With 630 miles of Dorset coast – not to mention the miles upon miles of rolling countryside punctuated with thatched cottages and welcoming country pubs – walking has to be one of the best ways to really experience everything Dorset has to offer.
As you embark on your explorations on foot, you’ll come across beaches laden with prehistoric prizes, some beautiful gardens, acres of wild woodland perfect for stomps with the dog, and a crisscross of country lanes that lead you from ancient building to ancient building… and even the odd giant chalk figure.
So, pack your rucksack, fill your flask with tea, and pull on your favourite, well-worn pair of walking boots… here’s our list of the best walks in Dorset.
Best for: Jaw-dropping views
•Distance: 4 miles circular, 2 miles linear
•Time: 2 hours circular, 1 hour linear
•Starts/ends: Seaton car park
•Parking: Seaton car park
•Landmarks: Golden Cap, Charmouth, Chesil beach
It will come as little surprise that if you want to enjoy the views from the highest point on the South West Coast Path (standing at over 190m above sea level), then you’re going to have to climb just a little bit. This 4-mile circular walk can be easily turned into a 2-mile linear walk, or, if you want to walk it like a local, you can check out our Golden Cap cheat route!
The path up the hill to the Golden Cap is fantastically signposted so you can set off with confidence as you navigate through fields, woods, and footbridges. Once at the top, you’ll be met with some jaw-dropping views, which include Charmouth, Chesil beach and Lyme Regis on clear days.
If you’re taking the circular route, head west to the Memorial Stone of the Earl of Antrim, which commemorates the former chairman of the National Trust who led the charge on protecting sections of the coastline from developers. You’ll then pass the ruin of St Gabriel’s Church before following a farm track down to some pretty cottages and Pickaxe Cross. On your way (gratefully) downhill, you’ll pass a few farms and woodland, making this short walk wonderfully varied. Once you’re back in Seaton, head straight to the Anchor Inn for a refreshing pint with a stunning view.
If you want to extend your explorations along this stretch, then a trip down to Lyme Regis is a must… especially if you’re in the mood for some fossil hunting along the famous Jurassic Coast or you fancy a mouth-watering meal at one of its many great restaurants.
Cerne Abbas Giant circular
Best for: Giggle-worthy views
•Distance: 2.8 miles
•Time: 1.5 hours
•Difficulty rating: Easy/moderate
•Starts/ends: Cerne Abbas Viewpoint car park
•Parking: Cerne Abbas Viewpoint car park
•Landmarks: The Cerne Abbas Giant, Cerne Abbey, Minterne House & Gardens
If you’re looking for a short walk broken up by views that will undoubtedly spark a chuckle or two, then you really can’t go wrong with the famous circular around the Cerne Abbas Giant.
Standing (or rather lying down) at 55 metres tall, this chalk figure has been a topic of conversation since the 17th century, although testing suggests the giant’s roots could date back to between 700 CE and the 10th Century. During this time, there have been lots of debates on the origin and purpose of this nude hillside wonder. Is he a spiritual form based on Hercules? Is he a symbol of fertility? Or is he an absurdly large mockery of Oliver Cromwell? We’ll let you be the judge during your visit!
For the walk itself, simply park up in the Cerne Abbas Viewpoint car park and head off towards the village when you’re good and ready. There are lots of handy waymarkers dotted along the paths, giving you plenty of variations of routes so you can shake things up every time you visit. During your walk, you’ll come across the equally impressive (although not quite as startling) ruins of Cerne Abbey, as well as the beautiful Minterne House & Gardens should you choose to extend your walk along the Cerne Valley Trail. You can also pop into the quaint village of Cerne Abbas itself, which is full of pretty stone cottages and some seriously good pubs.
This walk is great for the history buffs – and the buff buffs – and makes for a lovely, relaxed stroll before popping into The Giant Inn for an equally giant (or regular sized) pint of local ale – perfect!
Studland Bay to Swanage
Best for: A rewarding trek
•Distance: 4.8 miles
•Time: 2 hours
•Starts/ends: The Bankes Arms
•Parking: Car park by The Bankes Arms
•Landmarks: Old Harry Rocks, Isle of Wight, The Needles
We really do have a soft spot for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site for stunning walks. Nothing beats jaw-dropping views mixed with a healthy dash of natural history for those who want to exercise the mind as well as the legs! You never know if your walk will reward you with a fossil or two.
Before you even start your walk, you’ll have the opportunity to slip into the fabulously traditional inn, the Bankes Arms, where you’ll find all the country charms of a classic pub – not to mention a lip-smacking range of local ales! Don’t worry, you can always return after your walk as well.
Once you’ve torn yourself away from the comfortable surrounds of the Bankes, take the path signposted with a Dorset ‘tombstone’ and begin your stunning coastal trek. As you walk through the incredible fields dotted with wildflowers, keep an eye out for the fluttering beauty of butterflies, which can be found all along this stretch and vary from locals to overseas visitors. Once you’ve emerged from the fields of colour and the dappled shade of the following woodland, you’ll be met with the first of many jaw-dropping views of the sea. From Handfast Point, you can see right the way across to the Isle of Wight as well down to the ever-famous Old Harry Rocks, which stand as a reminder that the Isle of Wight used to be joined with the mainland via a chalk ridgeway.
Along this stretch of cliff, you’re likely to see a number of species of bird, including the largest colony of cormorants in Dorset. From here, it isn’t far until you reach the welcoming seaside town of Swanage, which is home to plenty of coastal activities and attractions including the oldest diving school in Britain and the picture-worthy Victorian Pier. Have a nose around and stop for a reset in one of the many great cafés, before taking the scenic walk back – or hopping on one of the great local buses - you’ll get no judgement from us!
Scratch Arse Ware to Dancing Ledge
Best for: A scenic stretch with a great name
•Distance: 3.4 miles
•Time: 1.5 hours
•Starts/ends: Spyway Barn car park
•Parking: Spyway Barn car park
•Landmarks: Dancing Ledge, tidal pool
If you’re looking for a short walk that crosses some serious views off your Dorset checklist, then this stretch between the comically sounding Scratch Arse Ware to the natural wonder of Dancing Ledge is one for you.
While there are a few possible explanations for the name given to the grassland at Scratch Arse Ware, we like to believe it’s down to the rather prickly nature of gorse, which, as we all know, is not the softest of plants. When you’ve finished pondering the etymology of this peaceful patch, you begin your walk through it, taking in the luscious green surrounds and pretty specks of wildflowers in the summer months.
Once you reach the South West Coast Path, take a left and enjoy the short stroll up the path to the stiles that lead you to Dancing Ledge. Here, you can climb down and have a little look around the intriguing natural landmark, which still bears traces of its former quarry. Dancing Ledge itself is a peculiar, flat outcrop that juts out to sea - it really does lend itself to a bit of coastal dancing!
A tidal pool here offers a seriously tempting spot for a bit of wild swimming as well so make sure you bring your costume. Then it’s a quick climb back up to the path, from which you can either return the way you came or head a little further down the track till you the reach the upper path to Durlson. From here, you can hop your way through a number of stone walls until you reach the popular route Priest’s Way, which will lead you back to your car.
Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door
Best for: A swim at two of Dorset’s best beaches
•Distance: 5 miles
•Time: 2-3 hours
•Starts/ends: Lulworth Cove
•Parking: Lulworth Cove car park
•Landmarks: Lulworth Cove, Man O’ War beach, Durdle Door
This visual powerhouse of a walk takes you past not one, not two, but THREE of the most beautiful beaches in Dorset, providing ample opportunities to kick off the walking boots and submerge yourself in the glittering waters for the ultimate post-walk refreshment.
While you can start your walk at Durdle Door, most people prefer to begin their trek from Lulworth as there are considerably more facilities from toilets to a café. If you’re heading off from the incredible landmark that is Lulworth Cove, you have a few choices in terms of your walk. If you fancy a quick there and back again, then the simple 1-mile coastal route from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door is the one for you. However, if your legs are itching for a proper stretch, there is a beautiful circular walk that takes you right around this incredible stretch of the Dorset coast.
Both the short and longer routes share the first stretch, which follows the path markers around the coast, passing the indescribably beautiful Man O’ War beach as you go, until you reach the famous arch that signifies your arrival at Durdle Door. Here, you can follow the steep steps down to the beach or you can simply enjoy the view from above.
Now, you can either head back the way you came, or you can take the longer route back over Bat’s Head and through Scratchy Bottom (yes, we agree, Dorset should invest in some 100% cotton underwear). We will warn you that if you choose this path back, there is a rather steep climb at Swyre Head so make sure you prepare your calves!
Corfe Castle to Swanage
Best for: A little bit of everything
•Distance: 9.5 miles
•Time: +5 hours
•Starts/ends: Corfe Castle/Swanage
•Parking: Castle View car park
•Landmarks: Corfe Castle, Isle of Wight, Poole Harbour, Old Harry Rocks
Taking you along a section of the Purbeck Way, this longer walk is absolutely jam-packed with stunning sights and interesting stop-offs. You’ll enjoy a little bit of everything Dorset has to offer, from its undulating countryside to its dramatic coast filled with ancient secrets.
Starting things off with a bit of history, a visit to the war-worn Corfe Castle is a must. After you’ve taken in the impressive sight of this thousand-year-old fortress (and perhaps popped into the National Trust Tea Room for a cheeky cream tea to fuel your walk), head off through the village square towards Swanage.
Once out of the village, head along the signposted Ulwell Ridge Path, which will provide you with some seriously insta-worthy views of Poole Harbour. When you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, keep along the path until you reach a fork in the road, where you’ll follow the sign to Swanage. You’ll spot a cluster of tumuli here (burial mounds), which offer an interesting spot for a picnic.
Soon you’ll find yourself following the Purbeck Way, a 27-mile route in total that can be split up into several stunning walks. Once you reach Ballard Down, you’ll have the option to go and see Old Harry Rocks if your feet fancy the excursion, or you can continue towards Swanage via the coastal path, enjoying views of Poole Harbour, Studland and the Isle of Wight along the way.
In Swanage, a whole host of eateries will tempt you in for a post-walk feast along with lots of great pubs. We love a trip to The Salt Pig Too, a deli, restaurant and butchers twinned with its sister shop in Wareham, which is one of the best places to eat in Dorset. After your refuel, simply hop on a bus or train back to Corfe, enjoying the satisfaction of a walk well done.
Excited to hit trails? Explore our welcoming holiday cottages in Dorset and get ready for a walking adventure you won’t forget and will want to repeat time and time again.