The Jurassic Coast: A walker’s paradise

Martin Curtis is an Ambassador for the Jurassic Coast Trust, and runs an elite walking group based in Dorset. For this latest blog entry, Martin tells us about a recent walk he led in Purbeck. If you’re interested in joining Martin on one of his walks, click here to head to his website.

As a trainee Mountain Leader based in Dorset, given the lack of mountains in the area I’m naturally drawn to the Jurassic Coast and the challenges held within, It really is a walker’s paradise…

On an average Elite Walkers group walk we can encounter ascents totalling more than 900 metres. This is almost equivalent to ascending Snowdon in North Wales. In addition to the ascents, the Jurassic Coast is the ideal location to walk long distances; so when planning my group walks it’s the logical place to hold them.

The Jurassic Coast brings natural beauty, World Heritage and coastal views, something group members want as an integral part of any good walk; when you’re on a walk all day it’s essential that there are plenty of things to see.

I started my group in 2010 to help me gain walking group leader experience. I needed this as part of my training to become a Coastal and Countryside leader for a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme I was volunteering for locally. After completing the course I decided to continue the group and gain further training to lead walking groups. For me, the walk starts as soon as I open the map, and after completing a route card I get to run the walk as I’ve planned.

This month’s walk took place on Sunday 7th December where we met at the Scott Arms, Kingston for the pre walk briefing at 8.30am. We had two new members join us on this walk and this was the ideal point to introduce them both to the group. During the briefing we discuss the route for the day, any risk that may be present, carry out a kit check and talk about possible weather events we may encounter during the day.

Martin talking the group through the route
Martin talking the group through the route

We set off at 9am with a good sized group, heading out on the first leg of the walk towards Swyre Head in cloudy but dry conditions. At 203 metres this is the highest point in the Purbecks with one of the best views of the World Heritage site looking towards Weymouth. From here we headed along the ridge of Smedmore Hill and down into Kimmeridge.

After a relaxing 15 minute break at the Marine centre in Kimmeridge Bay, I took this as an ideal place to exercise my Ambassador role, discussing some of the rock layers that could be seen in the surrounding cliffs.

From Kimmeridge we climbed the steps up to Clavell Tower, taking us onto the next stretch of coastal path to the infamous climb of Houns Tout. The cliffs on this section are very active and the path takes you very close to the edge of the cliffs – it’s important to tackle this section with care.

Clavell Tower
Clavell Tower

While walking this section we were blessed with sunny conditions and as the group leader I was able to relax, take in the views and chat with the new members. It was their first ever long distance walk and although they both had walked some of the coastal path and had good walking experience they’d never taken on such a big section before. We chatted about my new role as an Ambassador for the Jurassic Coast Trust and we discussed why the cliffs had become a World Heritage site. Although local people they were unaware of the importance of the site and its universal value. The paths were in good condition for the time of year and strangely there was a lack of walkers in the area… very odd considering it was the perfect time of year for walking along the coastal path!

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Perfect weather conditions for walking the coastal path – a beautiful December day

We arrived at the bottom of Houns Tout, this was the biggest hill to climb on the walk and I advised the group to take their time and that we would meet at the top on completing the climb. You tackle hills like this at your own pace and the climb takes you from approximately 15 metres above sea level to almost a height of 155 metres… A challenging climb even for an experienced walker! The reward once at the top is the outstanding view right along the coast to Weymouth and in my view well worth the hard climb! It’s also the perfect view point to take pictures of the Dorset coastline.

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The view west from Houns Tout
The group at the top of Houns Tout
The group at the top of Houns Tout

From here we decided that we would descend the steps back down towards Chapman’s Pool, where we would take our lunch break out of the wind that had developed during the last section of the walk.

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Heading down towards Chapman’s Pool
Chapman's Pool from the west
Chapman’s Pool from the west

If there’s one thing I enjoy on my walks it’s the chance to stop for lunch, get my stove out and have a proper hot meal or a ‘cook up’ as I call it! This time of year it’s very important to refuel with a hot meal and for my sins it’s usually a boil in bag meal (!), this time it was Yorkshire Pork Sausage Casserole, followed by a proper coffee and chocolate biscuits! Lunch break is our last stop of the day and an ideal time to have a good laugh (usually at my expense) as the members are always shocked at how much equipment I carry in my rucksack! What can I say, sometimes you have to have a few luxuries on a long walk!

Taking a well earned break!
Taking a well earned break!

The next leg of the walk took us around Hill Bottom and back up onto Emmetts Hill. From here you once again get extensive views back towards Weymouth and the exposed cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. Once at the end of Emmetts Hill it was time to descend and ascend the steep steps to the lookout Station at St Aldhelm’s Head. At this stage of the walk fatigue really kicks in, but we survived this knowing this was the last real climb on the walk and the pub was not too far away!

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One of the best views on the coast

Once at the Lookout Station we took a quick look inside St Aldhelm’s chapel and headed back inland away from the coastal path towards Renscombe Farm. From there we headed back down into Hill bottom and picked up the Purbeck Way towards the B3069.

St Aldhem's Chapel
St Aldhem’s Chapel
The chapel has a history dating back 800 years...
The chapel has a history dating back 800 years…

Once the other side of the road the pace picked up and we followed the Purbeck Way for a short distance picking up a small path through scrub and across a couple of fields to bring us back to the pub. In total we walked 15 miles and climbed 931 metres of ascent. The two new members completed the walk at a good pace and never held the group up once. I am confident they will return for one of my next group walks and become regular members of the Elite Walkers group!

We finished the day back at the Scott Arms for a well deserved drink , chatted about the day’s events and the start of our new walking year in 2015!

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