Walk - Durdle Door & White Nothe
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the back of the car park at Lulworth Cove take the South West Coast Path leading directly up the steep slope of Hambury Tout beyond.
The excellent views give you plenty of excuses for pausing to catch your breath as you climb Hambury Tout. Ahead is Portland Island, while behind you the white coastline stretches to St Aldhelm's Head, with Bindon Hill in the foreground above Lulworth Bay, the earthworks of its massive Iron Age hillfort clearly visible (see the Bindon Hill Walk).
Immediately ahead, the mound at the top of Hambury Tout is a bell barrow, thought to have been constructed sometime between 1500 and 1100 BC, and is some three metres high and 22 metres in diameter. Bell barrows are the most striking of burial mounds and also the most rare: there are thought to be no more than 250 bell barrows nationally, with most of them being in Wessex. They were built as the final resting place of someone locally important, and weapons, personal ornaments and pottery were buried along with the person's ashes or remains. The bell barrow at Hambury Tout was excavated by archaeologists at the end of the eighteenth century and the skeleton lying on a bed of ashes inside was accompanied by a pottery vessel.
Nearby is a bowl barrow, from around the same time or maybe a little earlier. These are much more common, with over 10,000 surviving nationally, mostly in prominent locations throughout the land, and they were often used for multiple burials, as well as frequently being grouped together. This one is less than a metre high and barely more than fourteen metres in diameter, and it is surrounded by a ditch formed by the removal of the earth to build the mound.
Dorset is particularly rich in prehistoric monuments, some of which date back as far back as Neolithic (Late Stone Age) times, and on the South Dorset Ridgeway flint tools have been found dating back 500,000 years, used by the very earliest people living here before the sea level rose to separate Britain from the rest of Europe (see the Osmington and Osmington Mills Walk).
- Carrying on along the Coast Path, descend to the dry valley at Scratchy Bottom, climbing steeply on the far side to Sywre Head.
Scratchy Bottom was the location for the opening scene in the 1967 film of Thomas Hardy's 'Far From the Madding Crowd', in which Gabriel Oak's sheepdog drives his flock over the cliff.
The rock arch of Durdle Door, one of the Dorset coastline's most famous landmarks, was formed in the Jurassic period, about 140 million years ago. The layers of Portland limestone on this part of the coast were folded almost vertically around other strata of softer rocks. As the pounding of the sea eventually breached the outer rock, creating a series of hollows, the erosive powers of the waves carved further caves and arches out of the softer rock behind, leaving arches of the harder limestone still standing in the sea. Over time these are eroded in their turn and are reduced to pillars, known as stacks, which are finally broken up and washed away. There are some dramatic examples of chalk stacks at Old Harry, near Swanage (see the Studland Village to Old Harry Walk).
In the rocks above the arch of Durdle Door there are the petrified remnants of a forest, drowned many millions of years ago by rising sea levels and then fossilised when layers of sediment settled around them and were compressed into rock (see the Lulworth Cove and the Fossil Forest Walk).
- Drop down the far side of Swyre Head to Bat's Head, climbing out of the valley and on to the final hump of this rollercoaster, which dips into the edge of Middle Bottom and then ascends to the old coastguard cottages at White Nothe.
Like Durdle Door, the smaller archway at the base of the sheer cliff face at Bat's Hole was carved out of the chalk by the waves. The headland at White Nothe (meaning "White Nose") is another chalk face, this one rising from a wilderness area created by past landslides. The inaccessible slopes of the undercliffs provide a haven for an abundance of wildlife. Listen for the call of wheatears and stonechats perched in the bushes, and the warbling song of linnets, and watch for the whirring wings of a hovering kestrel, the circling of a buzzard high overhead or the high-speed plummeting dive of a peregrine.
A steep zigzag path runs down from the top of White Nothe to the shoreline. Known locally as the Smugglers' Path, it featured in J Meade Falkner's 'Moonfleet', an adventure novel for children set on the Dorset coast concerning the exploits of a gang of smugglers (see the Moonfleet Walk). At the top of the Smugglers' Path is one of many pillboxes built along England's southern coastline to defend it during the Second World War.
On the far side of White Nothe the rock changes, giving way to softer Kimmeridge clays. These have a band of oil shale that catches light from time to time, when the heat from the friction of the rocks fracturing during a landslide causes the shale to ignite and smoulder (see the Burning Cliff Walk).
- Turn left at White Nothe for a detour onto the headland, with tremendous views across the bay to Weymouth and the Isle of Portland. From the headland retrace your steps along the Coast Path towards Lulworth to the kissing gate signed to Daggers Gate. Turn left onto the footpath and follow it along the left hand side of the field to join a bridleway beyond. Turn right on the bridleway and carry on eastwards along the ridge.
On the Ridgeway Path inland from White Nothe there are two stone sculptures commissioned by Common Ground (a third was damaged and has been removed). In conjunction with some wheat-grain sculptures in a nearby field, carved from oak by Simon Thomas, these stone shells by Peter Randall Page were designed to celebrate the Celtic field system which was established on The Warren in prehistoric times (see the Osmington and Osmington Mills Walk).
- After the third field fork right onto the footpath heading towards the caravan park, signed to Newlands Farm.
- Bear left across the field, keeping the tumulus on your right, to go through the gate in the corner of the field.
- Keeping the gorse bushes to your right, follow the footpath through the fields towards the caravan park, taking the track ahead to Newlands Farm.
- Turn right here and follow the track to the caravan park. At the shop carry on ahead along the track signed ‘Beach Car Park’.
- In the car park go through the gate into the field beyond and turn left to follow the path along the edge of the field towards West Lulworth.
- Follow the path through a small gate at the end of the second field and around the foot of the hill, bearing right to return to the car park at the start of the walk.
For a fascinating extension of the walk follow the path from the car park to Stair Hole, where there are dramatic folds in the rock (see the Bindon Hill Walk).
Lulworth Cove has a pub and cafes and Newlands Caravan Park has a shop.
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.