Meander through hay meadows, explore quiet woodland trails and be wowed by stunning sea views at Durlston – just a stone’s throw from Swanage town.
Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve makes for a great family day out in nature on a special spot along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and in the Dorset AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
Durlston boasts some 320 acres of cliff walks and countryside and is free to explore – walk from Swanage or simply pay to park at Durlston.
The coastal path will take you past the Tilly Whim caves (old Purbeck stone quarry caves) and up to the lighthouse at Anvil Point – a perfect spot for sketching the view if you have an artistic streak, or sitting with a picnic as you look out over the expansive sea views.
The woodland trails at Durlston have various quiet picnic spots and benches to take in the scenery, which at various points look out over Durlston Bay and across to the Isle of Wight.
You’ll find interactive displays and exhibitions at the Learning and Visitor Centres, as well as carved stone tablets dotted around the pathways that take you on an educational walk through time of the Jurassic Coast.
The Park is open year-round from sunrise till sunset.
Durlston Country Park has been awarded various accolades over the years:
The park won Gold in the Accessible and Inclusive Tourism category of the 2020 national VisitEngland Awards for Excellence.
The park’s accessibility offer includes:
- Off-road mobility scooter, or ‘Tramper’, for those with less mobility
- Visual tours for visitors with autism of the park and the volunteer ‘shed’
- Video tours for help with navigating the car park and site: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEJsjcAq9Dg
- BSL (British Sign Language) video tour: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnFgiZgghqo
- Level access to the reserve, shop and café
- Accessible toilets
You can access a comprehensive online accessibility guide covering all aspects of the park and assistance available online: www.accessibilityguides.org/content/durlston-country-park-nnr
Accredited Country Park
Durlston was officially awarded accredited Country Park status by Natural England in 2008.
The award recognises excellent standards in services and quality of the environment and habitats that support a diverse range of wildlife.
Green Flag Award
It has also won the Green Flag award on various occasions, which champions well-managed outdoor spaces.
In 1997 the park became a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is regarded as being an important site for the conservation of nature.
Find out more about current and past conservation projects at Durlston on their website: www.durlston.co.uk/ParksforPeople.aspx
Family fun at Durlston
There’s plenty of fun to be had at Durlston, both in its natural setting as well as though the many activities and events held at the park throughout the year.
There’s interactive displays at the Durlston Castle visitor centre and newly-installed wild play areas hidden in the woodland – you’ll find wooden balance beams, swing hammocks and dens made of sticks, for some good old fashioned fun whilst discovering Durlston’s wildlife.
You can also check out the park’s wildlife cameras and fossil room, as well as explore the current exhibition and spend some pocket money in the gift shop, which stocks a range of Jurassic, wildlife and seaside-themed souvenirs.
Most walking trails have buggy-friendly paths and there are baby-changing facilities in the castle.
Woodland Clan Activity Trail
The Woodland Clan trial is visiting various parts of Purbeck and is based on a story inspired by the local area.
Pick up your activity pack and follow the clues hidden in the trees to discover the story written by local author Annie Herridge.
Complete the trail to become part of the Woodland Clan and receive a special badge.
Dogs at Durlston
Dogs are welcome in all areas of the park, but must be either kept on a lead or under close control so as not to disturb wildlife, and due to the unfenced cliff edges at various points in the park.
Dogs are welcome in the café and castle, outside which you’ll find water bowls to help keep your pooch hydrated.
Owners must clear up after their dogs (there are nine waste bins located across the park).
Walking routes – exploring within and from Durlston
Being one of the most famous natural locations in Purbeck, Durlston Country Park attracts many thousands of keen walkers, nature-lovers and wildlife-spotters every year, through the seasons.
If this is your first visit or you want to get to know the park better or explore a new aspect, check out the different trails and possibilities that open up just beyond Durlston.
Getting around the park
There are three main walks to choose from in Durlston: the Wildlife Trail, the Clifftop Trail and the Woodland Trail, all of which start at, or near to, the car park and visitor centre.
You’ll also be close to toilets and the café so you can stop off before you set off exploring.
Clifftop Trail (blue)
The Clifftop Trail takes you on a 1km circular tour of the spectacular coastal scenery surrounding Durlston. It’s one of the best places to spot bottlenose dolphins in Dorset, although they can be elusive, and the cliff path passes various seabird colonies – listen and watch out for guillemots, razorbills, shags and herring gulls.
The trail also leads past the Great Globe and Durlston Castle, so you can break up your walk with a rest at the Seventh Wave Restaurant & Café or check out the latest art exhibit and gift shop.
There are various benches along the trail to sit and soak up the views’ s well as a Dolphin Watch hut.
When you see the lighthouse you can either walk up the hill back toward the car park, or continue on down past the now inaccessible Tilly Whim Caves – note that certain paths around here can be slippery and uneven underfoot.
Wildlife Trail (yellow)
The 2km wildlife trail is a must if you’re a keen butterfly or wildflower-spotter. You’ll be able to enjoy the same beautiful seascapes, as well as touch upon more of Durlston’s local history, with evidence of Saxon strip field farming systems as you walk, and the area’s quarrying past – most obviously at the Tilly Whim Caves (closed to the public due to safety reasons), but also in the bumps and indentations underfoot in certain areas.
The meadows and grassy downs are also home to roe deer and the odd snake, such as adders – (keep your dog on a lead on the path with you).
Woodland Trail (green)
An easy-going (1km), relatively flat and accessible trail will take you through Durlston’s woodland and alongside a wildflower meadow. There are various lookout points within the trees with fantastic views across the sea toward Peveril Point and across Durlston Bay.
Look out for the more unusual, non-native species of plant life brought to Durlston by its creator, George Burt – following the Victorian fashion for importing foreign and exotic plants. Of those that are still thriving here at Durlston, you’ll find Chinese bamboo, the Japanese spindle and snowberry from the U.S.
If you have small adventurers with you, head to Durlston Castle first to hire an activity-filled Explorers’ Rucksack. There’s also generally a couple of dens built out of sticks into woodland, as well as a large, sun-dappled glad with wooden seating at which to enjoy a picnic.
Visit Durlston’s website to view an interactive version of this map: www.durlston.co.uk/tour-trails-and-features.aspx
Walks from Durlston
Durlston is a great start-point for a variety of walks that take you out of the park and onto the South West Coast Path.
Two of the most popular are from Durlston to Dancing Ledge (an intriguing and rugged abandoned quarry) and to Worth Matravers (another old quarry site, with a nearby village to explore.)
Both of these walks are moderate in terms of difficulty, terrain and fitness levels – perhaps you could start at Durlston’s café to fuel up for the day.
Due to the terrain along the South West Coast Path, as well as the unpredictable British weather and potentially poor phone signal along the coast, it’s advised that you check the forecast before setting out and wear a good pair of walking shoes.
There is an emergency phone fixed to the wall outside the Anvil Point Lighthouse, located within Durlston Country Park.
To Dancing Ledge
This popular circular walk from Durlston to Dancing Ledge is just under six miles long and will take you past magnificent sea and farmland views.
Simply follow the coast path from Durlston’s car park (Lighthouse Road) until you reach Dancing Ledge. The return walk will take you via Priest’s Way and through the Townsend Nature Reserve. Depending on the time of year you complete this walk, you’ll be spoilt with an abundance of wildflowers and butterflies en route.
Note that this walk has plenty of stiles and kissing gates to navigate, as well as undulating, uneven paths (some of which are quite steep at times).
To Worth Matravers
A slightly more challenging circular walk takes you from Durlston to the charming village of Worth Matravers.
Follow the South West Coast Path – you’ll pass various disused quarries, characteristic of this Purbeck stretch of the Dorset coast. One of these, Winspit, is open to the public to explore at their own risk.
There’ll be signs from Winspit to Worth – follow these and you’ll come upon the village green with its duckpond and tea room and, just a short way up the road, the pub The Square and Compass. Follow the sign from the pub to Swanage via Priest’s Way which will take you back to Durlston.
Durlston is a haven for wildlife and an important breeding ground for migratory sea birds, as well as a special habitat for butterflies and orchids.
And if you’re really lucky you might see a seal or dolphin below you in the sea. The intriguing sunfish has also become a more frequent visitor in the waters here.
Check out Durlston’s butterfly-spotting and birdwatching calendar, so you know what to look out for at different times of the year: www.durlston.co.uk/wildlife-and-marine.aspx
You can also keep up to date with the daily goings on of Durlston’s wildlife via the Daily Diary – the park’s blog, which has been regularly updated since 1989: www.durlston.co.uk/durlston-today.aspx?nid=10ebf345-8cbd-4025-ad59-65dee5c8f591
Sea birds you might spot at Durlston
Look out for the familiar and the more rare sea birds both within the cliffs of Durlston and circling out to sea.
Wildflowers to watch out for
Among the woodlands, coastal paths and meadows a wealth of wildflowers awaits. Here are some of the different kinds you might find:
Durlston Castle & visitor centre
The dedicated team of rangers and volunteers at Durlston means there is always an event, guided tour or conservation project going on – and the fully-restored Durlston Castle is one of their hubs.
The Victorian faux castle is also home to the park’s visitor centre, gift shop and café and hosts various events throughout the year.
At the castle you can also check out the exhibition space, which welcomes a range of artists, or indulge in a treat or light lunch – and soak up the incredible views – at the Seventhwave café.
Rooms within the castle are also available for private hire. Durlston Castle has become a popular wedding venue, with its unique setting and sweeping sea views.
The Great Globe
Situated beneath Durlston Castle is the iconic Great Globe – one of the largest stone spheres of its kind in the world, and one of the many artefacts of George Burt’s legacy in Swanage.
Made by Burt’s uncle and partner’s Mowlem quarrying and stone business, the 40-tonne, three-metre wide globe was ferried by sea from London in 1887.
Biblical quotes and snippets of poetry are intricately carved into the Portland stone, along with various facts about the natural world, amongst representations of the oceans and continents.
Learn more about Durlston’s history and resident wildlife at the Learning Centre.
You’ll find seasonal displays, interactive exhibitions and even a park ranger to help you get up close and personal to nature during your visit.
The Learning Centre also has a wildlife webcam via which you can view a live feed of the cliff-side guillemot colony.
The Learning Centre is situated just by the right-hand section of the car park as you come in to Durlston Country Park.
Discover the wonders of the night sky at Durlston Astronomy Centre
With the dark skies around Durlston being perfect for a spot of star-gazing, booking onto an astronomy event at Durlston Astronomy Centre is a unique experience in this special part of Purbeck.
Stargazing events at Durlston typically begin with an illustrated talk by a park ranger and members of the Wessex Astronomical Society, before learning how to identify different parts of the solar system through various telescopes, including a the 14″ Meade telescope, which is housed in the centre’s observatory dome.
Public stargazing event details
- Session duration – Around 1 hour 30 minutes
- Session cost – Adults £3 and children £2
- Location – Durlston Learning Centre and Observatory
- Group and school bookings are available
- Call from 4.30pm onwards: 📞 01929 422961
Find out more on the Wessex Astronomical Society’s website: www.wessex-astro.org.uk/durlston.php?subject=Use#
How to get to Durlston
Postcode for your SatNav: BH19 2JL
Durlston Country Park is situated above Swanage on Lighthouse Road.
It is a short drive from the centre of town, or you can also walk up the hill – simply follow the signs to the park.
You can also arrive via the South West Coast Path, which connects to the cliff walk at Durlston.
On-site parking is available year-round and varies in cost seasonally.
- 1 April – 31 October: From £2 for an hour to £5 for the day
- 1 November – 31 March: £2 for the day during the week and £3 at the weekend (£1 after 6pm)
- Coaches – £8 year-round
Payment is by cash or card.
Entrance to the park itself is free.
On foot or by bike
Durlston Country Park is a pleasant half-hour walk up from town and is well signposted throughout town. As entrance to the park is free, it’s a great way to spend the day out in nature.
If you’re cycling there are stands to secure your bike at the Learning Centre.
If you’re coming from the bus or perhaps have taken the Swanage Railway, head toward Church Hill from Kings Road West and take a right onto High Street, before turning left into Townsend Road. Follow Townsend Road till you reach Durlston.
Alternatively, from the station, walk down Institute Road, which has a variety of shops, delis and cafés in which to pick up picnic or takeaway supplies for your day out, and take the turning up Taunton Road by the White Swan pub. When you reach Bon Accord Road, turn right and then left onto South Cliff Road and continue on till you reach Durlston.
Note that as you approach Durlston from either direction the hill does get quite steep.
You can also travel by bus – catch the Purbeck Breezer No 40 or 50 to Swanage throughout the year. The hourly services from Poole or Bournemouth terminate at Swanage bus station, from which you can walk to Durlston (around a mile and uphill) or grab a taxi from the station.
Seasonal bus direct to Durlston
During the summer months (typically the end of May to the end of September) there is a half-hourly shuttle bus from Swanage straight to Durlston Country Park, which you can take if you’re staying in swanage or connect to it from the No 40 or 50 Poole and Bournemouth buses.
Find the timetable for the Durlston Explorer No 5 on the morebus website: www.morebus.co.uk/summer-route-and-timetable-changes
By friendly community car
A local lift-sharing scheme has been set up to help everyone enjoy the benefits of Durlston.
The Durlston Neighbourcar is a community initiative which runs during week days and enables both able-bodied and less-able bodies visitors and residents to access the country park.
Simply call or email to sign up to use the service (or to volunteer as a driver) .
Durlston Neighbourcar price and contact:
- Cost: £2 – £3 return (petrol contribution)
- Phone number: 01929 424443
- Email: email@example.com
Volunteering at Durlston
Get involved with Durlston’s friendly and active volunteer group, which helps maintain the park and conserve its wildlife alongside Durlston’s knowledgeable rangers.
It’s a great way to try your hand at something new, or offer help across a range of areas such as photography, surveys, research and education.
Session timings and information
The team runs two volunteer sessions a week on Wednesdays throughout the year.
- The first slot is between 9.30am – 12.30 pm
- The second session runs from 1pm – 4pm
You can give as much or as little time as you like and no previous specific skills are necessary.
Pop into the park’s visitor centre to find out more or check out this handy volunteer information sheet: www.durlston.co.uk/userfiles/files/Volunteer%20Information%20Sheet%202020(1).pdf
Get in touch with the team
If you want to dedicate some time to helping with Durlston’s ongoing conservation and upkeep get in touch by email or phone:
📞 01929 424443
‘The Shed’ at Durlston
Fancy discovering a new hobby or rekindling an old favourite pastime? The Shed is a great way to meet try out skills like woodworking, arts & crafts and gardening, whilst meeting other like-minded people in this fantastic community work base.
The Shed is nestled in the trees, just past the woodland entrance to the Park, on Lighthouse Road. Access to The Shed is fully accessible and is open to all ages.It’s especially popular with people with disabilities, long-term health problems and dementia.
There’s always a team of friendly and helpful volunteers on hand to support whatever projects are happening. Even if you don’t fancy trying one of the activities, it’s a lovely place to sit and soak up a bit of nature and socialise for a couple of hours.
With a fully equipped workshop inside the shed, a healthy supply of tea, coffee and biscuits on hand, and a garden area including raised beds and a greenhouse, there’s something for everyone at Durlston’s shed.
Items made at the shed are often sold in the shop in Durlston Castle.
Regular meets at The Shed are every Wednesday between 2pm and 4pm.
There are also morning sessions on a Monday for students from local schools and a later cuppa and chat session open to everyone.
Check out how you could learn a new skill or contribute to Durlston’s conservation in this short video:
Nearby country parks and nature reserves
If Durlston’s inspired you to visit Dorset’s other country parks and nature reserves, there are plenty of options to explore within Purbeck, as well as some a little further afield.
Country parks and nature reserves within 30 minutes of Swanage
- Arne Nature Reserve – This RSPB-managed reserve is a great place to do some wildlife-spotting and has a diverse landscape and thriving habitats ☕ 🚻 (Drive from Swanage: 25 minutes)
- The Blue Pool – Children can explore the woodland walks and play equipment that surround the disused clay pit here by following one of the nature quiz trails that can be picked up at the entrance ☕ 🚻 (20 minutes)
- Bog Lane Green Space – Located just outside Wareham, Bog Lane makes for a pleasant stroll through quiet woodland (20 minutes)
- The Downs – A stone’s throw from the centre of Swanage town, just above the amphitheatre and Prince Albert Gardens, is The Downs. Take a bracing cliff walk or continue on to Durlston or connect to the South West Coast Path (Located in Swanage)
- Hartland Moor – Hartland Moor, adjoining Middlebere Heath, and nearby Slepe and Stoborough Heaths provide endless hours of walking and exploration, with expansive views across Purbeck and toward Corfe Castle. Much of this landscape is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), a national nature reserve and part of the Dorset AONB (15 – 20 minutes)
- Studland Nature Reserve – Studland and Godlingston Heath Nature Reserve is a huge expanse perfect for exploring on foot, bicycle or horseback. The nature reserve also includes Studland Bay and is renowned for its rich habitats and diverse wildlife. Refreshments and public toilets can be found in Studland village or at the beaches (10 – 15 minutes)
- Townsend Nature Reserve 13 hectares of untouched, grassed paths and exceptional views over Swanage and toward the Isle of Wight are tucked away in this hidden gem a short walk or drive from town. Dorset Wildlife Trust asks that dogs are kept on a lead to ensure wildlife and grazing animals are not disturbed (Located in Swanage)
- Upton Country Park – Upton Country Park can be found just off the main road to Poole (A350). With excellent children’s playground equipment and a Georgian mansion and walled garden set within 160 acres of parkland, gardens, woodland and shoreline there is plenty to explore. Entry is free ☕ 🚻 (30 minutes)
Country parks within an hour of Swanage
- Abbotsbury Swannery and Subtropical Gardens – Walk through the sanctuary at Abbotsbury of a 600-strong colony of mute swans or wander around the nearby subtropical gardens. The Abbotsbury Tourism website has full details for both the swannery and the gardens: abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk ☕ 🚻 (Drive from Swanage: about an hour)
- Athelhampton House and Gardens – An enchanting Tudor mansion with pretty gardens, located just outside Dorchester. For entrance prices and opening times visit Athelhampton’s website: www.athelhampton.com 📞 01305 848363 ☕ 🚻 (35 – 40 minutes)
- Kingston Lacy House and Gardens – Located near Wimborne, Kingston Lacy’s impressive Venetian-style house, gardens and parkland makes for a full and varied day out. Interestingly, you can see the keys to Corfe Castle, which are on display here. Kingston Lacy is now a National Trust property: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kingston-lacy 📞 01202 883402 ☕ 🚻 (40 – 45 minutes)
- Moors Valley Country Park and Forest – Packed with different ways to explore its 800 acres, from a miniature steam train to off-road Segways, and from wooden bridges to treetop trails with Go Ape, there’s something for everyone here. Find out more on the Moors Valley website: www.moors-valley.co.uk 📞 01425 470721 ☕ 🚻 (About an hour)
- Thorncombe Woods Nature Reserve – With 26 hectares of ancient woodland and heathland to explore, Thorncombe Woods is also right next to novelist and poet Thomas Hardy’s birthplace. Hardy’s Cottage sits in a quiet, magical setting, which was the inspiration for some of his most famous works. Find out how to explore and what wildlife you’ll expect to see on Dorset Council’s website: www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/countryside-coast-parks/country-parks-and-visitor-centres/hardys-birthplace-visitor-centre/thorncombe-wood-local-nature-reserve.aspx 📞 01305 251228 ☕ 🚻 (40 – 45 minutes)