Walk - Chapman's Pool

7.3 miles (11.7 km)

Spyway Car Park - BH19 3HG Spyway Car Park

Challenging - The path is steep and can be slippery, and the headland is exposed if the wind is strong.

A breathtaking walk around a limestone coastline carved into dramatic caves and platforms by millions of years of erosion by the sea, and hundreds of years of human quarrying. From prehistoric times humans have lived here and exploited the cliffs and coves for a wide variety of purposes, ranging from prehistoric tools and burials through mediaeval farming to nineteenth century smuggling. Chapman's Pool itself is a wonderfully wild beach where the stream joins the sea from a plunging ravine carved through high cliffs.

This is a dog friendly walk. Use the walk (or part of it) to visit the hidden beach at Chapman's Pool. Have a look at our Top Dog Walks on the South West Coast Path for more dog friendly beaches and pubs. 

 

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. From Spyway Car Park, head up Durnford Drive towards the main road for a short distance until you come to a turning circle with a path leading off to the left. Follow this path and at the end of the field, before you reach Tom's field Camp Site, turn left and walk through the fields to the track at the end.
  2. Crossing the track, go through the gate almost opposite, slightly to the right, to pick up the track which continues in the original direction (southwards) towards the coast. Bear left at the track to Seaspray and, ignoring the quarry on your left a short while later, continue to where the path forks again, a little way beyond.
  3. Take the middle path here and with it head diagonally downhill in a southeasterly direction, through the bushes and then over the open heathland, to drop directly down to Dancing Ledge. Going over the stile immediately ahead of you at the bottom will take you to Dancing Ledge itself.
  4. At Dancing Ledge turn right onto the South West Coast Path and follow it westwards around the coast. When you come to Seacombe, the Coast Path heads inland, around the inlet. Carry on inland with it until you come to the steps where the Coast Path heads away to the left.
  5. Going through the gate, continue along the Coast Path to the next inlet at Winspit.

There are more caves and quarries in the limestone here. Quarrying has been carried out around the Worth Matravers area since medieval times, and in the thirteenth century Purbeck Marble from the parish was used for the pillars of Salisbury Cathedral.

The curious-looking ridges on the hillsides around Winspit also date back to medieval times or even earlier. Called strip lynchets, they were carved into hillsides to provide more arable land for farming.

The coves and beaches on this part of the coast were popular with smugglers in the nineteenth century. The smugglers went unnoticed in the constant activity around the coast as the limestone quarried from the cliffs around here was carried away by sea, and it was very easy to make an escape through the trenches and passages of the quarry workings if they were spotted. The caves were also good for storing contraband.

The coastline had its share of shipwrecks, too. In 1786, the India Trading Company vessel Halsewell hit the rocks at Winspit and was wrecked. A member of the crew managed to climb the cliffs and raise the alarm, and the men of Worth Matravers rescued 82 men that night.

  1. At Winspit the path again heads inland around the inlet, and a path heads away to the right; but once again, turn left to follow the Coast Path westwards, this time to the lookout station at St Aldhelm's Head.
  2. The track to your right at the lookout station heads past St Aldhelm's Chapel, just a few yards up from here.

As well as being noted for its square shape, St Aldhelm's Chapel is unusually aligned, with its corners - and not its walls - facing the four compass points. It also stands within a low circular enclosure of an earlier date, leading to speculation that originally it may not have been a chapel at all, but possibly a watchtower for Corfe Castle (see the Corfe Castle Walk), or a beacon for passing ships.

There are records of it being used as a chapel in the thirteenth century, however; and although there was a period of perhaps two centuries when it went out of use and fell into disrepair, at the end of the nineteenth century local landowners had it restored and it reopened for services in 1874.

St Aldhelm was Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne at the end of the seventh century, and was a noted Latin poet and ecclesiastical writer.

Carrying on around the headland on the Coast Path from the lookout station, you begin to head northwards, along a steep-sided valley.

People have been farming, fishing and quarrying in the Purbeck area for many thousands of years (see the Kimmeridge Bay walk), and evidence has been found of human habitation right back to Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) times. On the top of Emmett's Hill, above the cliffs to your right as you leave the point and start to walk inland, there are several burial mounds, or tumuli, from the Bronze Age (around 1000 BC).

Much more recently, the flat area on the top of the cliffs was the nerve centre of UK radar development from 1940-1942, when top radar scientists were working on systems with a longer range, and aircraft navigation systems. The first rotating aerial and map display was built here.

The rock around the bowl of Chapmans' Pool is Kimmeridge Clay Shale, a versatile rock which has been exploited for its many manufacturing uses since the Iron Age. Like other local limestones, it is also full of fossils (see the Dancing Ledge Walk). The cliffs above you, however, are Portland limestone, laid down on top of the shale in a later period, before erosion and other processes reshaped the local landscape.

  1. When the path from the boat house down at Chapman's Pool joins your path from the left on West Hill, a few hundred yards after you have left the coast, it crosses yours and continues to your right. Turn right onto it and follow it eastwards, carrying on in the same direction along the track beyond when another track crosses your path about a quarter of a mile on.
  2. When you come to the buildings at Weston Farm, bear left along the track and then turn right on the road to carry on in an easterly direction until you reach Worth Matravers. Carry on along the road through the village, past the village green with its pond and village pump, until you come to the Square and Compass.

The Square and Compass dates back to 1752 as an inn, and it has been in the same family for over 100 years. There is a fossil museum in the pub, including some dinosaur fossils, as well as other fascinating artefacts from local history: prehistoric tools, Roman coins, bits of 18th century shipwrecks, and agricultural curiosities like cow cake cutters and turnip crunchers.

  1. Bear right past the Square and Compass and carry on uphill until you come to the footpath heading through the fields to your right.
  2. Go over the stile to pick up this footpah and carry on to the far right-hand corner of each of the two fields, to come out on the track beside Eastington Farm.

Eastington is a seventeenth century farmhouse built of the local limestone, and it is a Grade II listed building which is now owned by the National Trust, as is much of the area around here. The Trust manages the land with a particular interest in both nature conservation and archaeology, and it is grazed traditionally using sheep and cattle, and without the use of fertilisers. As a result, typical limestone plants thrive here, which in its turn encourages a rich variety of butterflies and insects.

  1. Ignoring the tracks and paths leading away to right and left just after the farm, carry on in the same direction (eastwards) along the Priest's Way, ahead, for about half a mile, going on past the tracks which cross yours between two quarries and the one beyond to the left which leads past Blacklands.
  2. At the end of the field after Blacklands, when you come to where the track runs through the hedge, take the footpath to the left, and follow it northwards, along the hedge, to the lane ahead. Carry on up here, to the end of the buildings.
  3. Pick up the footpath heading east, on your right. Taking this across the field will bring you out at the top of the Tom's Field Campsite. Continue walking east back across the field, turn right onto Durnsford Drive and walk a short distance back to the car park.

Nearby refreshments

The Square & Compass in Worth Matravers; the Ship Inn or the King's Arms in Langton Matravers; or there are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Swanage.

Public transport

The Wilts & Dorset No 40 bus runs regularly between Swanage and Poole, stopping at Durnford Drove in Langton Matravers. For timetable information, zoom in on the interactive map and click on the bus stops, visit Traveline or phone 0871 200 22 33.

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