From Lulworth Cove, discover Little Bindon, a small monastery founded nearly 1000 years ago. Today it is a fenced off ruin, hidden amongst overgrown trees and in the company of deer. Continue to Pepler’s Point to appreciate the cove from up high. Find the ancient fossil forest and a hidden smugglers cave before climbing the mighty Bindon Hill. All while enjoying the views of the Jurassic Coastline, from St Aldhelm’s Head to the Isle of Portland. Follow Bindon’s ridge, skirting historic earthworks to the end, and down into West Lulworth, returning to The Lulworth Cove Inn.
Distance: 5 Miles/8km
Time: 3 hours
Total climb: 636ft.
Max height: 550ft.
Min height: 0ft.
Terrain: Track, path and beach.
Start: Lulworth Cove Inn – car park nearby – payment required. (Car Park – Postcode: BH20 5RJ, Grid Reference: SY821800, What Three Words: modes.originate.triangles) . (Inn – Postcode: BH20 5RQ, Grid Reference: as car park, What Three Words: vacancies.september.alarm)
Map: OL15 Explorer Purbeck and South Dorset
How to get there: From Wareham travel west on the A352. After about a mile, turn left onto the B3070. Follow the road through East Lulworth and at the next junction turn left staying on the B3070. Stay on the same road taking you through the village of West Lulworth and round to the left. The carpark is on the right hand side of the road.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code. Stay to all marked paths for danger of DEATH!
Refreshments: There are a number of cafes and ice cream parlours in the village of Lulworth. The Lulworth Cove Inn being the biggest pub.
Access: The walk is on the Lulworth ranges which are only open at certain times of the year, please check before travel. In this area it is crucial to take great care when on the cliffs, be aware of any potential rock falls, use designated paths, be aware of tide times and to carry a mobile phone.
Lulworth Cove sits about half way between Weymouth and Swanage and forms part of the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage site. During the summer months it is one of the most popular spots for tourists. However, just a short distance away, you manage to escape the crowds and discover some intentional secrets. Due to its popularity the area suffers from trampling, eroding the chalk and clay paths; steps and fences have been put in place to limit this surface damage. Most of the area is privately owned by the Lulworth Estate, an estate held by the Weld family, while land to the east is leased to the Ministry of Defence and used for tank training.
Ancient activity marks the hillsides, there is a Bronze Age burial mound on Hambury Hill, as well as the massive earthworks of Bindon Hillfort.
The village itself is a working village for a few fishermen with small, simple thatched cottages lining the road to the water. The biggest catch in history was in 1785, when a whale entered the cove. However, the whale was too clever and despite the efforts of the locals, it escaped out to sea again. There used to be a mill in the centre of the village but it was burnt down in the 19th century. Now all that remains is the millpond which was also used for the yearly big sheep wash.
The village has also been used as the back drop for a number of media productions; one being ‘Nuts in May’ (1976) a sitcom about a couple going camping in the great outdoors, starring Alison Steadman and Roger Sloman. More recently Elizabeth (1998), Nanny McPhee (2005) and World War Z (2012).
From the carpark, make your way through the picnic area and past the visitor centre. Walk straight on down the road, passing The Lulworth Cove Inn on your left hand side. The coastguard cottages lie perpendicular to the road on your right and then the Mill pond appears. Slowly the sea creeps into view ahead as the road leads you down to the cove.
The coastal feature of Lulworth is one of the finest examples of a natural cove in the world. The cove, Durdle Door and Stair Hole, just to the east, were all created in the same way. Bands of rock, of alternating geological resistance, lie parallel to the shore. The Portland Limestone (that forms the Door) is the toughest of these. Once the sea broke through it ate away at the softer rocks behind; made from Purbeck Beds, Wealden Clay and Greensand, until, eventually, it meets the steep slopes of chalk, known as the Purbeck Hills. The shape is caused by the wave refraction as the sea is squeezed through the small entrance, spreading its energy weakly to the sides and strongly ahead. Stair Hole is at the earliest stage of this development in coastal erosion – eventually it will grow to become like Lulworth. Over thousands of more years it will then develop into the next visible stages seen at Durdle Door and Man ‘o War cove.
Turn left on the beach and follow the pebble surface all the way around the cove. On your left, some wooden steps appear, slightly beaten and eroded, to take you up the cliff. Continue to the top and when the path splits, take the right hand fork. When it splits again you have the choice to either fork right up the hill or left to Little Bindon. Turning left, and following the path for only a short distance, Little Bindon sits on your right hand side behind a stone wall. The small chapel and cottage are in a ruinous state, hidden by overgrown trees. The area is locked and fenced off from the public.
This site itself is cocooned from the elements in a pocket of lushness with the added sound of the waves breaking on the shore over the hill. The area appears wild and, if patient and quiet, deer can be glimpsed amongst the foliage.
William de Gastonia along with 19 other Cistercian monks from Forde Abbey in North West Dorset established a community here in 1149. They only remained at Little Bindon for a short time as they moved, in 1172, to a site near Wool. This new site was given to the monks as a gift by Matilda de Glastonia, William’s granddaughter, who was married to a local wealthy Anglo-Norman landowner, Roger de Newburgh. Keeping the original site’s name, Bindon Abbey was developed where they stayed until the Reformation in the mid-16th century. Today Bindon Abbey is just private ruins on the river Frome.
Little Bindon was sold to the Weld family in 1640, the only sale and purchase in nearly one thousand years of history. Its peaceful and isolated location has remained a place of meditation, only to be impacted by nature.
Retrace your steps back to the footpath junction and turn left, over a little wooden bridge and up the hill. Keep right and follow the curve of the cove to Pepler’s Point. At Pepler’s Point there is a stone memorial to Sir George Lionel Pepler (1882-1959), who was the tenant at Little Bindon for fifty years. Here you get an amazing panoramic view, all along the coastline to the Isle of Portland and an almost birds eye view of the cove.
Turning around, follow the coastal path along the top of the cliffs and make your way through the army gate, adhering to all warnings!
The army range covers an area of more than 7,000 acres, stretching from Kimmeridge to Lulworth and includes the ruined village of Tyneham. The ranges are used for live-firing practice by tanks and other armoured vehicles and therefore, for safety reasons, access to the public is only permissible when the ranges are not in operation. It is also important to stick to the paths for risk of unexploded bombs.
As soon as you are through the gate, turn right to reach the access down to the Fossil Forest. As you approach you are informed of the 97 steps to get down and the 97 steps to get back up!
The spectacular Fossil Forest is a very primitive-looking landscape of thrombolites – rock doughnuts or algal burrs. 150 million years ago, when the Portland Stone was being formed, there was a worldwide drop in sea levels.
In an area that had once been underwater, a forest of cypress-like trees grew, which later flooded when the climate became wetter again. The trees died and their stumps, trunks and roots became preserved by layers of calcareous sediment from the deposits of freshwater algae, basically shell poo. What can be seen today are the bowl shapes remaining once the trees had rotted away as well as ripple marks of the ancient sea floor. The site was closed in 2015 when a large rock fall damaged the steps. Now, all mended and improved, a small seating area has been installed along with an information board.
Once back at the top of the 97 steps, turn right to follow the coastline. As you walk along you’re able to see more remains of the fossil forest below. Meanwhile, as you progress, the views stretch out to the east. The sharp ridge of Gad Cliff points up to the sky on the opposite side of Worbarrow Bay, while behind it sits Kimmeridge Bay, and for the keen eyes, Kimmeridge Tower. Beyond is the high peak of Swyre Head rising above the surrounding landscape only to drop down to the large pinnacle of St Aldhelms Head, sticking out to sea.
Remain on the same path, passing a military building and an old WWII defence, to circle the edge of the first bay that forms part of the bigger bay of Worbarrow – Bacon Hole. As you make your way around the cliff’s edge, the view becomes clearer down to the cove. Standing on the eastern side of the cove you can get your first glimpse of the Smugglers cave down on the shore.
To access it keep going around the bay until you reach a picnic bench. A small path to the right then takes you down to Mupe Bay. The moon shape beach of Mupe Bay is dominated by towering white chalk cliffs to the east and the distinctive string of Mupe Rocks to the west. The top of the chalk peak is marked with Flowers Barrow, an ancient Hillfort that is crumbling into the sea. At high tide the beach is mainly rocks and shingle but as the tide drops away sand is exposed. Low water also uncovers Mupe Ledge, a flat rocky area that is full of rockpools. To reach the cave it is best to do an hour or so after high tide, leaving plenty of time to return.
At the bottom of the steps turn right and make your way carefully over the boulders and around the western edge of the Bay. Mupe rocks appear massive in comparison to the view from high above. Clambering over the rocks can be a little treacherous, but the isolation and slight intrepidation all add to the adventure. As you curve around the point, passing the largest of Mupe rocks, the cave appears, open mouthed, opposite. Keep slowly making your way around as the effort is all worthwhile on arrival.
To no surprise smuggling played a big role in the area’s history. Back in the 18th century, this shoreline was under the control of Emmanuel Charles, landlord of the then Crown Inn at Osmington Mills (now known as The Smugglers Inn); later to be run by Richard Champ, another of the gang. The Customs Boards at Poole struggled to halt the illegal activity and were desperate to catch the elusive mob. Yet the smugglers ruled the coastline and were often helped by vicars, Lords of the Manor and even the occasional dodgy customs officer. In the 19th century Customs resorted to building the coastguard cottages in the village, but this did not put a stop to the ruthless smugglers.
The Smugglers Cave is situated in a tucked away position in Bacon Hole, hidden and hard to reach, it was the perfect location for the locals that knew the area. Goods such as brandy, wine and tea would have landed in this sheltered cove and moved swiftly into the cave under cover of darkness, lit only by candlelight; the pebbles undoubtedly trodden on by none other than Emmanuel Charles and his gang. The entrance to the cave slopes at a forty five degree angle because of the way the strata has been crumpled. At the rear of the cave is a false back wall with a small square door, still bordered with a timber frame. It was behind this wall where the contraband would have been stored and protected from the elements. The view back across Mupe rocks, through the mouth of the cave, is an awesome sight, and nothing within it has changed between present day and the days when smuggling was at its peak.
From the cave you have nothing but climbing for a while. Make your way back across the rocks, back up the steps and turn right. Here you begin the steep climb of Bindon Hill (one that has been teasing you all along the walk so far). Nevertheless, once again, the effort is rewarded. At the top not only is it possible to appreciate the coastal view, and view of little Bacon Hole down below, but also an inland view.
Lulworth Castle, with its four towers sits nestled in the trees but clearly seen – thanks to its contrasting grey limestone. In the distance the shimmering blue waters of Poole Harbour also contrast the heathland that encircles it. Along the coastline to the east is the next bay of Arish Mell. This beach is permanently closed to the public due to the risk of unexploded artillery. From the beach it is possible to see Lulworth Castle, no doubt the view was part of the attraction for the Weld family, but easy access to the sea may also have played its part especially with regards to receiving any freshly arrived elicit contraband!
Turn away from the view to the east to follow along the ridge of Bindon Hill, the track being easy to follow.
Bindon Hill is home to an extensive Iron Age earthwork enclosing a coastal peak. The main rampart and external ditch run for over 2 km along an east-west ridge parallel to the coast. At the western end, an incomplete series of ramparts curve back to the cliffs of Lulworth Cove. At the eastern end, the main rampart reaches the cliffs on the north side of Mupe Bay. With the sea and coves bordering the rest of the land, the hillfort almost creates its own island. The total enclosed area is about 272 acres, which makes it much larger than the titled ‘biggest hillfort of the country’ – Maiden Castle; tiny in comparison at only 47 acres. However, the interior of the Bindon Hill, that also contains barrows, has yet to produce any evidence of settlement, suggesting it was primarily used for pasture and not as a strategic tribal hillfort. The earthworks, including a cross dike at the western end, suggest an attempt to construct a smaller defended enclosure possibly to become a more defensive hillfort, but it was never completed. A Roman grave dating from the first century AD was discovered on a nearby farm, and the ranges are said to be haunted by a ghostly Roman army that march in the area. Their presence is denoted by the stamping of feet in unison. Some believe their appearance signifies a threat to Britain.
To your right, ignoring the military buildings, the village of West Lulworth comes into view. The 19th century church and its little graveyard sit in the corner of a small triangle of land bordered by roads. Lulworth once had a smaller, older church that was demolished in 1869. Today all that remains is the small graveyard next to the Old Bakery. Plans for the ‘new’ church were drawn up by a young architect named Thomas Hardy, the one who became a writer!
Continue to follow the ridge and when you pass through the army gates, fork to the right to join the ramparts. Gradually the earthworks become more present. When you reach the cross dike, arriving from your left and dropping to your right, the clear ditch and rampart is hard to miss. Once on the other side, the earthworks are more obvious, supporting the theory that it was this section that was more likely to have been settled. Ahead the chalk path that leads to Durdle Door, rarely unpopulated with people, cuts across the lush green landscape like a white scar. Above is Hambury Tout, topped with its own ancient barrow, much older than the hillfort.
Staying at roughly the same height, curve around the western edge of Bindon Hill, guided by the paths. The old footpath that leads back down to the village is closed. Instead follow the diverted coastal path by turning right at the fence, heading north.
When the path splits, fork left to reach a small pedestrian gate. Follow the route down to another gate to exit onto a small road in West Lulworth. Turn left and then left again to take a tree tunnelled path that runs parallel to the road. Continue straight ahead, passing a few more vintage, thatched cottages to return to Lulworth, The Lulworth Cove Inn appearing at the roundabout on the left.