Great Walks in Dorset

The Walks
As one of Britain's favourite holiday counties Dorset has much to offer the walker. Our routes here comprise an extremely varied selection; coast, countrysode - and history everywhere
  Background Briefing

Thomas Hardy's
Childhood Home

The Martyrs Tree

Durdle Door

Golden Cap

Portland Bill

Above Lyme Regis

The River Frome
At Wareham

The Cerne Giant


Looking Down On
Abbotsbury Swannery

Corfe Castle

Hardy's Cottage

Lulworth Cove

Maiden Castle

Portland Bill

Sherborne Castle
























Swanage Youth Hostel

Verwood Camping 
& Caravan Site


Waterford Lodge Hotel
Best Western


Dorset, one of Britain's favourite holiday locations, offers an engaging mixture of superb walking countryside, combined with excellent tourist facilities. From Bournemouth in the east, via Poole, Swanage, and Weymouth, out to Lyme Regis in the far west, the county certainly has its fair share of highly popular seaside resorts. But, of course, there is much more to Dorset than glorious beaches, deck-chairs and cream teas.

For the walker
, Dorset has an immense variety of terrain; dramatic cliff-tops, rolling downland, blasted heath and peaceful riversides. All this is interspersed with picturesque villages, market towns and welcoming inns & cafes.

The county
is synonymous with the Wessex of Thomas Hardy's novels. Some of the places through which we walk are the settings for his tales, albeit with the re-invented place names.

Our Martinstown walk
has an optional extension up to the vast Iron-Age hill fort high above Dorchester. It was here that David Hemmings entranced Julie Christie, playing Sergeant Troy and Bathsheba Everdene respectively, in the film version of 'Far from the Madding Crowd'.   

You can visit Thomas Hardy's boyhood home on our Puddletown walk. The immaculately presented cottage and garden may well be as he would remember. Certainly the surrounding woods, through which we walk, must have been the inspiration for 'The Woodlanders'. The author (or at least most of him!) is  buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey. When he died, in 1928, Hardy's heart was removed and interred in Stinsford churchyard, which can also be visited on our Puddletown walk.

The county town of Dorchester
is steeped in history - both actual and literary. The Dorset County Museum has fascinating exhibits going back as far as the Roman invasion of Britain. For example, there is a skeleton with an arrowhead embedded in the spine. It is thought to date from the battle up at Maiden Castle, between the native Britons and the invading Roman legions.

was, of course, Casterbridge in several Thomas Hardy novels. The modern town is, perhaps, disappointing for the visitor; it has all the same shops as almost every other high street in England. It is hard to imagine the Mayor of Casterbridge striding betwixt Burger King and Our Price. Still, the lower end of town, Fordingbridge on the banks of the River Frome, can easily be envisaged as the meaner lodgings of the fallen Mayor, Michael Henchard.

A little further east, our Tolpuddle route traverses heathland which Hardy renames 'Egdon Heath' in several of his novels. Tolpuddle itself is famous for its Martyrs. Though not actually martyred, the six agricultural labourers achieved hero status in the reform movement when, in 1834, they were sentenced to transportation to Australia. Their only crime was to protest against meagre farm wages, on which they couldn't feed their families. In the event their plight was so heavily publicised in the newspapers of the day, they were pardoned and promptly returned to Tolpuddle.

Now moving south you come to what has been re-branded The Jurassic Coast, which stretches from the Old Harry Rocks at Studland Bay all the way to Lyme Regis.

Nowhere more epitomises the rugged beauty of the Dorset coastline than Durdle Door, the natural arch which has been formed by centuries of Atlantic waves crashing against the cliffs. See the spectacular grandeur of this coast on our walk from Lulworth Cove. Though visited by tens of thousands of tourists every year, Lulworth is strangely unspoiled. Perhaps because the large car park and the inevitable visitor centre are entirely to the west of the village, the cove itself retains a charming isolation. 

At the western extremity of the Jurassic Coast, on our Charmouth walk, you can ascend to  the highest point on the Dorset coast - Golden Cap, at 191 metres above the sea. Named for its sandstone gold-coloured peak, much of the surrounding land is now owned by the National Trust. At the summit you can see a memorial to The Earl of Antrim, who you will undoubtedly remember, was the Trust's chairman in the nineteen-sixties and seventies.

Towards the eastern end
of the Dorset coast, our Corfe Castle walk explores the 'Isle' of Purbeck. From here you can, weather permitting, see the Isle of Wight and look down on Poole Harbour. The peninsula known as 'Sandbanks' is said to have Britain's most expensive houses outside central London. So this may be the only sense in which we can look down on the inhabitants.

Thomas Hardy
wasn't the only famous author to use Dorset settings. For more than twenty years Enid Blyton took family holidays in the county, and ended up buying a property on the Isle of Purbeck. Several 'Famous Five' stories are set here; Kirrin Castle is based upon Corfe Castle, and Whispering Island is modelled on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour.

Also called an island
, but technically a peninsula, the 'Isle of Portland' can be circumnavigated on our walk from the lighthouse at Portland Bill. Exposed to the full rigour of the prevailing winds and waves from the Atlantic Ocean, the inhabitants are a hardy lot - mainly fishermen and workers in the quarries supplying Portland stone for public buildings throughout England.

Stretching westwards
from the foot of the Portland cliffs is a geographic feature unique in the British Isles - Chesil Beach. Separated from the mainland for much of its length by a lagoon known as The Fleet, the stony embankment runs for eighteen miles, up to Lyme Regis. Strangely, the stones which comprise this natural feature have sorted themselves into size order, the smaller ones at the Lyme Regis end, and the largest at Portland. Examine the Chesil Beach at close quarters on our West Bay route.

Our Lyme Regis walk
takes you past the famous Cobb, setting for several films, T.V. dramas and novels. This harbour was first constructed in the 13th century from massive oak beams and boulders. Many times over the centuries the Cobb has been damaged by storms. The Cobb we see today was constructed in 1820 from Portland Stone. It features in novels by Jane Austen and John Fowles who both lived in the town at different times. The film of John Fowles’ novel 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' was made in several locations around the town.

Situated on the shores of The Fleet lagoon, protected from the Atlantic storms by Chesil Beach, Abbotsbury Swannery is home to hundreds of swans and signets. Now a major tourist attraction, you can make an optional visit to the swannery on the Abbotsbury walk. You can even phone ahead for feeding times.

Moving inland, Dorset has some of the most sublime village scenes in England. Our Wimborne St Giles walk sets out from an archetypal Dorset village of stone cottages topped by thatched roofs. Not far away, another lovely village, Ashmore, claims to be the very highest in Dorset, at over 200 metres above sea level. Visit it on our Iwerne Minster walk.

There has long been a local dispute
as to which is the highest hill in Dorset - Pilsdon Pen or Lewesdon Hill. The current consensus seems to be that Lewesdon is about 2 metres higher than its near neighbour. Both hills dominate the surrounding landscape and have commanding views over Marshwood Vale, which is said to have captivated William Wordsworth who lived nearby in the late eighteenth century. See it with your own eyes on our Broadwindsor walk.

For a slightly more surreal experience
see whether you encounter Doctor Who or the dread Cibermen at Winspit Quarry on our Anvil Point walk. The now abandoned quarry was used as a location for several episodes of Doctor Who, as well as Blakes 7.

The River Frome
is a recurring feature, as it flows through the width of Dorset, from the north-west, through important towns like Dorchester before flowing out to sea via Poole Harbour, near Wareham. Tread its tranquil banks on our  Wareham walk.

The present inhabitants
of Dorset are, by and large, a clean living group of upstanding citizens. Not so, apparently, their pre-historic ancestors. 'The Cerne Giant' is, er, certainly upstanding. But is he really a stone-age work of art, or perhaps the result of a much later prank ? Make up your own mind on our Cerne Abbas walk. The old man is sometimes not clearly visible on the hill-side, but he is reproduced on the inn sign in the village.

In the north of the county
you come to several charming and historic market towns. Beaminster is one such; a lovely small town.  Having three times, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, been destroyed by fire it now has many fine Georgian buildings. See the town, and walk the Brit Valley, on our Beaminster walk.

is one of the oldest, and highest, towns in England. Established by Alfred the Great, the town has many charming houses and cottages set upon its hilly streets. Indeed, the famous Hovis bread advert was filmed here, at Gold Hill. The steep cobbled street is the very one up which the delivery boy trundles his ancient bicycle. For some reason, the film-makers decided a northern accent was needed to give authenticity to this Dorset scene. See this, and other fine scenery, on our Shaftesbury walk.

We know you'll enjoy our Dorset walks. You may even fall in love with the county - as countless visitors have done before.   


Dorset walks, pictures and
background info have been compiled by:
Joanna Heathorn and Eric Joyce



       DORSET - THE WALKS      

Download your walk report by clicking on its icon

  Walks Without An Icon Will Be Ready This Summer   

A varied walk on coastal and inland paths, with an opportunity to visit Abbotsbury Swannery
9.4 miles or 6.0 miles (15.0 km or 9.5 km)
Toughness Rating :  2

A rugged coastal walk with fine views - and a brush with Cibermen ? 9.5 miles (15.2 km)
Toughness Rating :  3  

Stunning views, rolling hills and meadowland through a landscape full of historical interest
8.1 miles or 6.3 miles (13.0 km or 10.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  2


An easier beach, woodland and meadow walk
10.0 miles (16.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  1

A stiff ascent rewarded by stunning views and passing 'River Cottage'
7.5 miles (12.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  3  

A moderate walk, ascending Dorset's two highest summits
7.7 miles (12.3 km)
Toughness Rating :  3

Experience eue-catching views on this moderately hilly walk
9.1 miles or 5.9 miles (14.5 km or 9.5 km)
Toughness Rating : 2

A bracing cliff-top walk with superb views, then a gentle stroll along the River Char
8.2 miles (13.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  3

A moderate walk combining a gentle valley and a ridgeway
8.1 miles (13.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  3

An exhilarating walk, with some steep sections, along a dramatic coastline
9.4 miles (15.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  4

An easier walk through an ancient deer park and farmland
6.0 miles (9.5 km)
Toughness Rating :  1

A moderate, undulating walk on woodland paths and meadows
10.0 miles (16.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  2


A fine coastal ridge walk with spectacular views and just one steep section
10.1 miles (16.2 km)
Toughness Rating :  3

Walk along The Fleet lagoon, with its variety of plant, animal and marine life
9.4 miles (15.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  2

A strenuous walk amongst some of Dorset's most dramatic coastal scenery
7.5 miles or 4.7 miles (12.0 km or 7.5 km)
Toughness Rating :  4


A moderately strenuous walk in the hilly Dorset - Devon borders
8.8 miles or 6.3 miles (14.0 km or 10.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  3

Visit the Iron-Age hill fort as an optional extension to this moderately hilly walk
10.2 miles (16.3 km)
Toughness Rating :  3

A cliff-top route from the Bill, going around the 'Isle' of Portland
9.1 miles or 6.0 miles (14.5 km or 9.6 km)
Toughness Rating :  2

An easier and delightful hill and valley walk
10.3 miles (16.5 km)
Toughness Rating :  1

An undulating walk on woodland tracks through Hardy country
10.3 miles or 6.3 miles (16.4 km or 10.0 km)
Toughness Rating : 2

A moderate walk from historic Shaftesbury through pastures and woods
8.0 miles (12.9 km)
Toughness Rating :  1

Easy walking along a riverbank and visiting the famous Badbury Rings 9.0 miles (14.5 km)
Toughness Rating :  1

A moderate walk up to the ridge of Poyntington Hill
9.4 miles (15.0 km)
Toughness Rating : 2

A gentle stroll from the delightful village of Sturminster Newton 8.1 miles (13.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  1

A coastal and inland walk with one steep ascent rewarded by fine views
10.1 miles (16.2 km)
Toughness Rating :  3

A fairly easy walk on moorland and woodland paths to Thomas Hardy's 'Egdon Heath'
9.0 miles (14.5 km)
Toughness Rating :  2

An easier walk through historic Wareham and its forest
8.1 miles or 6.3 miles (13.0 km or 10.0 km)
Toughness Rating : 1

Superb sea views on much of this strenuous cliff-top walk
6.9 miles (11.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  4

An easier and varied walk just west of Dorchester, through lovely villages
8.4 miles (13.4 km)
Toughness Rating : 1

An easier walk around the landscape of a picturesque village
8.1 miles (13.0 km)
Toughness Rating :  1



All our Dorset routes can be undertaken by reasonably fit walkers able to utilise our map segments, together with the route guidance notes. Always consider recent and forecast weather.

Each walk has been allocated a Toughness Rating:

  1.     Easier walks with modest ascent and generally on well defined paths. There may be stiles or narrow gateways to negotiate.

  2.     Routes which are more demanding. They may include more ascent and possibly paths which are looser or more difficult underfoot.

  3.     More strenuous walks with some steep sections, higher paths or places which may be wet and boggy.

  4.     The most demanding walks in this edition. There may be prolonged steep ascents. Conditions may be challenging underfoot.

Toughness Ratings are allocated in the context of the terrain in the edition area.
For example a walk rated as demanding in Cambridgeshire may be equivalent to an easier or moderate route in the Brecon Beacons.


Directory of Local Information Sources

     WHAT TO SEE      

Our selection of the most interesting things to see
or visit on or near the walks

Abbotsbury Swannery
Unique wildlife attraction
New Barn Road, Abbotsbury
Tel: 01305 871858
World famous nature reserve & visitor centre, coffee shop and gift shop

Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens  
Privately owned gardens    
Tel: 01305 871732 
20 acres of rare and exotic plants
Parking, Gift shop and plant sales

Badbury Rings
National Trust Property
Iron - Age Hill Fort

Clouds Hill
National Trust Property
Clouds Hill, Near Bovington
The cottage home of Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence, for the last years of his life
Limited opening hours

Corfe Castle
National Trust Property
Corfe Castle village
Tel: 01929 481294
Mediaeval Castle ruins. Visitor Centre and exhibition. Gift shop Tea shop & restaurant.

Corfe Model Village
Model village
Corfe Castle          
Tel: 01929 481234 
Model Shop, Courtyard Cafe. Traditional Dorset garden

Dorset County Museum
High Street, Dorchester
A really fascinating collection of Dorset memorabilia from bygone ages

Durlston Country Park
Dorset County Council run Country Park
Durlston, near Swanage
Visitor Centre and 113 hectares of varied habitats
Victorian follies.  Café

Hardy's Cottage
National Trust Property
Near Higher Bockhampton
Tel: 01297 561900
Thomas Hardy's birthplace and childhood home

Kingston Lacy House
National Trust Property
Tel: 01202 883402
17th century house in formal gardens and parkland Gift shop, plant sales, restaurant

Lulworth Castle and Park
Stately Home
East Lulworth
Tel: 0845 450 1054
17th Century Castle in extensive parkland. Woodland walks, café  & gift shop

Maiden Castle
English Heritage maintained monument
Just south of Dorchester
An Iron Age hill fort with open access.
Information boards. Parking  

Mangerton Mill
Water Mill
Near Bridport
Tel: 01308 485224
17th Century working water mill museum of rural bygones Craft outlet. Tea shop

Max Gate
National Trust Property
Alington Avenue, Dorchester
Tel: 01305 262538
The home of Thomas Hardy.
Limited opening hours

Portland Lighthouse Centre
Lighthouse tour and exhibition
Portland Bill
Tel: 01305  820495
Working lighthouse and visitor centre.             
Seasonal guided tours

Portland Castle    
English Heritage Property   
Tel: 01305  820539
Tudor castle, gift shop & café  

Shaftesbury Abbey
Ruined Abbey
Park Walk, Shaftesbury
Tel: 01747 852910
Museum, walled garden, gift and plant shop

Sherborne Castle
Stately Home
New Road, Sherborne
Tel: 01935 813182
Fine Elizabethan house set in formal gardens.
Tea shop and gift shop

Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum
Social History Museum
Tel: 01305 848237
Displays telling the  tale of the arrest, trial and punishment of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.



        GETTING HELP        

Tourist Information Centres

Free local guide brochures available by post.
Information and an accommodation booking service
is available at the centres listed below.

West Dorset Tourism
Antelope Walk, Dorchester
Tel: 01305 267992
Brochure Line: 01271 336077

Bridport Tourist Information Centre
South Street, Bridport
Tel: 01308 424901

Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre
Church Street, Lyme Regis
Tel: 01297 442138

Swanage & Purbeck Tourist Information
Holy Trinity Church, South Street, Wareham
Tel: 01929 552740

National Organisations

The Ramblers Association
Representing walkers throughout Britain
Tel: 020 7339 8500

English Heritage
Preserving and maintaining our heritage in England

The National Trust
Properties described on their web site
Tel: 0870 458 4000


      WHERE TO STAY     

The Tourist Information Centres listed below offer accommodation advice and booking services.

West Dorset Tourism
Antelope Walk, Dorchester
Tel: 01305 267992

Swanage & Purbeck Tourist Information
Holy Trinity Church, South Street, Wareham
Tel: 01929 552740

Other Organisations

Youth Hostels Association
All properties in the area and throughout
the U.K. are described on their web site.
Directory available free to members
Tel: 0870 770 8868

Camping & Caravanning Club
Details of 1400 camp sites on the web site
Tel: 0845 130 7632

Town & Country Hotels

FREE directories and web sites for regional and national hotel groups or franchises:

Best Western Hotels
Franchised hotels throughout Britain
Tel: 0845 33 00 415

Corus Hotels
Country & town centre hotels throughout Britain
Tel: 0845 300 2000

The Independents
Consortium of 2 & 3 star hotels throughout Britain
Tel: 0800 88 55 44

Marston Hotels
Independent four star hotels throughout England
Tel: 0845 1300 700

Old English Inns
Classic Inns across England
Tel: 0800 917 3085

Premier Travel Inn
470 budget hotels across the U.K.
Tel: 0870 242 8000

Budget accommodation across the U.K.
Tel: 08700 850 950

Welcome Break
Budget accommodation at motorway services
Tel: 0800 731 4466




Safe & Courteous

Walking Our Routes

Toughness Ratings

         Local Info        

Getting Help

What To See

Where To Stay

        Best Links        

Weather To Walk

Ramblers Association

English Heritage

The National Trust

Camping and
Caravanning Club

Youth Hostels

Town & Country
Hotel Groups








Great Walks text and pictures are the copyright of Synchra Communication Ltd 2009

Mapping is the copyright of Synchra Communication Ltd 2009
Developed under License from The Ordnance Survey