Purbeck (sometimes referred to as the Isle of Purbeck, despite not being an island!) is an enchanting, breathtaking region which encapsulates the south-eastern corner of Dorset, and takes in the easterly section of the Jurassic Coast.
Purbeck is incredibly geologically diverse, which has given rise to some of the Jurassic Coast’s most spectacular scenery, including Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. The area’s two main towns are Wareham to the north and Swanage to the south east, which make fantastic starting points from which to explore the region’s many hidden gems.
- Durdle Door is possibly the Jurassic Coast’s most iconic landform, as well as being our star attraction on Instagram! The famous arch is made of hard limestone and stands almost vertically, submerged in the sea. It was formed about 25 million years ago by the same tectonic forces that created the Alps.
- Lulworth Cove is one of the Jurassic Coast’s most popular destinations, and is a unique geographical feature caused by the area’s distinctive geology. The cove is well served by amenities including a pub, cafes, restaurants, and Lulworth Cove Visitor Centre.
- The village of Kimmeridge and its accompanying bay is another of Purbeck’s key attractions, featuring some of the most important geology found anywhere on the Jurassic Coast. It’s also home to superb swimming and snorkelling opportunities, and the fabulous Etches Collection Museum.
- Swanage is the Jurassic Coast’s most easterly town, and is jam-packed with attractions including a vintage steam railway, historic Pier, and the beautiful Durlston Country Park. It is also a short drive from the must-see Spyway Dinosaur Footprints.
- The distinctive chalk sea stacks of Old Harry Rocks mark the Jurassic Coast’s eastern terminus, and are a must-see when exploring Purbeck. The surrounding countryside is managed by the National Trust and makes for a superb day’s walking. Alternatively, you can take in Old Harry Rocks from the sea on a cruise from nearby Poole Harbour.
Durdle Door & Lulworth Cove
If you’re planning a visit to this part of the coast, these iconic coastal formations are best taken in as a pair.
You can start your adventure at Lulworth Cove, which boasts a large car park that is open all year round as well as plenty of amenities. Be prepared for a steep climb up to Dungy Head and then west to Durdle Door, which is accessed via steps down from the coast path.
The area’s geology has given rise to these spectacular undulating hills, which are a test on the legs but very much worth the effort!
If you prefer an easier walk, Lulworth Cove can be accessed via a short, flat walkway directly from its car park. Durdle Door also has its own car park, but the facilities here are more limited than at the Cove, and the car park can become quite busy, particularly during weekends and holiday periods.
Lulworth Cove Visitor Centre is home to Lulworth Outdoors, who deliver a superb range of outdoor activities including guided walks, mountain biking and coasteering, all led by knowledgeable local experts.
Kimmeridge Bay is situated half a mile south west of its namesake village, and is a top outdoor destination in Purbeck. The natural limestone ledges here extend into the Bay, and provide fabulous swimming, snorkelling, and rock-pooling opportunities.
The rocks here (known as “Kimmeridge Clay”) are porous and oil-rich, and if you look carefully, you might even be able to spot an “in situ” ammonite or two. The Etches Collection Museum, which is located in Kimmeridge village, offer regular guided tours of Kimmeridge Bay with local expert (and founder of the museum) Steve Etches.
Clavell Tower, which is visible from the Bay, is a local historical site managed by the Lankmark Trust. Built in 1830, it was a favourite spot of author Thomas Hardy, and was moved 25 metres further back from the sea in 2006, to avoid it toppling over the eroding cliffs.
Swanage is the Jurassic Coast’s most easterly town, and has been a popular visitor destination since Victorian times. The beach here is consistently awarded “Blue Flag” status for the cleanliness of its water, and is also home to the historic Swanage Pier.
Up the hill from the town centre is Durlston Country Park, 280 acres of countryside featuring walks aplenty and a fantastic array of wildlife.
Old Harry Rocks
Old Harry Rocks refers to a set of white chalk sea stacks, made up of countless microscopic fossils from the Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago, that have been compressed into limestone over millions of years.
This iconic coastal landform marks the eastern boundary of the World Heritage Site, bringing its 95-mile, 185-million-year story to a close.
The rocks here are best seen on foot from either Studland or Swanage, via Ballard Down, a National Trust-managed chalk grassland that offers spectacular views across the coast and beyond to the Isle of Wight.
You can also book a cruise with City Cruises Poole to take in Old Harry from the sea.
Natural erosion has been going on here for centuries. The main sea stack now known as Old Harry was once accompanied by another stack referred to as “Old Harry’s Wife”, which fell into the sea in 1896.