The Jurassic Coast - Durlston to St Albans Head & The Priest's Way Walking

This section of the Dorset coast features impressive natural limestone cliffs, interspersed by sections that were quarried to help build many of the classic buildings of London and beyond, like St Paul's Cathedral. Yet its history (or prehistory) goes back even further to the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Spanning nearly 185 million years, the geology of the area has been recognised by World Heritage Site status. Whilst you can't see the beautiful fossils from the main coastal footpath, a diversion down to the popular Dancing Ledge will reveal ammonites frozen in time. You can also explore some of the caves and coves used by the smugglers in the late 1700s around Hedbury, Seacombe and Winspit Quarries, before ascending to St Albans Head the Western limit of our walk before making you way into Worth Matravers where the popular Square and Compass Pub offers a tradition pub lunch. After this you join the Priest's Way on the crest of the limestone down, before making your way back to Durlston Country Park.

Looking along the Jurassic Coast from Durlston Head towards St. Albans Head on a stormy day.  © Mark Reeves
Looking along the Jurassic Coast from Durlston Head towards St. Albans Head on a stormy day.
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Detailed description

SZ0325777290 From the car park head downhill through a wooded area to a main tarmac track that runs WSW towards the lighthouse. It quickly passes a display of limestone drystone walling and into and a vegetated valley. As you come round this, a grassy path can be seen heading off the right just before the Lighthouse. Take this and walk over the grass to near the cliff edge where a prominent path starts along the top of the clifftop.

SZ0275476879 Follow the clifftop path for 1.5km to a set of two giant marker posts that help shipping stay safely one mile off-shore.

SZ0123876814 From the markers carry on for another 1.5km to a quarried section. This is Dancing Ledge, a popular spot in its own right and you can make your way down to the sea at this point if you wish.
Sunrise at Dancing Ledge, Swanage  © welshdragon
Sunrise at Dancing Ledge, Swanage
© welshdragon, Jan 2006

SY9968276921 Back on the clifftop path, take the continuation westward for 500m to Hedbury Quarry, which is worth exploring as there is a hidden tunnel through to Topmast Quarry. It's easy to believe that the area was once popular with smugglers.
Hedbury  © Mr p
© Mr p, Jun 2007

SY9920976875 Again back on the coastal path continue west, down through the valley of Seacombe Bottom before heading up and over to the next dip at Winspit Quarry.

SY9764676121 Continue along the coastal path and head up to St Albans Head, where there's an old chapel.
A few shots of the Winspit area   © TomWeeks
A few shots of the Winspit area
© TomWeeks, Aug 2015

SY9607375484 If you are running short of time then you can take the direct route along the roads by the chapel to Worth Matravers. However it is nice to continue along down through another dip and up over Emmetts Hill before turning off the coastal path along a public right of way to a car park near Renscombe Farm. Carry straight on along a path and onto the road which leads eastwards towards the centre of Worth Matravers and then on to The Square and Compass Pub - a great place to rehydrate and nourish yourself with a pub lunch.

SY9745277556 Head northwest along the road for about 200 metres where a footpath forks off the main road to Eastingham Farm. Here it turns into the Priest's Way. From the farm head along the Priest's Way for 1.5km to Spyway Barn and after another 250m a public right of way leads off right, perpendicular to the Priest Way, towards the clifftop again.
The Priest's Way near Worth Matravers, Swanage  © Mark Reeves
The Priest's Way near Worth Matravers, Swanage
© Mark Reeves, Mar 2012

SZ0019677857 Follow the path south towards the clifftop and after 800m, just after the path has descended slightly, a path turns off and heads east next to and below a wall. This path is higher but parallel to the cliff path you took at the start of the walk. Follow this back to the Durlston Country Park car park.

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Further Routes

by Mark Reeves

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