Walk - Corfe Castle to Kimmeridge
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 the Square in Corfe Castle, with the church on your left, walk to the monument and turn right and then immediately left, following the fingerpost for the Purbeck Way towards Wareham. The path runs alongside the stream beneath the castle and comes to a road. Cross the road and go through the gate to take the bridleway to the left.
Perched strategically on its mound in the dramatic break between the towering ridges of West Hill and East Hill, Corfe Castle was in the perfect position for a stronghold in uncertain times, since no-one could travel between the north and south of the Isle of Purbeck without passing it. Although there was probably a Roman defensive site here, the crumbling ruins visible today are of the eleventh-century limestone rebuild of a ninth-century wooden building. Two centuries later King John added a fine hall and chapel, and some domestic buildings; and his son, Henry III, constructed additional walls, towers and gatehouses.
In the sixteenth century Elizabeth I sold it to her dancing master, Sir Christopher Hatton, and in 1635 it was sold to the Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Bankes. When the Roundheads raged through Dorset in the English Civil War a decade later, the Royalist castle survived a six-week siege and a number of half-hearted blockades. In 1646 a second major siege was successful and the Parliamentary forces systematically destroyed the castle, although an astonishing proportion of it survived.
The Purbeck Way is a 27¾ -mile walking route which runs from Wareham via Corfe Castle, Ballard Down and Chapman's Pool to Swanage, exploring the highlights of the Isle of Purbeck's outstanding scenery.
- Follow the bridleway along the foot of the hill for about half a mile, carrying on past the track uphill towards the end of the first field. Turn right on the next track, climbing uphill but bearing left with the path before reaching the top.
On the other side of the road as you walk along below Corfe Castle are the earthworks of a ring and bailey fortress, known as The Rings, dating from the twelfth century, when rebel barons took Corfe Castle in defence of Matilda, Henry I's daughter and heir. The usurper King Stephen had The Rings built to mount a siege on Corfe, although before he had succeeded in retaking the castle he had to hasten to Arundel, where the Empress Matilda and her brother, the Earl of Gloucester, had invaded England from France. The Rings came in handy in the English Civil War, 500 years later, when the Parliamentarians used its earthworks as a convenient location for their gun battery when they mounted their own siege of Corfe Castle in the 1640s.
- Carry on along the ridge, ignoring small paths leading away on either side, until you come to the road.
From the vast quantity of flint scatters and tools found around the area, archaeologists have been able to establish that people have lived and hunted here since the Mesolithic period, some 6000 or more years ago. Many Neolithic sites have been identified, and there are extensive Bronze Age barrows around Purbeck, including several on this ridge. During the Iron Age, from roughly 700 BC to the middle of the first century AD, the area was quite densely populated, and there is evidence of Iron Age people manufacturing and exporting jewellery such as rings and bangles, made from Kimmeridge Shale on rudimentary lathes.
- Crossing the road, take the footpath opposite, signed to Steeple, bearing left downhill and then running along the left-hand (downhill) boundary at the foot of Ridgeway Hill.
- After about three-quarters of a mile, you come to some woodland and then a farm. Take the path to the left just after the farm, running alongside the hedge and joining the farm track to the road. Cross the road and carry on along the footpath opposite. At the end of the trees, the path crosses a small piece of ground and emerges in a big field. Bear right to go through the right-hand hedge just beyond the trees. In the next field bear left to the far left-hand corner at the bottom, crossing the stream and a small field to carry on uphill to the top right-hand corner of the next field. Continue ahead to the road.
In a field to the east of the path as you approach Kimmeridge there is a prehistoric standing stone known as the Harp Stone. It is on the bank of the River Corfe, which was the boundary between two medieval estates at Herpston and Hyde, and was beside a road which once ran from Creech to Kimmeridge.
- Reaching the road, turn left and walk to the junction, carrying on past the Lulworth Range gate on the right to take the footpath beyond, dropping downhill to the church.
- At the front of the church take the lane to the right, forking left along the hedge just after the houses, on the path heading diagonally across the field and along the edge of the trees beyond before bearing left across the field to go through the far hedge and alongside the hedge in the next two fields, crossing the stream between them and coming out on a lane.
- Turn left on the lane, forking right after the trees to join the South West Coast Path as it heads around the shoreline. Turn left on the Coast Path to continue your journey towards Swanage.
Twenty million years ago Purbeck’s Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks were pushed up into a huge fold by great earth movements, and the chalk ridge of the Purbeck Hills was forced into an almost vertical position by the power of the movements. (See the Dancing Ledge Walk). On the coastal fringe of Purbeck, to your right, are the dark shales of the Kimmeridge Clay which was used by the Iron Age people, and the Romans after them, to make the ornaments already mentioned.
Shale was exploited for an astonishing number of purposes through the ages, from grease, pitch and fertiliser to wax and varnish, as well as larger items like table tops and furniture legs. There was even an Oil Shale Workshop as far back as the Roman times, and there was mention of local oil being used to light the streets of Paris, as well as nearby Wareham. In the sixteenth-century local oil powered a glassworks here.
On the northern shores of Kimmeridge Bay, to the west of the car park, is BP's Kimmeridge Wellsite, thought to be the UK's oldest continuously producing wellsite. It was first drilled in 1959, although the area has seen repeated attempts to drill for oil since before World War II. Oil is extracted by beam pump, or the “Nodding Donkey”, and produces some 80 barrels a day (12,720 litres).
The cliffs along this part of the Dorset coast are of international geological importance, containing fossil-bearing rocks from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods which have helped to shape our understanding of evolution. The Kimmeridge rocks, in particular, are famous for their fossil reptiles and ammonites.
In Corfe Castle and in Kimmeridge during the tourist season.