Walk - Swanage Coastal Park - Corfe Castle
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From Swanage Coastal Park, walking down the road, take the turning on the left hand side, signed Priests Way. Continue westwards on the Priest Way ignoring the tracks leading off to right and left , until you come to the National Trust sign at Eastington. Do not go onto the footpath to the left here, signed to Seacombe Bottom and the Coast Path, but carry on to Eastington Farm, where a track crosses the footpath.
- Take the path straight ahead signed, “Priest's Way/Worth”, and follow it to the far left-hand corner of each of the next two fields, to come out on the road into Worth Matravers.
- On the road, turn left and go into Worth Matravers, carrying on straight ahead at the Square and Compass and continuing into the village itself.
- Carrying on past the village green with its pond and pump, and continuing past the church, take the footpath on your right at the far side of the field beyond the church, leading up out of Worth Matravers and into the countryside above.
The quarry workings on your right are the Swanworth Quarries, a major source of Purbeck limestone. These quarries are of particular interest to geologists, containing the most complete section on the Isle of Purbeck of the many different beds of limestones.
Local limestone beds are also a source of fascination to palaeontologists, or fossil-hunters, and they are famous for their fossilised dinosaur footprints. These are mostly from small dinosaurs, but at nearby Keat's Quarry footprints were discovered that are almost a metre across (see the Dancing Ledge Walk).
- At Hill Bottom the path joins the Purbeck Way. Turn right and carry on as the path winds up through the trees in Coombe Bottom and heads up onto the open ground above and onwards to the B3069 road.
The Purbeck Way is a 12½-mile walking route which runs from Wareham, through the best of the local scenery – riverside, heathland, woodland, downland, the imposing Purbeck Hills and the dramatic Jurassic coastline – to Swanage. Another waymarked 12½-mile loop, the Purbeck Way West, links it from Wareham to Coombe Keynes, passing through Lulworth en route.
- Arriving at the B3069, cross the road and pick up the track opposite, just a little to the left, and with it head downhill over farmland.
After a short distance, Corfe Castle comes into view, perched strategically on its mound in the dramatic break between the towering ridges of West Hill and East Hill, with the flat heaths and downs of the Wareham hinterland visible behind it. It was in the perfect position for a stronghold in uncertain times: no-one could travel from north to south (or vice versa) through the Isle of Purbeck without passing the castle.
Although it is thought likely that there was a Roman defensive site here, the crumbling ruins visible today are the remains of an eleventh-century limestone rebuild of a ninth-century wooden building. In the thirteenth century King John carried out extensive improvements, adding a fine hall and chapel as well as some domestic buildings; and his son, Henry III, carried on where he left off, constructing additional walls, towers and gatehouses.
In the sixteenth century it passed out of the hands of monarchs, when Elizabeth I sold it to her dancing master, Sir Christopher Hatton, and in 1635 it was sold again, to the Lord Chief Justice Sir John Bankes. When the Roundheads raged through Dorset in the English Civil War a decade later, ravaging many of the local strongholds where Royalists resisted the Parliamentarian takeover, the castle survived a six-week siege and a number of half-hearted blockades.
In 1646, however, a second major siege was successful, thanks to the efforts of a treacherous inmate, and the Parliamentary forces systematically destroyed the castle. Nonetheless, like many a castle built by the Plantagenet kings, it was fairly indestructible, and an astonishing proportion of it survived the demolition.
- Towards the bottom of the hill, among the trees, the Purbeck Way goes off to the left. Turning with it, follow the footpath through the fields and over the footbridge, onto Corfe Common.
Scoles Farmhouse, in the fields to the west of the footpath, is a Grade II listed building. Although the main house is early seventeenth century, parts of it date back to the thirteenth century. The manor of Afflington, over to the east, dates even further back, being listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as the Manor of Alvronetone, held by Aelfrun. The Bronze Age barrows on Afflington lands, however, show that people were living here maybe three thousand years before that.
- On Corfe Common, stay on the Purbeck Way, climbing towards the castle and then turning left onto the path heading roughly westwards towards the B3069 as it travels northwards this time towards Corfe Castle village. Reaching the road, cross it and carry on through the gate on the far side.
Corfe Common itself, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and preserved as rough grazing and a public open space, has extensive earthworks, field patterns and trackways going right back through history to prehistoric times. An axe and several small flints found in a disused sand quarry on West Common have been dated as being from the Mesolithic period, which ran from the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, to the start of the Bronze Age in around 2035 BC.
For a long time the common was particularly known for its eight Bronze Age bowl barrows, or burial mounds; but more recent work by English Heritage unearthed two more of these barrows on east Common. These would have been high-status burials, and their positions on hill-tops made them useful landmarks for the people who lived here.
There are field systems visible here, too, from the Iron Age, which succeeded the Bronze Age a few centuries before the Romans invaded, and the English Heritage study also identified a Romano-British field system here known as “Celtic fields”. A series of parallel cuttings on the common were confirmed as ancient trackways, where carts loaded with stone were brought from local quarries to Corfe Castle.
- At the waymarker, turn right towards Corfe Castle and follow the footpath beside the houses, heading directly towards the castle, crossing the road at Halves Cottages to carry on along the right-hand boundaries of the fields until you come to the playground at the foot of the castle. From here go left between the houses onto West Street. Turning right follow West Street past the Town Hall to the Square.
- From the Town Hall carry on around the Square onto East Street, to the bus stop on the far side of the road some distance to the right.
There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Corfe Castle