Durlston Castle and Country Park sit on the promontory of land that is Durlston Head.
The headland makes for interesting geology, as well as a good walk from Peveril Point via the South West Coast Path, which encompasses some spectacular sea views.
The sea in between Peveril Point and Durlston Head is known as Durlston Bay, and the whole area is part of the Isle of Purbeck and the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Erosion has caused the limestone cliff to recede over time, and protective stabilisation defences have been put in place to protect residential homes above the cliff on Belle Vue Road.
The headland is most commonly known for Durlston Country Park and its castle, cliff walks and wildlife.
Durlston Head’s tall cliffs make for excellent habitats for birds, as well as a good viewing point for spotting sea mammals, such as dolphins.
The sea and underwater ecosystems around Durlston Head have drawn bottlenose dolphins for many years.
Whilst their populations peak and trough in the area, the best time for dolphin-spotting is late spring and autumn.
These sociable and curious creatures will come up to humans’ boats, which delights sailors, but there is concern amongst wildlife experts that too much interaction and an increase in boat traffic can be detrimental to the dolphin.
Local group Dolphin Watch has been monitoring the comings and goings of these much-loved visitors to Swanage since 1998 and is part of the Durlston Marine Project, which is a community-based awareness scheme covering some 25km of coastline. This reaches from St. Aldhelm’s Head to South Haven Point in Studland.
There are many good vantage points and benches along the coast path of Durlston Country Park from which to admire the view and watch for seabirds and dolphins – a pair of binoculars is recommended for experiencing these relatively rarely-sighted, friendly mammals.
Find out more at Durlston’s Visitor Centre, or you can even join Dolphin Watch to get involved by calling the Park on 01929 424443.
You can also let rangers know that you have spotted a dolphin or a pod of dolphins by filling in this simple form on Durlston’s website: www.durlston.co.uk/wildlife-and-marine-marine-report-a-sighting.aspx
You can be alerted to the best times for dolphin-spotting by signing up to Durlston’s Dolphin Alert programme, which is not only exciting for marine creature lovers, but beneficial to their protection and conservation through monitoring.
As well as dolphins, you’ll receive information about visiting seals, whales and basking sharks, which are also sometimes sighted.
You will receive a text message informing you that dolphins are present around Durlston Head, and you’ll be able to send your own texts to let the team know if you have spotted any.
- Cost of alert subscription: £5 annually
- How to sign up: To join, simply send an email with the subject line ‘Dolphin Alert Registration’ to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Durlston Country Park and Castle
The park and castle were the vision of a local businessman in Victorian times – George Burt. The castle was meant as a folly and restaurant for visitors, and is still used as such today, as well as now being an exhibition space and venue for weddings and other celebrations.
Burt left something of a legacy in Swanage, and various artefacts that he brought to the town and surrounding area are still intact in situ, such as the Great Globe at Durlston and the obelisk up on Ballard Down.
Durlston gives a fascinating glimpse into the Victorian history of the area, as well as Purbeck’s connection with quarrying, with the old Tilly Whim Caves. The lighthouse at Anvil Point has its own history, too.
There are plenty of walking trails and picnic spots at Durlston, as well as a thriving programme of educational and conservation events to get involved with.
Food and facilities
The headland itself, and the surrounding walking trails, have relatively limited facilities, however there is a café and restaurant on Durlston Head as part of Durlston Country Park. The Seventhwave Café is situated inside the castle.
All the amenities of Swanage town are a short walk away too, with Swanage Pier and its café and the eateries around the stone quay being the nearest.
Durlston Country Park has a large car park for visitors to the park and headland (BH19 2JL).
You may also wish to park at the long-stay Broad Road car park (BH19 2AP), from where you can walk up The Downs and along the cliff path toward Durlston.
Location on the Isle of Purbeck