Dorset walk around Swanage and Durlston

St Mary the Virgin's Church seen over the Mill Pond. Edward Griffiths

St Mary the Virgin's Church seen over the Mill Pond. Edward Griffiths - Credit: Archant

Edward Griffiths enjoys a coastal walk through parkland that was once earmarked for a gentlemen’s rather grand country estate

Clifftop Walk beyond Tilly Whim Caves. Edward Griffiths

Clifftop Walk beyond Tilly Whim Caves. Edward Griffiths - Credit: Archant

Distance: 4¾ miles (7.5km)

Time: 3 hours

Exertion: Steady ascent out of Swanage. Durlston Park is fairly easy. Some mud after rain. Return is mostly downhill.

Start: Shore Road seafront ‘clock’ shelter (Grid Ref: SZ031792).

Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195.

Public Transport: Wilts and Dorset 40 from Poole and Wareham, and 50 from Poole via Ferry.

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Dogs: On leads in parkland and on roads.

Refreshments: Seventhwave Restaurant at Durlston Castle for coffee and lunches. Pubs, cafés and chip-shops galore can be found in Swanage.


Before you set out on this walk I want you to imagine Durlston Country Park as George Burt imagined it when he bought this piece of land in 1865. He envisaged a four mile long road from Durlston to Worth Matravers, a vast estate of continuous terraces of around 150 close-packed houses and dozens of larger villas with extensive grounds. Burt managed to build some houses in Park Road and others between Peveril Down and Durlston. He also built the Castle and the Great Globe, neither of which was universally welcomed. In 1913, a Mrs J E Panton made her feelings clear: “Someone with money has built a sham castle up there, and a great and hideous globe affronts us with its unnecessary display of learning.”

Fortunately for all lovers of the Purbeck coast the rest of Burt’s grandiose plans for developing this coastal area came to nought. Thanks to the enterprise of Dorset County Council, who now owns the park, we can still enjoy a delightful landscape shaped by centuries of stone quarrying and mining and marvel at the stunning views from the cliff-top paths above the deep blue sea.

The Walk

1 From Shore Road shelter, walk up Victoria Avenue opposite. At the traffic lights, turn left into Rempstone Road. Past Cranborne Road, turn right into Gilbert Road. With Swanage Station to your left, continue round the bend and left over the railway bridge to Court Road T-junction. Turn left down to Kings Road. Cross into Church Hill. Turn into St Mary the Virgin’s churchyard. Leave up steps between the church door and St Mary’s Rooms. Up into Church Hill, the Mill Pond is to your right. Walk up to High Street. Turn right, pass Black Swan Inn and continue to the left fork into Priest’s Road. Turn left again into Cowleaze.

2 At the green, follow the tarmac path across to and between hedges to a fork. Bear left up between Park Homes 14 left and 13 right. Keep to this path all the way, now. Cross two drives. At 33 right, keep straight up and past 32 right to the footpath-arrowed half-gate. Through this, just keep straight on uphill, following the path through scrubland over old quarry workings. Ignore all side turnings and a left fork. With a caravan park gate to your right, pass a footpath-stump and keep weaving uphill through scrubland to a footpath-arrowed half-gate by the ‘Townsend Nature Reserve’ board.

3 Through the gate, pass the left California Quarry entrance and follow the lane down. Bending right, in another 100 yards, take the left signed footpath. Descend the old tarmac path between fields. Through the end gate, Follow the path through more scrub and gorse to 1½ footpath-gates. Cross the lane to the Durlston Nature Reserve gate into a walled grass track. Keep straight on and pass a left ‘Wildlife Walk’ gate. Through the end ‘Purbeck Heritage’ gate, go through the nearby left ‘Wildlife Walk’ kissing-gate. Follow the grass path straight on down, ignoring all forks, to the footpath-gate.

4 Through this, take the instant right footbridge and half-gate onto the footpath ascending to the ridge, with your first view of Anvil Point lighthouse. Follow the grass path down the ridge end to the kissing-gate and continue to the lighthouse. Past its right side boundary wall, take the ‘Coast Path - Durlston ½’ track down to rock platforms below Tilly Whim Caves. From here, climb the stepped path up the headland to the footpath-post. Follow the meandering stone wall along the cliff top walk. Reaching the Bird and Dolphin Watch area, keep following the wall. In another 100 yards, go up the left steps to Burt’s Great Globe.

5 Follow the ‘West’ path up to and past Durlston Castle. Cross in front of its ‘Durlston’, ‘Head’, and ‘Castle’ columns and up six steps into the stony track. Keep to the woodland track, with viewpoints over Durlston Bay, for ½ mile to the ‘Coast Path’ gate onto Durlston Road. Turn right. In 100 yards, turn right into Belle Vue Road. At the left bend, turn right to the footpath-gate onto Peveril Down. Follow the cliff edge down to the Coastwatch Lookout Post above the treacherous Peveril Ledges.

6 By this stage Swanage seafront is visible and there are two ways back. The adventurous can go down footpath steps between the Lookout Post and the World War II gun emplacement building and follow the, sometimes slippery, shoreline to the pier head. If you prefer the other route goes past the helicopter landing place, marked ‘H’, to the gate onto the lane. Follow the lane past cottages, the boatyard, ‘Spanish-holiday’ flats and a ‘Coast Path’ sign. Continue alongside the wall down to the pier head. Everybody now, follow the sea edge past the Stone Pier, Heritage Centre, Victorian Terrace and Mowlem Theatre back to the ‘Clock’ shelter.