Eype and Thorncombe Beacon

Discover a secret of the Jurassic Coast, hidden down narrow roads, for only the brave to venture. The small village of Eype (Lower and Higher) sits on the river Eype as it meets the sea on the shingle beach at Eype Mouth. Walk back through the village and through ancient woodland to the historical landscape of Eype Down. Stop for an ice cream at Down Farm café before gently climbing to Doghouse Hill, where the oldest settlement in Dorset has been found. Follow the coastal path to Thorncombe Beacon, with its astonishing views from the Isle of Portland to Devon, to then descend the steep slopes back to the beach. Before arriving at the car park, passing the old hut used as a murder scene in the tv series ‘Broadchurch’.

Distance:  3 miles/5km

Duration: 2 hours

Ability: Easy.

Max Height: 500ft.

Min Height: 0ft.

Total climb: 520ft.

Terrain: Path, track, road and field.

Map: OS Explorer 116 Lyme Regis and Bridport

Start Point: Eype Beach car park – £5 for the day. (Postcode: DT6 6AL, Grid Reference: SY447910, What Three Words: manifests.whoever.showcase)

How to Get There: Care and patience is needed as the roads are very narrow as you approach Eype. From Bridport travel south out of the town to the roundabout. Take the 4th exit onto the A35. At the top of the hill and once under the bridge, turn left towards Eype. Follow the road around and take the second right. When the road forks take the right hand option, the car park is at the end of the road.

Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route. Welcome all year on the beach

Refreshments: Eype Eats is just up the road from the beach and about half way around is the Down Farm Café (open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-5:30). In the village of Lower Eype there is also Eype’s Mouth Country House Hotel and The New Inn.

The view from Eype car park

Eype in old English means ‘Steep place’ matching its surrounding sloples, however it has also been suggested that the name comes from Greek traders, who came from Epiris in the 7th century and built a temple and burial place on Quarr Hill, to the north. The village has been divided into two, Higher Eype and Lower Eye, the second of which giving you access to the sea at Eype Mouth. The peak of Thorncombe Beacon and curve of West Cliff rise either side of the shingle beach that is less well-known than some of its counterparts along the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, such as Lyme Regis and West Bay.

Eype village is full of pretty thatched cottages with country gardens, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The principle activities in the past were farming, fishing, boatbuilding and smuggling, but during the twentieth century tourism become increasingly important.

From the car park, walk away from the beach back up the small country road. When the road dips, turn to the left, following the National Trust path to Eype Down. Head over the stile, across the field and through a muddy gate. Cut straight across again, heading for a gap in the hedge. On the hill, rising to your right, is the old chapel, St Peter’s Church, now Epye Centre for the Arts and below lies the village of Eype.

Looking across Eype valley to St Peter’s Church

St Peter’s Church is used for art exhibitions, and was also used to record P.J. Harvey’s Mercury prize-winning Let England Shake. Eype also influenced another artist, a poet called F Bartlett. In 1863 in a poem called Symmondsbury he wrote:

The cliffs with slopes and flats abound,
All facing the warm south;
And quietly you may lie down
In Summer at Eype’s mouth.

The sea is calm, the air is soft,
The beach is like a floor;
You fancy you could soar aloft,
While bathing near the shore

There is no frost or chilly wet,
  The place scarce knows such things;
The seasons there are summer heat
And pure delightful springs.

However its beauty comes with danger and in 1880 a Hot air balloon came crashing down as they struggling to keep control in the blowy valleys, clashing with the sea air. Two of the three passengers fell out while trying to offload ballast and save it from crashing into houses. The third passenger was taken out to sea by the wind and never seen again. It wasn’t until two years later that the remains of the balloon were washed up onto shore.

Once through the gap, walk straight across again, but gradually forking to the left. On meeting the road, turn left and when the houses end on your right curve around the signpost into the woodland onto an old Holloway. Almost immediately take the small path on your left that guides you deeper into the woodland. Walk through the woods to a gate and into an open woodland gap. Head straight across back into woodland and uphill to meet another gate. Fork to the right through the thinner trees to a small pedestrian metal gate. Head through and turn left to a kissing gate and out onto the open land of Eype Down.

Eype Down is famous of its bluebells but also hidden amongst the trees is evidence of ancient activity including three bowl barrows. Each barrow dates from the Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, mainly 2400-1500 BC. They are surrounded by a quarry ditch from which material was excavated during their construction but have become infilled over the years. However, according to local legend, the mounds were made by the devil as he bounced around when the Abbot of Forde Abbey kicked him out to sea. They are sometimes known as the “Devil’s Jumps”.

The views begin to appear to the west as the coastline disappears behind the high orange peak of Golden Cap. The inland views also grow with small patchwork fields and gentle slopes. Walk up hill and on your left you pass a tumuli, its rounded shape bursting unnaturally from the hillside. On your right is your views open wider inland.

The view to Golden Cap and beyond

Head down the hill to the gate and turn left to the top corner of the smaller field. Climb over the stile and then turn right. Make your way across the northern lee of Thorncombe Beacon rising at Doghouse Hill, either within the bushes or above the bushes, depending on which sheep path you choose.

When you meet a signpost continue straight ahead onto a track. The views grow on your left, the most prominent of sights being Quarry Hill; although it looks like a hillfort with ramparts they are actually much later strip lynchets. Behind this hill, to your far right rises the small conical peak of Colmer’s Hill, the iconic landmark that is often connected with Bridport.

Curve around the edge of the hill slowly gaining height, there is no official footpath at this point; however the area is Open Access land and therefore free to roam. When you meet a small bench divert straight up the hill onto the South West Coastal path. At the top you arrive at the peak of Doghouse Hill.

Doghouse Hill

Doghouse Hill, although susceptible to landslides, is believed to be the location of Dorset’s oldest settlement. Thanks to a random discovery by a dog walker in 2009, the National Trust subsequently carried out excavations. Evidence was unearthed which supported the theory that Hunter-gatherers lived on Doghouse Hill up to 10,000 years ago. The settlement was originally a mile inland, but the severe coastal erosion of the soft geology means it is now located on a cliff edge crumbling into the sea. The investigations unearthed a stone hearth, fire pit and pot shards from Bronze Age periods (2,500 to 1,000BC) and other relics from the Mesolithic Age (10,000 to 4,000BC). Pottery was even found with ancient fingernail marks, as a form of decoration, the hands belonging to those that walked these same paths thousands of years ago. A selection of the finds are now on display in the newly renovated Dorset County Museum.

Lidar information of Eype to Doghouse Hill
The cliffs are susceptible to many landslides.

Continue to follow the coastal path to climb up to Thorncombe Beacon, the silhouette of the actual beacon marking the top. Thorncombe Beacon, at 157 metres, sits beneath Golden Cap, at 191 metres, (the highest cliff on the south coast of England) and offers breath-taking views along the coastline from the Isle of Portland to Devon. The base of the cliffs are also full of treasure, providing excellent conditions for fossil hunting. Just like Doghouse, the geology is mostly clay in composition and therefore susceptible for landslides. Its name comes from its role as the site of one of the Armada beacons, set up in 1588 to relay the message across Wessex of the impending attack.

Heading up to the beacon

Continue to follow the path steeply down from the beacon along the Monarch’s Way down back to Eype passing a stone well on your left. The Monarchs Way is based on the lengthy route taken by King Charles II during his escape after being defeated defeat by Cromwell in the final battle of the Civil Wars at Worcester in 1651. The views are spectacular, all the way along the Jurassic coast to the east.

Keep to the paths as you make your way down the hill, being aware of the fragility of the edges! St Peters Church appears on the opposite side of the hill as the colours of the village (and campsites) grow below. As you approach the car park you pass the small cream hut on your right that was the setting of Danny Latimer’s death in the popular tv series Broadchurch (starring Olivia Coleman and David Tennant), also featuring heavily in the second series. Sadly it is at risk of falling into the sea and therefore in 2016 achieved planning permission for it to be moved further inland.

Once you arrive back to the car park, it is worth a visit to the beach, the steps down just by the vehicular entrance. Despite being at sea level the views along the coastline are still impressive and you have the chance to scour the edges for fossils!

Walk Excerpts

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