Distance: 4 miles/ 6km
Duration: 2 hours
Ability: Medium, two hard climbs, but one can be cut out if required.
Max Height: 600ft
Min Height: 0ft.
Total climb: 950ft
Terrain: Path, track and field.
Map: OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset
Start Point: Tyneham Village car park (Postcode: BH20 5QF, Grid reference: SY882802)
How to Get There: From Wareham, head south on the A351. Take the right hand road down Grange Hill, signposted to Lulworth. Follow the road, past Steeple House and up the hill. Continue straight ahead onto the Army ranges and take the left hand, dead end road down into the village. The car park is at the end of the road.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Refreshments: None on route
NB: This area is a working military zone and therefore is only open at weekends and certain other times of year. Please check the website for details.
Tyneham is a ruinous ghost village, nestled in a narrow valley, bordered by two ridges of the Purbeck Hills. The valley leads east to west reaching the sea at Worbarrow Bay on the Jurassic Coast, marked from afar by the rising peak of Worbarrow Tout. Up until 1943, Tyneham was a bustle of activity. The 13th church of St Mary, the school (although closed in 1932), the manor house, the rectory and a scattering of farmers and fishermen’s cottages filled the fields around, successfully and happily working together as a community. On the 17th December of that year, all 225 residents from 102 properties were evicted. This enforcement was generated by the need for military training. On their departure the villages left a note on the church door:
Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us 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.
Despite the original residents being promised that the village would be returned to them, the settlement is still in MOD ownership and control. All the homes are now uninhabitable, in a compete state of disrepair and damaged by the ongoing training. Thanks to pressure from locals and tourists alike, the village was opened up to the public in 1975. The church, magically, has managed to save within its own walls a stained glass window. It is now a museum, along with the school.
As the area is still very much an active training ground, the village and ranges that it sits within are closed and only open at specific times. The footpaths are clearly marked with yellow posts, venturing off these paths is not advised!
From the car park, head straight into the old village of Tyneham for an explore. Keep your eyes peeled through the trees around, as a ruin is in every direction. Head deep into the village too as you’ll be surprised at what you could find.
Once you feel that you are happy to move on, and the life you imagine to have once lived here starts to fade, take the small gate behind the church to explore the landscape around, which is as important as the village itself. You then embark on the first of the two climbs of the walk. Do not let the view of steepness deter you however, as a slight zig zag in the path makes it a lot easier than it seems at first glance!
Head on up, but don’t forget to admire the view that grows behind you. On turning around, Gad Cliff is the last ridge before the sea on your left. Worbarrow Tout’s pointy peak is clearly recognisable and Worbarrow Bay curves off towards Lulworth Cove ahead, the small indent being the cove of Arish Mell. Following the cliff top the highest point above Worbarrow Bay is Flowers Barrow, where this walk is heading next. When you reach the top of the hill, the view to the north exposes itself. Poole Harbour glistens in the east and the grey stone square in the distance to the west is Lulworth Castle. To the north the woodland, pine forest, heath and chalk downland disappears deeper into Dorset.
At the top of the hill keep tight to the left and follow the track, marked by the yellow posts. You are now deep within the Lulworth Army Ranges. The ranges were established in 1917, which made Tyneham’s location prefect for the increased military need. Currently it is part of the Armoured Fighting Vehicles Gunnery School, who are based at Lulworth Camp. When not open to the public, the area turns itself into a war zone, with a full onslaught of tanks and armoured vehicles.
Large neon numbers mark the hillsides, used for firing practice, clearly reminding you of the landscapes military training role. There are frequent signs warning you of unexploded shells and explosives. Yet despite all this negative activity the area has become a haven for wildlife as it has prevented any farming or development to occur.
Follow the ridge of the hill, taking you through the heath, to reach Flower’s Barrow. As you approach, the cliffs tops dip and drop softly off into the distance, similar to the waves below. It is clear when you arrive at Flower’s Barrow, the earthworks are undeniable. The chalk grassland suddenly rises behind gorse bushes and the ramparts disappear down the steep slope on your right. The track takes you through a cut in two of the three defensive ramparts and the landscape opens up onto the flat plateau of the Hill fort.
Flower’s Barrow is clearly defined by its boundary on three sides. Its southern edge has since been eroded away and it is unknown whether or not the ramparts continued to defend in a full circle, or if the cliff edge was used as a defence. Despite this disappearance, the erosion provides us with some surprising gifts of archaeology. From what at been uncovered, both intentionally and naturally, it has been possible to date this Iron Age hillfort to 2500BC, also incorporating some earlier Bronze Age earthworks, making it a relatively early example. A 19th century excavation is said to have found an abnormal length human skeleton! Evidence also suggests that the hillfort was taken over by the Romans quite early on in their invasion of the area and elements of Roman occupation have also been found deeper in Tyneham valley. And, even exposed to some of the strongest elements thrown from the sea, it still stands, more prominent in some places than other, better known hillforts of the county
On entering the hillfort, take note of the exit to your left and then feel free to explore, taking heed to any warning signs. Return to that exit to leave the fort. This section of the walk is extremely steep. However the views down to Worbarrow Bay are stunning. Gad Cliff points sharply out to sea, with Worbarrow Tout sticking out from the coast on its western edge. On the slopes of Gad cliff you can make out some of the Army’s railway tracks used to generate moving targets.
Continue to head down the hill to reach Worbarrow Bay. On arriving at a small bridge you can divert off the path to enjoy the beach. Because of its remote location, the bay is rarely overcrowded with visitors. Nevertheless there are a number of picnic benches welcoming those guests that do visit to sit and enjoy the view. Fossils can also be discovered here, even in the exposed cliffs of Worbarrow Tout, dinosaur footprints can be found! The geology in the bay competes highly with Lulworth Cove. Portland Limestone (150 million years old), Purbeck beds (147 million years old), Wealden Clay, Greensand and chalk (85 million years old), are all visible with their own characteristics and colour. The rippling effect from southern tectonic plate movements, 30 million years ago, continues from Lulworth to here where the layers of rock folded on top of each other, have created the angles we see today.
To continue on the walk, head off the beach and turn right to start the climb up Gad cliff (alternatively, you can return back to the carpark through the valley). Head through the gate and turn left. It can get muddy and slippy here so watch where you step. This is not helped that the foot traffic is channelled through the yellow markers, making the mud impossible to escape. It also does not help that the only thing to grab on to when you do, is the nearby barbed wire!
As you climb, again don’t forget to pause and admire the view growing behind you. Worbarrow Bay widens as Worbarrow Tout shrinks. On your right you can make out Flower’s Barrow with its ramparts silhouetted against the sky behind.
Continue to follow the path along the top of the cliffs and every now and then, between the rocky outcrops, the coastline to the west appears. Kimmeridge tower can be made out on the hills below and furthest in the distance is St Aldhem’s head with its fierce peninsula abutting the sea.
When you reach a gate, turn left to head down the hill. The path zigs zags down to help with the gradient. Pass Tyneham farm on your right and head through the gate to return to the car park and your vehicle.