At the top of my list of things to do while vacationing in Dorset was visit Durdle Door along the Jurassic Coast of south-central England. This huge limestone arch with a hole in it was created towards the end of the last ice age. And some of the exposed rock along this coast dates from the Upper Jurassic era of 150 million years ago. With a good pair of eyes or binoculars, you may be able to see the fossilized remains of Cycad trees just above the arch. The name “Durdle” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for "thirl" which means a pierced hole, to bore or drill. References to Durdle Door, or Durdle Dor as it is sometimes called, go back a thousand years.
Durdle Door is the most noteworthy landscape feature along the coastal stretch known as Jurassic Coast. It spans from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset. Including Lulworth Cove, this region is part of Lulworth Estate which is owned by the Weld family. Humphrey Weld bought Lulworth Castle and the surrounding land in 1641.
For Best Pictures Arrive Early… or Late
We arrive at Durdle Door Holiday Park around midday. The parking lot is already full. But we find a spot and pay at the meter for a couple of hours. Staying for the whole day will cost you around £9.00. If you want dramatic pictures of the coastline, plan to arrive at sunrise or before sunset. The park will be mostly empty then, allowing for gorgeous, people-free landscape shots. Arriving early or late will also better guarantee a parking space.
From the parking lot, we can't see Durdle Door. Most people seem to be walking east, so, like sheep, we follow. The path along the top of the cliffs takes us to a lookout over Lulworth Cove. The wind blows hard, but the scenery is stunning. The cove is almost perfectly round and surrounded by white cliffs. The sea is turquoise and makes us think of the Mediterranean. We want a closer look and decide to visit the cove later in the day.
Man O’War Beach
Turning back from where we came, we get a fantastic view of Man O'War Beach. The beach is a long way down. Stairs are cut into the cliffs for those who want to swim, sunbathe or just relax in this beautiful sheltered bay. And there are so many people there. From what we can see, it seems a safe place to swim as the beach does not drop off too quickly. But as we didn't plan for swimming, we don't venture down the winding steps.
Through a small dip in the cliff behind Man O'War Beach, we barely see the top of Durdle Door. Perhaps there is a better view higher up. I climb the hillside, making sure to avoid the cow patties scattered all over the field. I don't see many cows but they do roam freely and can be plentiful from what I have heard. From the top of the hill, I can see rolling fields and what might be the Lulworth Firing Ranges, but I'm not sure.
Back at the car park, we rest for a bit to get our bearings. Toilets, picnic tables and some refreshment stands are conveniently available. And a small gift shop as well. I realize I didn't pay enough for parking so I hike back to the car and put more money in the meter. Carole decides to start the long walk down the meandering path to Durdle Door. After ten minutes, I catch up with her when she stops to rest on a park bench. We're still on top of the cliffs. Looking westward, the trail appears to go on for miles.
Thin Strip of Limestone – Durdle Door
After a short walk, there it is, the famed Durdle Door. This thin strip of limestone with an arched hole created by the sea bashing against the rocks for thousands upon thousands of years looks astounding. The rock strata are almost vertical and quite narrow. This beautifully curved cliff attracts droves of photographers from all over the world. Essentially why I wanted to see it. Several music videos were shot here but I can only think of the Tears for Fears one called "Shout".
Before long, we are determined to go down to the beach. With many unevenly spaced steps, it's not the easiest stairs to maneuver. But we take our time and eventually reach the beach. Looking ahead, the trek back will be daunting.
Near the arch, the beach is fairly crowded. The water looks clear and is safe for swimming as far as bacteria goes. But there are no lifeguards. If you have children be sure you keep an eye on them. The beach drops off suddenly in spots and can be dangerous when not expected. The Man O'War Beach is safer from this perspective.
Tourists Are Easy to Spot
To my surprise, the beach is not sandy but pebbly. The pebbles are smooth and fairly comfortable. We sit for a while enjoying the sun and watch the white, frothy waves lapping against the shore. Kids dart in and out of the water. They don't seem to mind the temperature. Must be locals. Tourists are easy to spot as they are the ones wearing jackets.
While Carole rests, I venture west along the beach towards the white, chalky cliffs. The beach ends at Bat's Head. Butter Rock sits proudly in the water next to a smaller arch in the cliff. Warning signs caution that one should not walk beside the cliffs or go into the caves that were carved by the sea thousands of years ago. Rock slides, or landslips, can happen. In 2013, a huge landslide wiped out part of the coastal path near Durdle Door. Still, people fearlessly sit on the rocks and in the caves.
I take tons of pictures. The beach is less crowded here. Hikers standing along the top edges of these magnificent, powder-white cliffs look so tiny.
Time to Tackle the Steps
Okay. Time to go back and tackle the steps again. It takes us a while, but we reach the car and drive to Lulworth Cove. The drive is short – less than 5 minutes. Weaving through the narrow streets, we find the main car park in the centre of the village.
No doubt we are in a tourist town. The Visitor's Centre is our first stop. For those interested, animations and videos illustrate how the environment and weather formed this coast eons ago. There are plenty of books, rocks and fossils for sale. Schools and other groups can arrange field sessions with the Lulworth rangers here as well.
Dorset Cream Tea Special
Now a little hungry, we decide to stop at Finleys Café for some snacks. Just in time for the last serving of tea and scones. Their Dorset Cream Tea special for £4.95 includes a pot of tea, 2 scones with jam and clotted cream. Just what we needed. The sign next to the cash register says, "We don't serve Fast Food, we serve Fresh Food as fast as we can". Amazing photos of Durdle Door and the Cove hang on the café walls. Makes we wish I was a better photographer.
After our snacks, we make our way down to the cove through the tiny but lovely village. Narrow winding streets are lined with cob and thatch cottages. We pass an enchanting fudge and sweet shop called The Doll's House. A sign out front explains the cottage dates from the mid-19th century and was built with timbers from Newfoundland and planking salvaged from a shipwreck along the coast. If we hadn't already snacked, we would stop here for tea and sweets.
Lulworth Cove – Quiet and Serene
Continuing down Main Road we reach our destination. One can explore the beach, swim, boat or hike up the rocky hills on both sides of the cove to search for interesting rocks and fossils, or just for fun. Unlike Durdle Door, the cove is not crowded, but it is later in the day. Fairly quiet and serene here. The only bit of excitement was when someone's raft floated away from him before he noticed it was gone, and he had to swim out to the middle of the cove to retrieve it.
We don’t stay here very long and drive back to our bed-and-breakfast in Poundbury to relax a bit before going for supper at the Duchess of Cornwall Inn and Restaurant in town. Our gracious and helpful BnB hosts, Katie and Pete, actually work the morning shift at this restaurant. If you are looking for a quiet, relaxing place to stay while in the Dorchester area, I fully recommend staying in Poundbury. This is what I expect a quaint, English town to be.