Meander through hay meadows, explore quiet woodland trails and be wowed by stunning sea views at Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve – just a stone’s throw from Swanage town.
Durlston makes for a great family day out in nature in a special spot along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and in the Dorset AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), and boasts some 320 acres of cliff walks and countryside to explore.
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
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 (waste bins are provided throughout the park).
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 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 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
- 📞 01929 422961 (from 4.30pm onwards)
Find out more on the Wessex Astronomical Society’s website: www.wessex-astro.org.uk/durlston.php?subject=Use#
How to get to Durlston
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.
- April – October: From £2 for an hour to £5 for the day
- November – March: £3 for the day
Payment is by cash or card.
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
Check out how you could contribute 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 ☕ 🚻 (The Blue Pool is currently closed) (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)