A glorious coastline stretch of approximately 95 miles from East Devon to Dorset, a trip to the Jurassic Coast is like taking a small dip into the past to discover a sliver of Earth’s ancient history. Whether here for a winter break or a summer getaway, this World Heritage site on the English Channel coast of Southern England offers a plethora of natural wonders to surprise and delight you. Spanning 185 million years of history, the area is a geologist's dream with fascinating rock formations and fossils from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Our Jurassic Coast itinerary takes you to the most beautiful and interesting parts of the region while treating you to all the homely comforts that you can expect from a trip to the English countryside.
Get your first taste of the region upon arrival by heading to your accommodation during your time here, Smedmore House. Encircled by rolling countryside and sea views, the marvellous Smedmore House is furnished with Dutch furniture and paintings each with their own rich histories – it is even possible to find yourself seated in a chair once sat on by Napoleon himself. Constructed in 1610, the 17th Century manor offers the perfect luxury stay for families or large groups looking for a unique experience in the Jurassic Coast. For those travelling in smaller groups, we would highly recommend The Pig on The Beach, a beautiful hotel that features later in our itinerary. After checking in and setting down your luggage, take a wander through the house before straying beyond the walls and exploring the flower gardens and orchards on the property.
Put on your walking boots and get ready to stray beyond the grounds of Smedmore House and walk towards Kimmeridge Bay to discover some of the Jurassic Coast’s historical and literary inspirations. One of the most iconic spots in the area, Clavell Tower is the first thing to see here. After a pleasant 45 minute walk (or ten minute drive for those not so inclined to travel by foot), you will come to the beautiful Clavell Tower standing proudly on the top of Hen Cliff. A majestic Grade II listed Tuscan style tower built in 1830, the tower was originally built as an observatory and folly. Since then, it has captivated many writers including Thomas Hardy and P.D. James. A spot imbued with a romantic spirit and energy, local legend proudly states that it was in this very spot that Thomas Hardy courted his sweetheart, Eliza, the coastguard’s daughter.
Prepare to be blown away by the natural beauty of the Jurassic Coast’s gem, Kimmeridge Bay. The bay is part of the Dorset ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and from the moment you set your eyes upon the dramatic rock cliffs forming a sweeping half moon shape across the coast, it’s easy to see why. Once an entry point for smugglers and a setting for battles between them and local coastguards throughout history, this peaceful stretch is now popular for swimming, canoeing, surfing and of course, fossil hunting in the famous Kimmeridge clay beds. Take a stroll along the coast line, listening to the waves lap gently against the shore and breathe in the crisp salty air. During the summer, at high tide, take a dip in the rock pools where spider crabs, angler fish and bass wait to greet snorkelers. In the winter, the scenery becomes all the more dramatic. Walk alongside the cliff face and look for fascinating fossils from the Jurassic epoch embedded in the clay. During low tide, the smooth rock slabs are revealed, welcoming you to walk upon to get closer to the sea in front of you.
After exploring Kimmeridge Bay, head back towards Smedmore House and be sure to stop at a local institution here in the Jurassic Coast, The Etches Collection. One of the best places to visit in the region, The Etches Collection houses a fascinating collection of marine fossils, all of which once belonged to local Kimmeridge fossil collector and expert, Steve Etches. Finding his first fossil, a sea urchin, at the age of five, his collection now contains approximately 2,300 specimens. The immersive museum gives visitors the unique privilege of viewing the collection, taking them on a time-travelling journey through underwater life 150 million years ago. For dinner, head to Clavell’s Restaurant for a casual but charming field-to-fork meal. Housed in a thatched-roof cottage, the restaurant offers a menu of home-made dishes featuring locally sourced ingredients from Dorset’s best food producers.
There’s nothing quite like waking up to soft sun rays pouring through your windows as you hear birds chirp and the sounds of nature come alive around you. Freshen up before heading downstairs and enjoying a fresh cup of coffee as you discover the War Room, reading the placards and learning of the history of the manor. After your coffee, put on your wellies and take a stroll through Smedmore Houses’s grand gardens, filling your lungs with the smells of the sea as you gaze across the fields. Today, you’ll be departing from Kimmeridge and discovering the wider region of the Jurassic Coast, from Wareham to Lulworth. For a delicious breakfast, hop in your car and travel up to the town of Wareham where The Salt Pig waits to treat you to a delicious breakfast. Try their renowned Salt Pig Mangalitsa sausage sandwich for an indulgent meaty treat to start your day right.
A twenty minute drive from Wareham towards the coast will bring you to another place of spectacular Jurassic Coast beauty, Lulworth Cove. Formed during the last Ice Age, Lulworth Cove is world famous for its picturesque white pebble beach, unique geology, crystal clear blue waters and stunning panoramic views. Watch as the local fishermen haul catches ashore and see traditional baskets stacked alongside cafés serving lunch to visitors and locals alike. In the summer, grab an ice-cream for your stroll, and if you’re here for a winter break, pick up a coffee to double as a hand warmer as you explore the shores. Keep your eyes peeled for the area’s most iconic formations including the Lulworth Crumple and Stair Hole.
Just a short hill climb from Lulworth Cove you will find arguably the most famous stone arch in England if not the world, Durdle Door. This is one of the finest examples of mother nature as an artist and the surreally beautiful rock formation has been eroded and shaped by time and tide, creating a magnificent limestone masterpiece. One of the best things to do in the Jurassic Coast, look out onto the natural wonder from a higher vantage point by the car park before getting a closer look by descending down the cliff path to Durdle Door beach or the steps to Man O’War beach where the tilted Purbeck Beds from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods are visible.
From the coast, head inland towards to Tyneham Village, a site of fascinating human history in the region. On Christmas day in 1943 during World War II, the War Office requisitioned Tyneham as a firing range where troops could train. 225 locals of the village were sadly displaced with the last person leaving a pleading notice on the church door to “treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our home where many of us have lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.” To this day, the village is still deserted and sometimes used for military practice. The church and school house exhibitions where visitors can learn about the village and the inhabitants who were evacuated. A place where time seems to stand still, as you wander through the village, imagine life as it was then before taking in more beautiful scenes at Worbarrow Bay, another stunning part of the Jurassic Coastline.
After enjoying some afternoon tea and freshening up back at Smedmore House, prepare yourself for a gastronomical treat at one of the best restaurants in the Jurassic Coast, Rick Stein, Sandbanks. Famous for the spectacular seafood dishes and panoramic views of the coastline, be sure to call ahead and secure a waterside table. From classic simple dishes such as fresh oysters from Cornwall to more exotic offerings such as Indonesian seafood curry, whatever you order here will be sure to please your tastebuds. While the drive to the restaurant is about 45 minutes, it is well worth the journey. We suggest leaving early to give yourself sometime to take in a pre-dinner walk along Sandbanks beach, looking out towards The Isle of Wight’s stacks, before settling down for your meal.
After starting the day with a delicious breakfast at The Priory in Wareham, drive past grand Victorian Villas en route to Durlston country park, just south of the resort coastal town of Swanage. A site known for Lower Cretaceous fossils, Durslton Bay is another key area of scientific interest in the Jurassic Coast and is a stone’s throw away from Durlston Castle. From Durlston Head car park, make your way to the castle. Recently restored in 2011, Durslton Castle is an impressive Victorian building that is now the centre of many activities and attractions in the Jurassic Coast region. For art lovers, enquire before your visit about any exhibitions as the castle regularly showcases local Dorset and Purbeck artists. South of the main castle building, you will find the Great Globe dating back to 1887. It is one of the largest solid stone spheres in the world and an impressive site to see in person. From here, take a stroll along one of the many pathways towards the Anvil Point Lighthouse where, if you are lucky, you may spot some dolphins frolicking in the water – if so, be sure to make a note of your sighting in the notebook housed in a nearby shed where guests before you have made a record of their lucky sightings.
From Durlston Castle, head north to Swanage – a idyllic English seaside town that has it all. Stroll along the sweeping bayline bordered by chalk hills on one end and grassy green slopes on the other before heading up to the famous 19th century Victorian pier where you can pop into the maritime museum and exhibition centre. During the summer, this resort town really comes to life as the beach becomes transformed with intricate sand sculptures and children gather excitedly in front of Punch and Judy puppet shows. If here during a winter break, the town is much more peaceful – enjoy the serenity and stay by the shoreline where the views of the ocean stretching out in front of you will soothe and shoo away any stresses. Opened in 1855, The Swanage Railway is a branch line that now operates as a heritage line. The most picturesque way of reaching your next Jurassic Coast attraction, hop aboard and enjoy a steam train journey to Corfe Castle.
One of Britain’s most iconic survivors of the English Civil War, Corfe Castle is a must-see attraction in the Jurassic Coast. The castle has had many lives from a Saxon stronghold to a royal palace and a family home. Standing proudly over a gap in the Purbeck Hills, it is a historical monument that is cherished by locals and visitors alike. Stroll around the grounds of the ruins and discover the histories of murder, turmoil and adventure that this site has witnessed through time. After exploring the ruins, head into the village where you can browse through arts and crafts stores. Notice the stone roofs of the buildings – the stones of which were taken from the castle as it was demolished through the years. For an early dinner, drive to The Scott Arms for a classic gastro-pub meal and one of Dorset’s finest ales – a Fursty Ferret. This pub offers some of the best views of the Purbeck countryside so if weather permits, take a seat in the large garden giving you a different view point of the Corfe Castle ruins.
For your last morning in the Jurassic Coast, take it easy at Smedmore House before packing up and checking out. With a final morning and afternoon of exploring the Jurassic Coast, it’s time to head to the east part of the region to explore the rugged and wild beauty of Studland Bay. Most famous for being used as training area before the D-Day landing in the Second World War, as you walk along this coast you will be walking in the footsteps of those such as Churchill, Montgomery and King George VI who observed the military training. Bordered with dunes and heath, Studland Bay is another stunning stretch of the Jurassic Coast which is not to be missed. During the summer, enjoy beach activities from water sports to sand sculpture building and in the winter, enjoy the crisp ocean air as you watch for wildlife around you.
Bring your Jurassic Coast trip to a close with a delicious lunch and some pampering at The Pig on The Beach. A yellow country house surrounded by well groomed gardens, The Pig on the Beach offers uninterrupted views of the sandy coastline and is home to a one-of-a-kind restaurant offering simple and delicious British garden food. Priding itself on its 25 mile menu, all ingredients used come directly from the Kitchen garden or from local trusted suppliers. After lunch, take a stroll around the grounds savouring the countryside views and possibly spotting the rare breed pigs in the gardens. For a truly reinvigorating end to your trip, book a spa treatment in the property’s converted Shepherd’s huts that overlook Old Harrys Rocks. Float out of the hut after your treatment and head back to your car where you will begin your journey back home, bringing with you a sense of simple bliss that can only be attained by spending some quality time out in the countryside.
This itinerary is written in collaboration with Lodestars Anthology.