Walk - Osmington Mills from Bowleaze Cove
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 entrance to the car park at Bowleaze Cove turn right to walk past the holiday park, climbing steeply to the end of the road. Carry on ahead along the South West Coast Path, following the acorn waymarkers.
- At the end of the second field the Coast Path turns right in front of the hedge, bearing right around the edge of it to carry on above the cliffs. As it approaches Black Head it passes in front of a holiday park and starts to climb inland towards the park.
- Approaching the drive to the holiday park, stay on the Coast Path as it bears right in front of the edge and bears right again to continue above the cliffs. Carry on ahead across the heathland below the fields and then on through trees and undergrowth, following the Coast Path waymarkers towards Osmington Mills. As you approach the first houses at Osmington Mills you come to a T-junction, where the inland route of the South West Coast Path joins the South Dorset Ridgeway as it heads heads uphill to the left. Ignore this, taking the coastal leg of the Coast Path along the right-hand fork to the road ahead.
The mound beside the path as you approach Osmington Mills is Goggin's Barrow, a burial mound from the Bronze Age (about 4,400 years ago). People were buried singly in round 'bowl' barrows, often with personal effects made from the newly-discovered metals (bronze, copper and even gold) There are about 400 of these barrows along the Ridgeway, including others around Osmington as well as this one (look out for circular mounds on the hills around you).
- On the road turn right to walk down to the Smugglers Inn. From here you can carry on through the car park to follow the path to the beach.
The beach at Osmington Mills is one of Britain's most important geological sites. The cliffs and ledges around the beach are formed from a limestone known as Osmington Oolite. It is composed of 'ooliths' (from the Greek word 'oos', meaning egg). These are tiny spheres, each of which is the result of a grain of sand or a fragment of shell being rolled around the bed of a warm, shallow sea and gathering calcium in layers which build up to form the oolith. Osmington Oolite can be seen in the back bank of the car park.
Many of the weathered slabs on the beach contain 'trace fossils', which are the remnants of the burrows and tracks of animals that lived when the rock was being formed. There are also huge boulders, known as 'doggers', formed from Bencliff Grit, a bed of sandstone which once held large quantities of oil. A rainbow sheen can sometimes be seen on the surface of the sea on a calm day, which is due to the discharge of oil from the rocks into the sea.
Shale oil has been exploited on the Dorset coast since Roman times, and at Kimmeridge Bay, a little further east, the BP 'nodding donkey' (an oil pump) has been pumping the equivalent of 80 barrels of crude oil a day since 1959 (see the Kimmeridge Bay Walk).
- From the beach take the path back up to the Smugglers Inn. From here retrace your steps to 4 and turn left to walk back to the junction where the Coast Path heads left to return to Weymouth via Bowleaze Cove. Here the South Dorset Ridgeway carries on uphill towards Osmington.
Turn left back onto the Coast Path to retrace your steps back to Bowleaze, or carry on uphill to walk to the main road at Osmington, from where you can catch a bus back to Bowleaze.
If you choose the latter, follow the Ridgeway waymarkers uphill, carrying straight on ahead when a path crosses yours at the top of the field. Aim for the top corner ahead in the next two fields, following the right-hand hedge in the last to come out on the road. Turn left here, crossing to the far side when the pavement ends. Carry on past Chapel Lane to the bus stop by the phone bus, on the opposite side of the road. The bus will put you down at Overcombe Corner. From here it is a short walk back along the road to the car park at Bowleaze Cove.
In the late eighteenth century Osmington Mills was a remote hamlet in a wooded valley, with just a rough track connecting it to Osmington village, and the Smuggler's Inn (known then as The Crown, and later as the Picnic Inn) was the ideal headquarters for a smuggler known as 'French Peter'. Pierre Latour sailed a fast and lightly-armed cutter called 'L'Hirondelle' (The Swallow), and he worked closely with the pub's landlord, Emmanuel Carless.
According to local legend, one day when French Peter arrived at the pub there was a Revenue Officer hiding there, on yet another attempt to capture the French brigand. The landlord offered Pierre gin instead of his usual brandy and pointed silently to the fireplace where the officer was hiding. Pierre announced that he had a chill in his bones, and asked if the landlord would light the fire. The man was soon smoked out of his hiding place, and the laughter of the locals on top of the hair-raising tales the landlord had told him of the smuggler's exploits was too much for the poor man, who accepted the brandy he was offered and then fled!
This is the last stretch of the inland route of the Coast Path, which follows the South Dorset Ridgeway from Osmington Mills to West Bexington, near Abbotsbury. The Ridgeway gives stunning coastal views of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. There are also inland panoramas over a rolling pastoral landscape dotted with clusters of picturesque hamlets and decorated with iconic chalk carvings such as Osmington's White Horse. Sculpted in 1808, this carving depicts George III, who was a regular visitor in Weymouth in the early nineteenth century (see the Osmington Roman Walk). It is 85 metres long and 98 metres high. It was restored in 1989 by the TV show 'Challenge Anneka' and tidied up again in 2012, when Weymouth hosted part of the Olympic Games.
People have lived in the area for more than 3000 years, and there are burial mounds and field systems from as far back as the Bronze Age, 2500-800 BC. Elsewhere along the South Dorset Ridgeway there are burial mounds dating back to Neolithic times, some 6000 years ago. On the steeper hillsides, terraces known as 'strip lynchets' were cut into the hill in the past, to create flat strips suitable for farming. The remains of these can still be seen. In medieval times, all farming was done on narrow, unfenced strips of land, and these were distributed in such a way as to give all landowners a fair share of arable land. This meant that often a farmer's land was scattered through the district. It wasn't until the 1857 Enclosure Act that hedges were built around numbers of adjacent strips to turn them into the larger field systems in use today.
The Smugglers Inn in Osmington Mills.