Distance: 5 miles/ 8 km (can be cut shorter using different tracks, see map)
Time: 2 hours
Total climb: 630ft.
Max height 620ft.
Min height: 0ft.
Terrain: Track, path, field and Road.
Exertion: Medium – Big climb to Golden Cap
Start: Seatown carpark a short walk from the beach, providing easy access for visitors of all ages. (Postcode: DT6 6JU, Grid Reference: SY420917)
Map: OS Explorer 116 Lyme Regis and Bridport
How to get there: From Bridport, take the A35 westwards. On entering the village of Chideock, take the right hand lane, signposted for Seatown. The Car Park is at the end of the road.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.
Refreshments: The award winning Anchor Inn Pub, known for its seafood, most caught locally.
Seatown is a small coastal hamlet, at the end of a small country lane, set pretty much right on the beach. It has some incredible views up and down the Jurassic coastline. It is also in one of Dorset’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The small river of Winniford runs parallel to the village, entering the sea at the beach itself. The shingle shelving beach is privately owned and is a favourite amongst fishermen, fossil hunters and dog walkers alike.
Historically the economy of the hamlet ran on fish, but in the dark of night a completely different economy was rife – smuggling. This is thanks to the smugglers adopting the area as a safe haven from the authorities. The other important occupation was agriculture. There are medieval strip lynchets visible at Seatown, probably worked by the fishermen when they could not go to sea. The Whit Monday Fair which used to be held in Seatown featured in Thomas Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, the character Michael Henchard got drunk on laced furmity, a mix of wheat, dried fruit and sugar, often with added spirits, and sold his wife while inebriated. Towering above the village to the west is Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast of England and the last climb on this walk.
From the car park, head out onto the road and turn right at Golden Cap Holiday Park. Stay on the concrete road, ignoring any signs or gates diverting you off, and pass through the many different sections of the Holiday Park. When the concrete changes to tarmac, continue straight ahead and to Brook Cottage. Here take the small footpath ahead that takes you past the house and over a small river. Make your way past the playground, over the river Winniford and through some houses. You then exit out onto the A35 that runs through Chideock.
This road has had important influence on the village of Chideock. Despite it, the village is one of Dorset’s most beautiful, with an abundance of thatched cottages and stone built walls. The road has always been an important route, linking Dorchester to Exeter, the connection strengthened by the Romans introducing their own road. In 1769 the road from Bridport became a turnpike, no doubt a benefit for the village to have an increase in passing trade. However this passing trade grew and got faster. In 1997 Chideock was the first village in Britain to have two speed cameras installed in response to perceived excessive speed. In the 1990s a proposal for a Chideock and Morcombelake bypass was put forward. However the National Trust opposed the proposal, strongly citing its importance as an area of natural beauty and they were successful. On 4 May 2010 a protest against the lack of a bypass was initiated by some residents and involved constant operation of a pedestrian crossing at the centre of the village for one hour’s duration every week. The campaign continued for some time but, despite the disruption, no solution has yet been achieved.
Cross straight over the road, turn right and then left to walk up Ruins Lane. Pass the old chapel on the left and go through a gate to arrive at Chideock Castle ruins. There is no actual castle here, but the earthworks are impressive. It is a well preserved example of a moated site in an area of the country where moats are rare.
The castle was owned by the Arundell family, who were strong Catholics. During the Protestant reign of Elizabeth I, she made it an act of treason to be a Roman Catholic priest in England. Despite the danger, many priests remained in or visited England in secret and were kept hidden by prominent families of their faith, the Arundells were one.
Thomas Pilchard fled from England, but later returned under cover to act as chaplain to the Arundell family. For two years he was kept hidden in the castle with two companions, John Jessop and William Pike. Eventually their presence was discovered and all three were taken to Dorchester. Jessop died in prison but Pilchard and Pike were hanged, drawn and quartered. Then John Cornelius was sent as a missionary to England. While acting as chaplain to Lady Arundell, he was betrayed by a faithless servant, arrested at Chideock Castle on 24 April 1594 by the Sheriff of Dorsetshire and suffered the extreme penalty of death at Dorchester with John Terence Carey, Patrick Salmon and Thomas Bosgrave. A later chaplain of the castle, Hugh Green, made an effort to escape, but was arrested on Lyme Cobb and executed. The men became known as the Chideock Martyrs.
During the English Civil War Chideock was a royalist stronghold, and the castle changed hands more than once before it was ultimately left ruinous in 1645. In 1802 the Arundells were succeeded by the Weld family of Lulworth Castle who, in 1810, built Chideock Manor. Now we have nothing but the lumps and bumps in the ground to tell us these stories, but there is also a large, simple, wooden crucifix in the centre of the castle, as a memorial to the martyrs, erected in 1951 by Lt-Col Humphrey Weld.
Time may appear to stand still in Chideock (especially if the lights are red!) but there is a lot of history lurking underneath the thatched roofs and landmarks to remind us of the village’s intriguing past.
Head to the top corner of the field to meet a stile, climb on out, turn right to be facing Quarry Hill and then left, once past the hedge. Follow the boundary around the field, ignoring the angle of the footpath on the OS map. Head to the next gap in the hedge and circle the hedge on your left and then turn right with the new field boundary on your right hand side. Chideock Manor can be seen across the valley on your left. Continue to walk straight ahead and when the field boundary dives off to the right continue straight ahead. On your left you can make out the next stile you need to aim for, but curve around the marshy centre of the field to reach it. Once over, turn left onto Hell Lane.
Hell Lane is one of Dorset’s best examples of a Holloway. There is something magical, mystical and otherworldly about these sunken lanes, ancient ways worn deep into the earth by the centuries’ passage of foot, hoof and wheel. Between Chideock and Symondsbury lie some excellent routes, the walls of sandstone sometimes decorated with artistic graffiti drawn by the passing footfall. This lost world, 10 metres or so below the surrounding landscape, is lined with ancient ferns while gnarly trees tower above and the roots rub with your own shoulders. This old way allows both man and beast to pass unnoticed through the countryside, something that would have been of great help to the economies of the night! Other examples include Nether Compton, North and South Poorton and Lewesdon Hill, but many more exist and continue to exist as roads today.
Walk to the end of Hell Lane and just before you meet the houses, turn left to cross over a stile and climb up the hill. Head to the wood and keep it on your right hand side. Occasionally you may get a glimpse of Chideock Manor though the thick vegetation, protecting it from prying eyes!
Just three families held the tenure of the Manor of Chideock over the last 650 years. Thomas Weld of Lulworth Castle was a cousin to the Arundells and bought Chideock from them in 1802. No Lord of the Manor had lived on the estate since John Arundell, who had died in the castle in 1633, nearly two hundred years before. Thomas gave it to his sixth son, Humphrey, who built the present manor house and also converted the nearby barn into a chapel. His son, Charles, went further and replaced the chapel with the Romanesque church of Our Lady of the Martyrs and St Ignatius. Charles also built a charming memorial chapel to his parents and decorated the interior with some remarkable wall paintings, including one by Fra Newbery. It is next to the parish church of St Giles in Chideock.
In 1920 some of the estate property was sold. The Welds remained the principal landowners and in 1938 gave many acres of coastal land to the National Trust. There was another sale of manor property in 1950, and the house achieved modest fame in the 1980s when it was rented by the Duke and Duchess of York while the former was stationed as a helicopter pilot at HMS Osprey on Portland.
Join onto the drive of the House and follow it out onto the road and turn right. Continue for about 300 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for a sign guiding you on to a path on the left hand side of the road. Follow the boundary of the field on your left and head up the hill. Once again ignore the angle of the OS map footpath, go through the next boundary and straight though the next field. On meeting another divide, turn left to follow the woods. When they dive away, head straight across the next field to the right hand corner of the woods ahead. Go over a stile and follow the footpath through the trees to meet back to the A35.
Cross over the road, when appropriate, and on reaching Rick Barton, turn left. Pass the house and then take the right hand stile. Now you begin your big climb to Golden Cap. Head over the next two stiles then straight though the final field, to reach a metal gate. Don’t forget to look behind you to admire the view back down to Chideock and even appreciate the Castle ruins.
Go through the gate and turn left onto Langdon Lane. You follow the same gradient here which gives your legs a bit of a rest but at the next T-junction, with Pettycrate Lane, turn right for another climb to the top. Pass by the woodland of Langdon Hill on your right and enter the next field. Go straight across to meet a kissing gate; it is here you will return to after visiting the peak. Head through the gate and follow the large wooden steps for the final push to the top.
It is worth all the work. Golden Cap is the highest point on the south coast and is visible for tens of miles along the coastline. The hill is owned by the National Trust and forms part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. The name derives from the distinctive outcropping of golden greensand rock present at the very top of the cliff. It’s a landmark you can easily admire from afar with the satisfaction of conquering. This prominence comes with the views. On clear days to the east the shore can be followed with the cliffs of West Bay and then Chesil beach stretching out into the distance leading to the Isle of Portland, as if holding its hand. To the west, the sea turns almost inland with the white seafront of Lyme Regis nestled in its own bay. The coastline even continues southwards to Devon. Inland the views are also exceptional. The peaks of Pilsdon Pen, Coney Castle, Lambert’s Castle and Lewesdon Hill are all present, 4 of Dorset’s largest Hill Forts. Further afield Dartmoor can be seen!
Golden Cap in botanical and wildlife terms, is one of the richest properties in the National Trust’s portfolio. On the very top of Golden Cap is a simple memorial to the Earl of Antrim, chairman of the Trust in the 1960s and 1970s. It was he who spearheaded its 1965 appeal campaign, named ‘Enterprise Neptune’, to purchase sections of unspoiled coastline before the developers moved in and it was all too late. Golden Cap was part of this.
Once you have filled your lungs, spun around several times, squinted at anything untoward and climbed the trig point, retrace your steps back to the kissing gate. Instead of following your previous path, turn sharply left to head to the next gate. It is a straightforward route back to Seatown, which means you don’t have to concentrate and instead you can admire the changing angle of the view as you descend. Head pretty much in a straight line, through the fields and the final small patch of woodland to reach Seatown road. Turn right to head back to the car park.
Don’t forget to explore the beach. Even without the height, the views are still spectacular, and you never know what you might uncover in the fossil filled clay that borders the beach!