England’s only natural World Heritage Site

The Jurassic Coast needs no introduction: renowned worldwide for its breathtaking scenery and geological importance, this 95 mile stretch of coastline dominates Dorset’s landscape, history and character. 

Woman and puppy looking at boats in Lulworth Cove

With its countless unspoilt beaches, magnificent panoramic views and endless opportunities for exploration, the Jurassic Coast will take you on a literal walk through time, leaving you planning your next trip before this one’s ended. But where to start?

Purbeck’s Jurassic Coast

Easily explored from Swanage and its surrounding areas, the Purbeck stretch of the Jurassic Coastline boasts some of Britain’s most well-loved landmarks and offers a multitude of memories in the making.

The iconic and famous

  • Durdle Door – this natural limestone arch rising from the sea is one of the most photographed landforms in Britain
  • Lulworth Cove – a magnificent sweeping cove that draws thousands of visitors a year can be found at the foot of the picturesque village of West Lulworth
  • Old Harry Rocks – the unique chalk rock formation, known world-wide for its stark white, looming presence, stands boldly off the coast between Studland Bay and Swanage Bay

The intriguing and fascinating

  • Kimmeridge Bay – the best place for rock-pooling and fossil hunting in Purbeck. Fossils are commonly found here, and you can explore the local finds of skeletal dinosaur and pterosaur remains at the Etches Collection in Kimmeridge village
  • Peveril Point – reimagine the smugglers tales that surround this intriguing spit of land that reaches out into the sea from the southern end of Swanage Bay
  • St Aldhelm’s Chapel – dramatically situated in isolation close to the cliff edge at St Aldhelm’s Head near Worth Matravers, this chapel is shrouded in mysterious stories as to its beginnings. You’ll notice its unusual construction – with its walls built to face the four points of a compass
  • Grange Arch – this somewhat curious 18th Century folly was constructed as an ‘eyecatcher’ by the then owner of Grade I listed Creech Grange, which is nestled below it at the foot of the Purbeck Hills. From Grange Arch you can take in stunning views of both Tyneham village to one side and across the sea to Portland, with access to a variety of coastal and range walks

The little-known gems

  • Chapman’s Pool – a secluded, yet wild cove, accessible from Worth Matravers for a spot of peace
  • The Downs – rolling, untouched grasslands to give you a quiet, undisturbed view of Swanage and its seascapes, where locals walk their dogs and ponies graze contentedly
  • Little Sea – this ‘hidden’ freshwater lake in Studland is a haven for wildlife such as otters and water voles
  • Bramble Bush Bay – a locals’ favourite that runs parallel to Studland’s Shell Bay where houseboats lean and rocks known as dragons’ teeth yawn into the sea
  • Priest’s Way – popular with locals, this medieval pathway once helped the local priest keep villages connected. Still buzzing with wildlife, this makes a unique walk in Purbeck – and ends in one of the county’s most unique pubs where you can examine fossils in its miniature museum whilst sipping a local cider

The epic evolutionary history

Fossils at Lulworth visitor centre

Designated a World Heritage Site in 2001 by UNESCO for its ‘Outstanding universal value’ to the study of earth science, The Jurassic Coast is rich with important fossil sites and geological landforms of global significance that span 185 million years – or the Mesozoic Era. 

The Mesozoic Era is made up of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, but as that was a bit of a mouthful, the Jurassic Coast gained its name from the most well-known of these.

Planet Earth’s history is beneath your feet as you walk along paths or over rocks, and among the breathtaking cliffs with each step on the Jurassic Coast. The striking white chalk of iconic landforms such as Old Harry Rocks reveal the most recent ‘layer’ of Mesozoic rock, whereas the yellow sand and limestone cliffs of the famous ’Broadchurch’ cliffs of West Bay, along with Portland Limestone, were formed in the earlier Jurassic period. 

Further west and into Devon you’ll find that rocks have a more red colour due to deserts formed in the Triassic period.

Each era and area has different fossils and evidence of marine ecosystems.

Quick itinerary for exploring in…

An hour – for a quick park-up and scamper with the kids or the dog:

  • Ballard Down (and Nine Barrow Down) –  skirting the cliffs of the Purbeck Hills, there are numerous starting points to walks offering panoramic views of the Jurassic Coast. For a short walk encompassing the imposing Obelisk, park at Victoria Avenue car park, or for a longer, more strenuous stroll park at Challow Walkers car park in Corfe Castle – or take the steam train from Swanage – walk up the hill and across to Nine Barrow Down. You can walk all the way back to Swanage from here
  • Peveril Point – Parking at Broad Road car park, take the path above or alongside the water’s edge; go crabbing or explore rockpools along the way and have a scamper over the rocks. Depending on the tide, take a stride out along the spit that reaches into a vanishing point in the sea (be careful at Peveril Point at all times for slippery seaweed-covered rocks). On your way back, stroll along the restored Victorian Pier and stop for an ice cream or snack at the 1859 cafe. Alternatively, for a longer ramble, there is a circular walk from Peveril Point to Anvil Point, encompassing Durlston Head
  • Range walks – for some impressive vistas and access to some of the Jurassic Coast’s most unique history the Lulworth Range walks offer a variety of short and longer walks. A favourite for many (though generally quieter than some other more well-known spots on the Jurassic Coast) is Warbarrow Bay – a short walk from the must-visit ‘ghost’ village of Tyneham, with its poignant history

Three hours explore further and stop for a picnic, or look forward to a well-earned refuel at a nearby pub or cafe after your walk:

  • Swyre Head – park at the small car park at the end of West Street for this, the highest point of the Purbeck Hills; a track will lead you around stunning views of the valley which cradles the historic Encombe Estate; enjoy panoramic views that reach across to Portland and Kimmeridge Bay; back to the Scott Arms in Kingston for a meal or a pint
  • Winspit – park at the Square and Compass pub in Worth Matravers; follow the signs down to Winspit, quietly checking the caves for resident mouse-eared and greater horseshoe bats as you go; picnic at the unique disused quarry; head back up to the pub for a local cider and pasty
  • Dancing Ledge – park at Spyway car park on Durnford Drove in Langton Matravers; walk the gentle incline taking in views across Swanage as you go; stop for a picnic before exploring this special area – be aware, though, that the descent to the tidal pool requires some scrambling so is unsuitable for children

All day make a day of it with these family friendly days out in nature:

  • Durlston Country Park – woodland trails, clifftop walks and hay meadows await. Break the exploring up with a stop at the cafe and exhibition space in Durlston Castle
  • Studland – spend the day on the beach or do a bit of everything Studland offers – run down the sand dunes, swim in the shallow water, hire a kayak, go for a horse ride or take a trip on the Sandbanks Ferry
  • Worbarrow Bay & Tyneham Village – many visitors to the ‘ghost’ village of Tyneham don’t know there’s a quiet, unspoilt bay with fantastic views and walking paths just a short walk away. It’s fairly remote so pack a picnic and soak in the secret atmosphere in this special place

A week or more – why not check out the South West Coast Path trail, Britain’s longest and oldest National Trail?

Being spoilt for choice is never a bad thing, but – no matter how much we want to – we can’t explore everything at once. Why not take on the challenge of completing it from start to finish, stopping at the main attractions along the way.

Lulworth Cove coast path signs

There are so many wonderful walks to explore and stunning seascapes to photograph we had to commit a whole page to them – along with where to stop and refuel with a cake or a light bite, sample a locally-produced ale or stay the night along the way.

Rainy day? 

How to explore the Jurassic Coast on a rainy day

Red wellington boots splashing in puddle

Whilst Dorset and the South West coast is renowned for its climate, it does occasionally rain, but that doesn’t need to dampen your adventurous spirit. If you’re anything like most Purbeck and Swanage locals you own a pair of wellies and even relish a wild, windswept wintry walk on a beach or clifftop, but what about the inevitable stormy day? You can still explore the stories behind the Jurassic Coastline and its history in the local museums, and learn all about the historical and geological significance of the land that is under your feet once you can get your exploring boots on again.

  • Swanage Museum
  • Square and Compass museum in Worth Matravers
  • Etches Collection in Kimmeridge
  • Dorset County Museum in Dorchester

Nearby Jurassic attractions

If you’re staying in Swanage a while and want to explore more of the Jurassic Coast beyond Purbeck, here are some of the highlights:

  • West Bay
  • Lyme Regis
  • Chesil Beach