Walk - Lulworth Cove & The Fossil Forest
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 bottom corner of the car park, by the Heritage Centre, take the right-hand footpath opposite to follow the South West Coast Path along the lane to the viewpoint above Stair Hole.
The rocks here, ranging from 150 million years old on the left to 60 million years old on the right, were formed underwater and were later tilted by the collision of continents. Some 10,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age, an enormous river of glacial meltwater carved a passage to the sea through the rock, and the sea flooded in, completely eroding the softer rocks behind the hard headland of Portland limestone and creating Lulworth Cove.
Over time, the pounding of the waves has continued to sculpt the rocks around the cove. Having to bend around the hard Portland limestone, the waves lost their energy at the point where they curved, depositing small particles of sand and shingle. Where they entered the cove head-on, losing none of their force, they piled up heavy rounded pebbles at the base of the chalk cliffs.
Winter storms cut away the base of these cliffs, loosening the rocks higher up and causing intermittent rockfalls. Where cracks and weaknesses existed in the rocks the waves carved these into caves, and as the trapped air was compressed in these caves by the action of the water so it escaped through cracks in the roof of the cave, slowly enlarging them to create blowholes. The caves were further eroded to arches, like those at Stair Hole, and these in turn disintegrated into stacks.
The fascinating 'Lulworth crumple' visible in the cliffs at Stair Hole was formed as the bands of softer shale collapsed under their own weight, leaving the alternating bands of limestone to topple against one another.
From the viewpoint follow the Coast Path steeply downhill to Lulworth Cove.
For several centuries fishing was a major part of the local economy, but at the end of the nineteenth century fish stocks declined enormously. The last big mackerel shoal spotted in the cove was in 1946, and now just two boats fish commercially from Lulworth, landing crabs and lobsters. The biggest potential catch in history was in 1785, when a whale blundered into the cove; but despite the locals' best attempts to kill it, it managed to swim out to sea again.
- If the tide is out, cross the beach to the timber staircase on the far side; otherwise turn left up the steps by the beach cafe and follow the Coast Path steeply uphill, forking right with it towards the top to continue to climb, but more gently, around the cove to the far side.
Conservation methods here include using grazing ponies to control the more invasive plant species, and the result is fine grassland, bright with gorse blossom and dotted with a wide array of wildflowers. Tall stands of yellow evening primrose and blue viper's bugloss are interspersed with the pink and purple streaked blooms of the sea tree mallow. At ground level yellow-flowered bird's-foot trefoil winds around clover and speckled white sea campion, and clumps of pink and white valerians draw butterflies to the banks and walls where they flourish. Other species found here include cowslip, milkwort, scabious and wild parsnip, and in the summer the air is filled with the sound of crickets and grasshoppers.
- At the top of the wooden staircase on the eastern side of the beach you rejoin the Coast Path. Here turn right (or carry straight on ahead around the edge of the cove if you have taken the Coast Path to this point) and after about 50 metres right again, towards Pepler’s Point.
At Pepler's Point there is a stone memorial to Sir George Lionel Pepler (1882-1959), who was the tenant at Little Bindon for fifty years. Pepler was a town planner with a passion for the landscape, which he called on in the drafting of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, establishing the principles of the green belt and the importance of town planning within communities. His was an especially valuable role after the Second World War, when a lot of post-war housing and physical reconstruction took place. Later in life he was also actively involved in the National Playing Fields Association and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England.
- From Pepler's Point continue eastwards along the coast, going through the gate into the ranges and taking the steps down to the Fossil Forest.
The spectacular Fossil Forest is a very primitive-looking landscape of thrombolites – rock doughnuts bored through with deep craters where trees were once rooted. These structures were formed almost 140 million years ago, in the late Jurassic period, when a forest of cypresses was growing in a swamp on the edge of a warm lagoon that stretched right across what is now the English Channel. The forest was drowned by the sea and over many millions of years its remains were preserved within layers of limestone that were deposited on the seabed and then compressed. There are a few logs which were fossilised, but for the most part the trees rotted away, leaving just the hollow mounds of the mud and algae that had formed around their trunks. There is another similar fossil forest on Portland Island.
- From the forest return to the range gate, this time crossing the Coast Path to go down to the buildings at Little Bindon.
Little Bindon was built by Cistercian monks in 1149, but it was just a few years before they left for Bindon Abbey, in Wool, in 1172.
- Turn left here, passing through another range gate and taking the path back to the top of the steps to the beach, either walking back across the beach or turning right to walk across Bindon Hill.
People have defended this high ground since prehistoric times, and there is a Bronze Age burial mound on Hambury Hill dating from 1900 BC, as well as the massive earthworks of a Celtic hillfort from 400 BC. A Roman grave dating from the first century AD was discovered on a nearby farm, and the ranges are said to be haunted still by a Roman army (see the Bindon Hill Walk).
- Follow the path running next to the fence across Bindon Hill, and cross the second stile on the left to descend back to Lulworth Cove and the car park.
Pub and cafes at Lulworth Cove.
Near to the start/end of the walk in West Lulworth the Castle is recommended by users of www.doggiepubs.org.uk as serving good food and being dog-friendly.