Walk - Highlands End to Seatown and Golden Cap
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.
- 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 right onto the Coast Path, follow it down to Eype Mouth, crossing the river on the stepping stones. From here you climb up to Thorncombe Beacon.
Eype gets its name from the Old English, meaning “a steep place”.
The coast to the west of the rivermouth at Eype is noted for its rare beetles, including two species that are not found anywhere else in Britain.
Both Thorncombe Beacon Mouth and Eype Mouth are popular places for fossil-hunting, and frequent finds here include starfish, and ammonites. If you go fossil hunting on these beaches, you need to do it on a falling tide, so that you are not cut off at high tide.
There are four Bronze Age burial mounds on the northern side of Thorncombe Beacon, which appear to be lined up towards Colmer's Hill, the highest hill in the district and a couple of miles north. A fifth barrow on Eype Down, also to the north, straddles the line between these ancient sites.
According to local legend, the various mounds around here and neighbouring Langdon Hill were made by the devil as he bounced around when the Abbot of Forde Abbey kicked him out to sea. They are sometimes known as the "Devil's Jumps" for this reason.
In 1588, a chain of beacons was built along the south coast to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada, which had been sighted off Plymouth, and Thorncombe Beacon was one of these.
As well as walking on the South West Coast Path, you are walking on the Monarch's Way. This 615-mile long-distance path traces the route of King Charles II's flight to France, following his defeat at the hands of the Roundheads in the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
From Thorncombe Beacon the path begins to drop as you approach Doghouse Hill, and it continues to descend above Ridge Cliff, until once more it reaches sea level, this time at Seatown.
In 2009, archaeologists working for the National Trust found evidence that suggests that Doghouse Hill was West Dorset's oldest human settlement. Finds here include a stone hearth and a fire pit, as well as pot shards, from the Bronze Age (2500 - 1000 BC). There were also traces found of human habitation during the Mesolithic Age (10000 - 4000 BC). At that time the hill would have been over a mile inland. Since then the continual wash of the sea has eroded the cliffs on its southern side, but even in the Mesolithic Age it would still have afforded far-reaching and strategically important views across the surrounding landscape.
- At Seatown the Coast Path turns inland on the road uphill towards Chideock. For the shorter walk turn back here and retrace your steps to Highlands End.
Apart from Golden Cap Holiday Park, Seatown consists of just a handful of cottages and the Anchor Inn. The inn is said to have been the stamping ground of a band of nineteenth century smugglers known as “The Chideock Gang”. Maybe the customs men based in the coastguard cottages immediately above the inn thought they were fishermen!
If you are carrying on to Golden Cap, turn right up the road towards Chideock, and pick up the Coast Path to the left a little way up its road. Continue across the field and through the copse, then climb steeply uphill through the open heathland on the seaward side of the next field.
- Emerging from the scrub onto open ground, fork left and carry on along the Coast Path as it crosses to the left-hand corner at the top of this open ground and starts climbing towards Golden Cap. However, if you want to avoid the steep ascent and descent going over Golden Cap, instead of taking this left-hand path you can fork right here, to pick up the return path at (6).
If you are opting for the longer walk and carrying on along the Coast Path towards the top of Golden Cap, the path goes through the gap in the hedge and curves around the back of the hill before it climbs to the summit, and another path leads back to Langdon Hill. Again stay with the Coast Path as it summits and then zigzags down towards the valley.
- When the path forks at the end of this field, take the right-hand path and follow it downhill towards St Gabriel's Wood.
The ruins in front of you are all that remains of St Gabriel's Chapel, first recorded in 1240. The walk continues up the track to the right from here; but take the time to stroll down to Stanton St Gabriel, just a stone's throw to your left, where the handful of cottages, refurbished as holiday cottages by the National Trust, are all that now remains of the medieval hamlet.
There has been a settlement here since Saxon times. The main house of the settlement is St Gabriel's House, thought to have been the medieval manor house of Stanton. In 1650 there were 23 families here, but by the end of the eighteenth century most of the agricultural workers had left to go to Bridport and work in the rope-making industry. When the old coach road passing through the hamlet was diverted inland because of the sea's erosion of the cliffs around Golden Cap, the remaining population drifted away, leaving the remote and ruined chapel as the perfect storehouse for the local smugglers.
- From the hamlet walk back up the track past the chapel and carry on along it, turning right again just after it goes through into the next field, and from here walk uphill along the hedge, turning left at the top to follow the path to the gate at the far end.
- Going through the gate into the next field, carry straight on ahead to the gate at the top, where the path skirts the southern end of the woodland on Langdon Hill. Going through the gate, carry on past the wood to where it meets the green lane beyond.
- Continue ahead along this lane (Pettycrate Lane), ignoring the path to the right soon afterwards. After a while, Langdon Lane joins from the left. Go on past this, until the next fork, a little way beyond.
- Pettycrate Lane heads off to the left here, towards Chideock. Turn off it, bearing right to follow the other lane as it starts to drop downhill towards Seatown.
- Reaching Sea Hill Lane, just beyond Seahill House, turn right and go back down towards Seatown. From here retrace your steps to return along the Coast Path to Highlands End.
There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Bridport and West Bay and Golden Cap Holiday Park.