Instead, we chose to make an out-and-back hike from Lyme Regis to explore part of the Axmouth-Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve (

Lyme Regis ( is a pretty seaside resort town, smaller than Weymouth. The town, The Cobb (harbor wall) and the Undercliffs were featured in the 1981 movie “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”. The bus stop is near the town clock and public toilets are located right across the street. We walked along the Marine Parade with the beach on one side and vendors on the other before heading up the Ware Cliffs and to the entrance of the Undercliffs. This was a beautiful sunny morning for a hike.

The Undercliffs resulted from numerous landslips that occurred when the top chalk layer became saturated with water and separated from the underlying impermeable clay layer. As the chalk slides down the cliff, it forms long rounded ridges, like a rough terrace. This area is so unstable that it cannot safely be built upon; thus it has become a lush, jungle-like refuge for many native plants and wildlife. While the shade along the trail was welcome for its coolness, it had not allowed the trail to dry from previous days of rain. There were many large puddles, muddy areas, tree roots and rocks, which made for hard walking and falls for both of us. We passed some nice viewpoints, a ruined wall and a ruined building. A ruined chimney marked the approximate half-way point, where we turned back to Lyme Regis. On the return trip, we took a side trail to Chimney Rock, which was supposed to offer great views. However, the trees were so overgrown there that we could see nothing except more trees. Although we only saw a few dog walkers when we first started our hike, we encountered more hikers on our way back.

Back in town, the beach that was almost deserted this morning was now crowded with people enjoying the sunny day. We walked out on The Cobb for some nice views of Lyme Regis and the Undercliffs. Our guide for this afternoon’s fossil walk had given us several recommendations for lunch; we chose the Royal Lion ( We each ordered the Lyme Bay Crab Sandwich, served with crisps (potato chips) and a bit of salad. We also had two local beers: Palmers Brewery’s Best Bitter and Otter Brewery’s Tarka Lager; the lager was served cold while the bitter was served warm.

After lunch, we visited the Lyme Regis Museum (, 3.45 GBP pp senior rate), housed in the former home of Mary Anning. This area of the coast is exceptionally rich in fossils and Anning’s carpenter father supplemented the family income by collecting fossils and selling them to tourists. When he died young, the family avoided starvation by continuing his sideline. In 1811, when she was only 12, Anning and her brother discovered a 17-foot long ichthyosaurus. Anning continued finding significant fossils, such as a complete plesiosaurus and a pterodactyl; in 2010, she was named one of the ten most influential British women in the history of science. The museum displays a number of actual plesiosaurus and ichthyosaurus fossils, as well as casts of fossils, artifacts from Anning’s life and finds from a Victorian bottle dump that has collapsed onto the beach east of town. While we were in the museum, we listened to a very interesting presentation about the animals whose fossils surrounded us.

Now it was time for our Lyme Regis Fossil Walk ( with Brandon Lennon, a local professional fossil collector. This was a public walk (8 pp GBP adult rate) and included a number of families with young children. The walk started with a very abbreviated version of the talk we had just heard at the museum. Then we were off to the beach below Church Cliffs to find our own fossils, mostly ammonites and belemnites (John and I found a number of both). Later, we sieved the sand looking for ammonites encased in iron pyrite (fool’s gold). While we were sieving, there was a strong thunderstorm. Fortunately, John and I had our stylish yellow “Cave of the Winds” plastic ponchos and stayed relatively dry. After the rain, there was a beautiful rainbow. We continued east to an area where we might find calcified ammonites in the layered stone; we looked for the stones and Brandon hammered them open for us. We found a couple of partial ammonite fossils and John found some Jurassic oysters!

Although the fossil walk takes 3-4 hours, John and I decided to turn back after about two hours to catch an earlier bus back to Weymouth. After all, we had hiked over 12 miles between the SWCP and the fossil walk. While waiting, we had some ice cream.


It started raining during the night and it was still coming down steadily this morning. Nevertheless, we slogged over to 8:00 a. m. Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church, home to Our Lady, Star of the Sea Parish ( Our “waterproof” jackets kept us pretty dry without having to resort to our plastic ponchos.

We had plenty of time to go to Mass because the first bus to today’s destination, Lulworth Cove, was not until 9:55 a. m. That was the X43 bus ( that only runs from July 19 to August 31 (2015 dates). The service is operated by Damory, which (along with More Bus and several others) is part of the Go-Ahead Group. There are various dayrider and period passes that cover different zones and are valid on both Damory’s and More’s routes. Today, we only needed a single ticket to Lulworth Cove (5 GBP pp, cash only); we planned to walk the 10+ miles back to Weymouth on the SWCP.

It is about a 40-minute ride to Lulworth Cove (, known for its beautiful cove and interesting nearby rock formations, especially the Durdle Door. By now the rain was finishing. After making a quick pit stop at the Lulworth Heritage Centre, we enthusiastically headed up the SWCP, right across the car park (parking lot). Partway up the steep stairs, I remembered that I had wanted to take an alternate route down to the cove and past the Stair Hole (series of small holes worn through the limestone) before climbing up the stairs on the other side of the steep hill. However, we were already so far up the hill that we were loathe to climb back down. Besides, there were fine views of the cove from where we were.

While we were laboring up the path, we began to encounter runners and walkers headed in the opposite direction. We later learned that they were part of a challenge to run/walk the 20 miles on the SWCP from Weymouth to Swanage. This part of the trail was nicely paved and we foolishly did not anticipate what this hoard of runners and walkers had done to the unpaved sections of the trail. Those sections would prove to be a morass of black, sticky, slippery mud.

After about a mile, we reached the symbol of the Jurassic Coast, the Durdle Door. This is an impressive sea arch and certainly worth the effort to reach the viewpoint. As we continued along, dodging runners and walkers, the trail began to deteriorate. However, there were often grassy sections where some of the mud would be wiped from our boots. Along the way, we passed other rocks and formations, such as the Bat’s Hole (small sea arch). We took the obligatory photograph of the trail marker to Scratchy Bottom. Of course, there were numerous gorgeous views of the white chalk cliffs. During this part of the hike, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day.

Eventually we reached the high point on the trail, White Nothe, and continued on to our goal of a late lunch at Osmington Mills. The section of the trail just before Osmington Mills was particularly bad. In addition to vast quantities of deep, slippery mud, the trail was steep and angled from side to side. By now, our boots and the legs of our trousers were heavily coated with mud. John and I both managed to slip on this section and adorn the seats of our trousers with a layer of mud; I also managed to coat my day pack with mud.

The SWCP passes through the Smuggler’s Inn ( beer garden. Everyone else lunching there was so clean; they had obviously come by car, not foot. I was almost too embarrassed to go inside to order because I was so covered with mud; John guarded a picnic table outside that we could not dirty too much. I had to wash my hands and arms up to my elbows before I could even pick up a menu. At the bar, I ordered a Steak and Tanglefoot Pie for John and a Cornish Pasty for me. They were out of the Badger Brewery Tanglefoot on tap, so we had pints of the two available Badger Brewery ales: Firkin Fox and First Call. Now that we were sitting in the shade with a strong breeze and we had stopped walking, we started to get cold. Of course, today both of the ales were served ice cold; at least the food was hot. The pie is like a pot pie but there is only brown gravy and beef inside; vegetables and mashed potatoes are served on the side. The pasty is a half-moon of pastry filled with bits of beef, potatoes and onions; it was accompanied by chips and a small bowl of baked beans. One thing I have learned about the baked beans (which are indistinguishable from canned pork and beans in the USA) is that many people douse them with HP Sauce; that tastes like barbeque sauce and greatly improves the beans. The pie was very good and the pasty was OK; we wanted to try something resembling traditional English food.

After John bribed me to get him another Firkin Fox by offering to carry my day pack, we headed out for the final leg to Weymouth. On this section of the SWCP, there is a view of the Osmington White Horse. That is a silhouette of King George III on horseback that was made in the early 1800s by removing the grass to reveal the gray clay underneath. When we reached Bowleze Cove, we took a short detour to see the 4th century Jordan Hill Roman Temple ( Although only the foundations of the temple remain, it is always interesting to see something so old. When we came closer to the ocean, we saw a small pod of dolphins breaching.

As we walked back into Weymouth, muddy and bedraggled, we attracted some startled glances. At least no parents pulled their kids away in horror. We stopped at the convenience store and bought a bottle of wine to celebrate making it all the way back. At the guesthouse, we took off our boots before going in and managed to avoid tracking up the carpet. I had to scrub the boots and trousers in the shower and dry them in front of the fan so that we could wear them again tomorrow. It would turn out that I needn’t have bothered.


During the night, it had started to rain again. By the time we headed out to catch the 7:25 a. m. South West ( train to Wareham (single, 9.50 GBP pp), it had slacked off. On the ride to Wareham, the rain started again and it would continue to come down heavily (with a few respites) throughout the day. We saw some bedraggled deer in a field; they obviously do not eat the high calorie, landscape plant-based diet of hostas, azaleas, hydrangeas, etc. that our NC deer enjoy.

The bus stop for #40 Purbeck Breezer ( is right around the corner from the train station. It was worthwhile to buy a day pass (8.50 GBP pp, cash only), which would be valid on all the remaining buses that we would ride today. On the way to Swanage, we passed the picturesque ruins of Corfe Castle (, which we hoped to visit later in the day if the rain stopped.

In Swanage (, we transferred to the #50 Purbeck Breezer to Studland. We were not sure where to get off the bus in Studland, so we asked the driver to alert us. However, he did not know the correct stop either; that was despite the prominent poster on the bus announcing “Get off the bus in Studland Village to visit the Old Harry Rocks!” and illustrated with people viewing the rocks on a lovely sunny day. Luckily, I saw our stop go by and we managed to get off at the next one.

Once again, a landslip had closed part of the SW Coast Path ( However, that did not affect us because the closure was just east of the point where we planned to join the path for the 3.5-mile hike back to Swanage. The SWCP does not intersect the main road and we made a wrong turn looking for the path (we could not consult our map in the downpour). That error took us at least ½ mile out of the way but we backtracked and found the correct path (take the road next to the Post Office and follow the signs to the beach). There are public toilets at the trail head. By now we were getting uncomfortably wet (we should have donned the plastic ponchos over our “waterproof” jackets) and agreed that we would only walk the mile to the Old Harry Rocks before returning to Studland and taking the #50 and X43 buses back to Weymouth.

Once we arrived at the Old Harry Rocks, we were completely drenched. However, we needed to walk further along the path in the direction of Swanage to have better views of the cliffs, the rocks and other offshore chalk formations, such as the Pinnacles. Despite the deluge, the views were stunning. By now, we had warmed up and were far enough along the trail that we decided to slog on to Swanage. One good thing about this part of the SWCP: it is mostly chalk gravel and not much mud; our boots received a thorough washing. Needless to say, we did not encounter any other hikers on the trail today.

Upon our return to Swanage, we decided to cancel our planned visit to the Durlston County Park ( The #5 Durlston Explorer Bus ( runs every 30 minutes between the Swanage bus depot and the park daily from May 24-September 26 (2015 dates); on a nice day, we might have walked the mile to the park on the SWCP and taken the bus back to Swanage or vice versa. Instead, we took the X43 bus ( back to Weymouth. While waiting for the X43, I managed to dry our totally-soaked bus passes under the hand dryer in the ladies’ restroom; fortunately, the ink had not run and they were still legible. On the ride back, we encountered several spots where the road was flooded from all the rain.

We were back in Weymouth at around 2:00 p. m. The rain was much lighter there and people were out and about, trying to salvage their beach holiday. Rather than attempting to dry out at the guesthouse and going out for dinner later, we decided to have a late lunch now at the New Vic Bar & Restaurant (, which was blessedly warm (we were starting to shiver). John ordered fish and chips, which included an enormous fish fillet. I chose the ploughman’s lunch, which consisted of two huge slabs (at least a pound) of mature cheddar, two pickled onions, two relishes, apple slices, a bit of salad and a baguette. I had not expected so much cheese, so I had also added small portions of Stilton and Dorset pate to my order; John ate one slab of the cheddar to help me out. To wash all of that down, he had a pint of Foster’s Lager and I had a John Smith’s Bitter; both of those were served chilled. After that substantial meal, we returned to the guesthouse for hot showers and hung out our clothes to dry.


This morning, we had pre-booked e-tickets (11.90 GBP pp) for the 9:00 a. m. National Express bus to Southampton via Bournemouth. We expected to eat another continental breakfast before settling the bill and walking down to the bus stop. However, we awoke to the tantalizing aroma of frying bacon; Linda had graciously started breakfast early so that we would finally be able to enjoy her renowned hot English Breakfast. We had a fried egg, hash browns, bacon, sausage, toast and orange juice. I had a grilled tomato but John omitted that and we both omitted the beans; Alan joked that we only ate half a breakfast. The sausage (which is made locally) was particularly good.

Although the other guests were presumably enjoying a more relaxed traditional beach holiday, the Cornubia is a fine option for those interested in hiking. We especially appreciated Alan and Linda’s willingness to accommodate our unusual schedule by providing a filling breakfast outside the normal hours and extra water to take along on our hikes.

Despite some adverse conditions, the hikes themselves featured spectacular scenery, especially the Lulworth Cove to Weymouth section. Another highlight was the Fossil Walk in Lyme Regis. Although we feel that we hiked some of the most scenic sections of the SWCP, there are many more attractions in the area. Perhaps we will have the opportunity to return on a future visit to the UK.

It was not raining during our walk to the bus stop but it started again on the ride to Southampton, where we would embark the Royal Princess for a 12-day British Isles cruise. The review for that cruise will be posted on Independent Traveler’s companion site,

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