Walk - Highlands End to Bridport Circular Walks
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
For the longer walk, taking in the South West Coast Path with its magnificent views up and down the coastline, start at 1, below, and continue through till 10. For the shorter walk, looping through fields into Bridport and back, start at 11 and follow the directions to join the longer route at 12. From here follow the directions for the longer route from 5 onwards.
- From the end of the drive heading south through the middle of Highlands End Holiday Park, turn left and go into the field beyond. Turn right along the hedge and go through the field to the gate in the top left-hand corner, which will lead you on to the South West Coast Path. Turning left onto the Coast Path, follow it around the old Forest Marble quarry workings and along the coastal edge of the common, to head downhill towards the harbour.
The original harbour was much further inland, and ships had to navigate a narrow passage along the River Brit, which was silted up and little more than a creek by the 1500s. A basic pier was built at the mouth of the river in the 1670s, and in 1721 an Act of Parliament was passed, permitting the diversion of the River Brit, from the eastern side of the valley to the western side, and the creation of a harbour. Bridport Harbour was built in 1744 and it became one of the busiest along this coastline. There was a thriving wool trade in the area, as well as a world-famous rope-making industry (see the Seatown to Bridport Walk). Bridport had also been a major player in the shipbuilding business since Alfred the Great established it, in the ninth century AD, and it had a fishing fleet which in later centuries sailed as far as Newfoundland to fish in the colder waters there.
The continual wash of shingle into the mouth of the river by the great storms at sea soon choked the harbour up again, however, and following wide-scale damage caused by the Great Storm of 1824 it became apparent that the harbour needed better protection from the ravages of the sea. In the 1860s parallel piers were built to provide this, although it was still necessary to use the sluice gates at the rear of the harbour to build up an adequate body of water to sweep away the accumulations of shingle when the gates were opened.
- Coming to the first of the houses, carry on downhill along the path and then the esplanade, until you come to the quay. Turning left at the bottom to skirt the harbour and walking to the roundabout, cross the road beyond and go into West Bay Holiday Park, immediately opposite.
Note the Salt House by the roundabout. This was used by the fishing fleet to store the salt, used on the long journey home from Newfoundland to preserve the catch (usually cod, but sometimes seal as well). Generally they would sail southwards down the coast of America and come straight home; but occasionally they would return via the Mediterranean, stopping off to sell the cod there, or exchange it for other goods.
- Walk through the holiday park to the end of the drive, where waymarkers lead you onwards, along the footpath running through the meadows beside the river.
Here you are walking along the Monarch's Way, the route taken by King Charles II in 1651, when he was fleeing from the Roundheads after being defeated in the Battle of Worcester. This 615-mile path travels from Worcester to Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex, where Charles took a boat to Europe.
Walking through here you will see the information board about damselflies and dragonflies, and following the waymarkers along the footpath you will see that they are accompanied by other markers featuring a dragonfly motif. Attracted by the many species of wildflowers which grow alongside the river and in the meadows, these beautiful insects themselves draw other unusual species to the valley. On a quiet, still day maybe you'll catch a glimpse of a long-legged heron standing in the water, fishing, or the blue and orange flash of a shy kingfisher darting along above.
Highlands End Holiday Park is currently participating in a 10-year Countryside Stewardship scheme, and as part of this initiative it is creating wildlife zones in the park. Future plans include a wildlife pond, designed to attract ducks, wild geese, newts, toads and frogs, as well as dragonflies. See the wdlh website for details.
- Ignoring the paths leading uphill towards the mast to your left, carry on ahead until you reach the main A35 road.
- Crossing the road via the underpass, carry on in the same direction, ignoring the first path on your left. Go through the gate by the cottage, carrying on along the same path when another path forks off to the right a moment later. After a while you will arrive at Skilling Hill Road.
- Turn left on the road and walk past the school on your right and the sports pitches on your left.
- Turn left towards the Leisure Centre and then turn right onto Watton Park, turning left again towards the end, to pick up the footpath between the houses. Follow the waymarkers through the fields until you reach the lane beyond. Carry on along it to Watton Lane, a short distance away.
- Turn left here and walk along the lane past Watton Farm, bearing left with it as it sweeps around before it travels beneath the A35 road.
- Ignoring the steps to the left beyond the underpass, carry on through the gate ahead of you and along the track, heading slightly to the left of the mast on the hill.
- The track turns to footpath a moment later. Carry on in the same direction, bearing left when the right-hand hedge runs away at right-angles, to follow the path the length of this field, to the gap in the hedge towards the far end, on your right. From here go straight across the next field to the gap in the opposite hedge, which will lead you in the same direction to the bridleway by the mast. Turn right here and walk to the road beyond, where turning left will drop you back into Highlands End Holiday Park.
- For the short route into Bridport, take the drive northwards out of Highlands End Holiday park, towards the exit, and turn right onto the bridleway by the mast. Carry on along the track to where the hedges bottleneck either side of it, and then turn left onto the footpath, following the left-hand hedge through two fields before going through the hedge at the end to walk on the other side of it, carrying along in the same direction, to the end of this field. The path then goes through onto the southern side of the hedge again, where it drops straight downhill to the Monarch's Way at the bottom.
- Turn left here and carry on along the path until you come to the underpass at 5. From here, follow the directions for the longer route.
There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Bridport and West Bay.