Boasting more than 4,700 well-signed and waymarked footpaths, bridleways and byways, there’s every reason to discover Dorset on foot.
With routes covering breathtaking clifftops, peaceful country lanes, woodland trails and even some of Dorset’s most popular towns, there is something for everyone. Plus, it’s a great way to see some of the region’s most famous sights and learn more about what makes this area of the South West so unique.
So put your best foot forward...
Extending 95 miles between Exmouth in Devon and Studland in Dorset, the Jurassic Coast is a stunning must-see stretch of the UK. Granted UNESCO World Heritage Site Status – putting it alongside the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef – the area is one of Europe’s most popular sites for fossil hunting.
Our expert, Jurassic Coast Ambassador Emily Cowper-Coles, recommends Charmouth beach as the best and safest place for fossil hunting. She says: “This is my favourite childhood place, where anyone can find a bevy of beautiful fossils.”
Make sure you visit Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, home to a life-size cast of the most complete dinosaur skeleton - a scelidosaurus - ever found in the UK. The centre has a vast collection of fossils to view and also offers guided Fossil Walks. These two hour sessions start with a talk from one of the centre’s wardens and then moves onto the beach so you can put your new skills to the test.
Emily’s top tips? “Stay away from the top and bottom of the cliffs and always look for fossils on the beach instead. Follow safety signs and bring lots of sun or cold protection, depending on the season!”
If the weather doesn’t invite fossil-hunting, or you want to seek out some more impressive finds, why not take a trip to the Jurassic Gallery at Dorset County Museum which boasts the Weymouth Bay Pliosaur, otherwise known as ‘The World's Biggest Bite!’ The 2.4 metre long fossilised skull belongs to the largest marine reptile that ever lived, the Pliosaur (Pliosaurus kevani), which was discovered on the Dorset coast and is believed to be 155 million years old.
And don’t forget, the hop-on hop-off X53 bus service is a great way to visit the Jurassic Coast attractions, walk a section of the South West Coast Path or simply enjoy the views from the top deck.
This 20km trail runs from Littlemoor to Portland Bill and takes in the incredible landscapes and wildlife shaped by the Jurassic cliffs. The route has information ‘waypoints’ throughout, highlighting the stories of people, geology and wildlife that have created this unique landscape and it can be enjoyed in full, or in part, with all the main sites easily accessible by car, bus and bicycle.
Starting in the woodland and meadows of Lorton Valley Nature Park the trail is a haven for wildlife and stops along the way include the RSPB Wild Weymouth Discovery Centre and Radipole Lake, rightly described as a wildlife oasis in the heart of town.
Although it’s a steady climb via the Merchant’s Incline up to Portland Island, once you get to the top, you will be rewarded with stunning views back across the trail and the bays of Lyme and Weymouth.
Pick up the South West Coastal Path to the Portland Bill cliff top with its rocky ledges and the area’s own special sea lavender; a truly unique way to experience the natural beauty of the area.
If you’re looking for a more interactive way to explore the area, why not complete the Murder Mystery themed walking trail around Weymouth?
The self-guided route takes you in and around Weymouth with a series of clues to solve using local landmarks, buildings, statues and monuments. The two-mile long route starts at Brewers Quay in Hope Square and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. Suitable for all ages, it’s a great way to get the family out and about and can be interrupted for drinks and ice cream breaks along the way.
You will need to purchase your copy of the trail before leaving home and you can either print off the PDF at home or if preferred, a postal version can be sent within two to three working days.
The longest waymarked footpath in England, this 630-mile trail runs from Minehead in Somerset, along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall before reaching Poole Harbour in Dorset. The section within South Dorset is well worth a visit and includes a stunning variety of costal scenery, making it the most photographed part of the path.
Taking you through the popular resorts of Swanage, Weymouth and Lyme Regis, the walk passes some of Dorset’s most famous landmarks including the flat sands at Studland, Old Harry Rocks, Lulworth Cove and Durdle door. It’s no wonder this section of the path has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Originally a path for the Coastguard to walk from lighthouse to lighthouse patrolling for smugglers, you’ll find that the route closely follows the coastline so every bay and cove could be inspected. It’s rarely the most direct path but, with incredible views, you can afford to take your time on this walk.
The path is much-loved and a number of organisations are responsible for maintaining it, including the National Trust, Natural England and the South West Coast Path Association. Covered by England's right-of-way laws, as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the historic footpath has been kept open even in sections where it passes through private property.