Walk - Spyway Car Park to Swanage

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. From Spyway Car Park, head up Durnford Drove towards the main road for a short distance until you come to a turning circle with a path leading off to the left. 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.

Dancing Ledge was one of may local quarries used to provide high-quality limestone for building (see the Dancing Ledge Walk). There is a small swimming pool cut into the rock by the quarrymen at the start of the twentieth century, so that local schoolchildren could swim here.

  1. At Dancing Ledge turn left on the South West Coast Path and follow it along the coast.
  2. Ignoring the path heading left inland a short while later, carry on along the Coast Path as it makes its way to Anvil Point.

In spring the cliffs along this coast are home to many nesting birds, including puffins, razorbills and guillemots, as well as fulmars, kittiwakes, shags and cormorants.

When you reach Anvil Point, the path inland to the left here will lead you to Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve.

Part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, Durlston is 280 acres of richly varied habitats which have enabled a wide diversity of different species to thrive here. These nationally important wildlife habitats include sea-cliffs, downs, ancient meadows, hedgerows, woodland, and dry-stone walls. More than 570 species of wildflowers here have attracted 34 different species of butterflies and no fewer than 650 species of moth! Over 250 species of birds have been recorded here, as well.

The Visitor Centre is well worth a visit, with its displays and lists of recent wildlife sightings. There are also live pictures from the seabird colony on the cliffs and sound from an underwater hydrophone.

Like most of the buildings in the area, Anvil Point Lighthouse was built of local limestone and was completed in 1881. Initially it was illuminated using a paraffin vapour burner, and it wasn't until 1960 that it was electrified. In 1991 it was fully automated and is now under the central control of Trinity House. It is sometimes open to the public.

  1. For this walk, carry on along the Coast Path as it starts to pull northwards, climbing past Tilly Whim Caves towards Durlston Head and ignoring the paths heading inland.

Tilly Whim Caves were one of the many quarries along this coast, providing Purbeck limestone for building projects during the eighteenth century. This stone was used extensively during the Napoleonic wars for building fortifications along the entire southern coast of England. The demand for the stone slumped at the end of the wars, however, and the caves have not been quarried since 1812. In 1887, Swanage businessman George Burt opened Tilly Whim Caves as a tourist attraction for the Durlston estate, which he owned at the time, but they were closed to the public in 1976, amid public sadety issues. They are now a roost for bats and a nesting ground for seabirds.

A "whim" was a special type of wooden crane, used to lower the finished stonework from the quarry ledges to the boats below.

Also in 1887, Burt built Durlston Castle, ahead – not a castle at all, but a restaurant for his estate. He also commissioned the Globe, a 40-ton limestone sphere engraved with a world map of the 1880s. Other engravings commissioned by Burt are on plaques dotted around the cliffs, and include quotes from Shakespeare and the Bible.

Burt delivered local stone to London, and the ballast he picked up in the capital for his return journeys can be seen throughout Swanage. Numerous bollards were obtained in this way, as well as the entire facade of the Town Hall, which started life as the facade of the Mercer's Hall in London. Perhaps his prize acquisition, though, was the Wellington clock tower, originally built as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington but such a poor timekeeper that when it was realised that it was obstructing traffic around London Bridge in 1860, London was only too pleased to send it down to Swanage in one of Burt's ships!

  1. The Coast Path makes its way around Durlston Head. As you turn northwards on the far side of the headland, ignore the first turning to the right, which is a dead end into a quarry, and take the second. Follow the path through woods high above Durlston Bay for a little under half a mile, until you come to the diversion put in place after a massive rockfall. Turn left along the path here, to go on to Durlston Road.
  2. On Durlston Road turn right. From here you can either make your way straight to the bus station along the streets ahead, or you can carry on with the Coast Path around Peveril Point and then head for the bus station. To go straight to the bus station, carry on along Durlston Road to Bon Accord Road, and turn left, taking the second road on the right, Taunton Road, and following this all the way to the High Street. On the High Street turn left, and then take the second on the right again (Kings Road East). At the T-junction beyond, turn right onto Kings Road West, and you'll find the bus station at the top. Alternatively, to carry on along the Coast Path, walk about 185 yards and then turn right again, onto Belle Vue Road. Follow the road west and then northwards to make your way onto the green space of Peveril Point beyond.

This is one of the most dangerous areas for shipping on the Dorset coast, and strong tides and underwater rock ledges have led to the loss of many ships over the years. The national coastwatch lookout was built to keep a watch over these waters, and is manned by volunteers.

Other coastal watchers, with a different purpose, also had their base here in times gone by. The coastguard cottages on Peveril Point were built for the customs men charged with the task of finding and catching the smugglers who operated all along this coastline during the nineteenth century.

According to Lifeboat Scrapbook "On the 23rd of January 1875 there was a serious gale and a heavy sea running down-channel. The Brigantine, ‘Wild Wave’ of Exeter, was heading for Poole harbour but loosing its struggle to round Peveril Point. Gradually it became apparent that she was not going to make it and that the 6 men onboard were going to need rescuing in some way. It was only “with difficulty, and by incurring much risk”, that the Chief Officer of H.M. Coastguard, John Lose and 12 of his men put to sea in their boats and saved all 6 of the crew from the Brig."

A lifeboat staion was soon established at the request of the local residents. The boathouse and slipway were built and, although much altered, are still in use today. The original boathouse cost £350 and the slipway £175. The RNLI Swanage lifeboat station has 2 lifeboats, an All Weather 'Mersey' class and a 'D-Class' inshore lifeboat. There is a volunteer crew of which 26 are sea going and 5 are shore crew to launch and recover the boats.

  1. On the far side of the point take the road past the pier and follow it westwards, forking left on the High Street, then taking the next right onto Kings Road East. From here follow the instructions above to reach the bus station.

Nearby refreshments

There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Swanage.
Near to the end of the walk in Swanage the Black Swan, Tawny's Wine Bar, the Red Lion and the White Swan are recommended by users of www.doggiepubs.org.uk as serving good food and being dog-friendly.

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