From the Mason’s pub of the Square and Compass, in the limestone village of Worth Matravers, discover the caves of Winspit. Looking out to sea, the ghost like movie set was once a bustle of activity providing stone for the most prestigious of buildings all over the world. Follow the paths of local smugglers and passing pirates to Dancing Ledge; the stone floor containing a pool, blasted out of the rock by a keen headmaster. One of his pupils was inspired to create the famous British spy James Bond, the surrounding landscape etched into the character’s family history. Climb the cliffs to walk in the sunken footprints of dinosaurs at Keates Quarry and return via the Priest’s Way, the ancient, religious path accompanied with views for miles across Dorset’s Jurassic coastline.
Distance: 5 miles/8km
Duration: 2-3 hours
Max Height: 485ft.
Min Height: 0ft.
Total climb: 460ft.
Terrain: Track, path road and field.
Map: OS Explorer 15 Purbeck and South Dorset
Start Point: Worth Matravers Car park, payment expected. (Postcode: BH19 3LF, Grid Reference: SY974776, What Three Words: shiver.dress.escapades).
How to Get There: From Wareham, travel south on the A351 through Corfe Castle. Once out of the village, turn right to Kingston, following the narrow road up the hill. At the top turn left and take the next right towards Worth Matravers. The car park is on the right when you enter the village.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Refreshments: On route is The Square and Compass country pub.
As soon as you arrive in the car park, you are welcomed by Woodhenge. Woodhenge was erected here in June 2015 by The Square and Compass landlord, Charlie Newman. Using large tree trunks he recreated the famous Stonehenge just in time for the summer solstice. However, a member of the public complained and its already limited life was shortened as the council enforced it to be removed, but, allowing it to stay for two years. Today it is still standing, more likely to fall rather than forced down, quite similar to its contemporary!
From the carpark, head out onto the road and turn right. Pass the pub high on your left and turn right again, deeper into the village. The village pub, originally known as The Sloop, was renamed the Square and Compass in 1830; the name coming from the tools required for the trade of stone masonry, which the landlord of the time, Charles Bower, was a part of. It began life as a pair of cottages but developed into an alehouse in 1793 and was enlarged in the 19th century. It was sold to the Newmans in 1906 and has remained with the same family ever since. Within the pub is a small museum full of local fossils, dinosaur bones and archaeological finds, and every year it is host to a stone carving festival. The pub itself is unique as it has no bar but instead drinks are served through a small hatch in the wall. Seating inside is very limited but that is no problem as outside is where the views are!
Follow the road around to the right to pass the pond on your left and head for the church. Worth Matravers is a hidden little village, cushioned in the curves of the slopes and constructed from the Purbeck Limestone found below. To the north rise the Purbeck Hills, while to the south the coastline, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, is hidden by the clifftops and the views look out to sea. The village is consistently constructed from the grey limestone, its mood changing with the seasons, and centred around the small pond. Traditionally the village’s economy was based on farming, quarrying and fishing, with the two quarries of Swanworth and St Aldhelm’s still in operation today. However, in the summer months, the economy today thrives on tourism.
Worth Matravers’ church is dedicated to St Nicholas of Myrna (appropriately the patron saint of seamen). It is a Norman church (with some older Saxon masonry work) that has managed to escape most of the renovations from the Victorian period. It was built around AD 1100 and can therefore claim to be one of Dorset’s oldest churches (along with Wareham and Studland).
In the churchyard is the grave of Benjamin Jesty, lying next to it is the grave of his wife, Elizabeth. In 1774, 22 years before Dr Edward Jenner popularised vaccination, Justy, at great risk, vaccinated his wife and family with cowpox to inoculate against smallpox. As a farmer he had been convinced by the folktale that milkmaids, who contracted cowpox during their work, were somehow protected. His work was unpublished, but his antics became local gossip. He was ridiculed in his home village of Yetminster and he moved away. Nevertheless, his family did not suffer from smallpox and he found peace here at Worth. He was finally recognised 25 years later and he was honoured with a portrait, commissioned by the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, in 1805. His ancestors live on in Dorset.
From the church continue following the road to the Village Hall and turn left down Pikes Lane. Take the next right and when it ends merge onto a footpath. Head through a gate bearing slightly right, keeping to the trodden path down into the valley. The blue sea appears on the horizon framed by the two hills ahead.
Surrounding the village are a large number of strip lynchets – ancient farming systems. They cover the slopes of the valley down to Winspit and on to Seacombe Bottom. They are notoriously difficult to date but were used heavily from the Iron Age right through to the medieval period and clearly represent an area of high activity.
At the bottom of the hill make your way through another gate and onto a narrow path where a little stream joins you from the left. When you meet a track, turn left heading closer to the sea, the crescendo of waves slowly getting louder.
Pass Winspit Cottages on your left to shortly arrive at the exposed stone. Note the footpath on your left to then turn right and around into the old cave workings. Winspit is a disused quarry, the Purbeck Limestone has been used since Roman times for building simple houses and busy harbours to great cathedrals and prominent London mansions. It was quarried right up until 1940 when it was turned into a WWII naval base and air defence. When the war ended the caves were opened up to the public, however, some have been closed off for safety and/or conservation reasons; including the protection of Mouse-eared and Greater horseshoe bat populations.
Winspit Quarry has been used in a number of media productions including ‘Blake’s 7’ and ‘Doctor Who’. In 2012 the Disney film ‘John Carter’ used it as the location for the “Orkney Dig” and in May 2021 the Star Wars television series ‘Andor’ filmed around the caves. In 2023 filming for Andor returned but was called off due to safety reasons and access into the caves was restricted further.
Return to the footpath and turn right, staying on the worn South West Coast path. Climb up the hill and through a wooden gate at the top. Bear right, keeping tight to the sea. This is just a small section of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site – the Jurassic Coast. The views stretch all the way across the coastline to Durlston, marked with its little lighthouse. On a clear day, behind the lighthouse, the white chalk cliffs of the Isle of Wight can be seen.
Head through the next wooden gate, passing a small quarry on your left and back out the following gate. As you approach Seacombe Cliff, turn slightly inland to meet a gate and down some steps. Turn right at the bottom and when the track splits you have a choice. Ahead takes you on a little diversion straight to the sea at Seacombe, right to the quarry and left to continue along the coastline.
Having explored Seacombe and sticking on the coastal path, climb up the hill again. As you rise, the views behind clearly show the layers of rock diving towards the sea. Within the stone lie numerous rectangular quarry holes. In such a peaceful landscape today it is hard to imagine the thick bustle of activity and accompanying noise that once occurred here.
Navigate your way along the clifftops and through two gates to arrive at the wrinkly landscape above the caves. The activity which has scarred this landscape consists of not only the quarrymen but also any passing pirates or local smugglers. The caves would have provided shelter as well as a handy hiding place, with the locals having great knowledge of not only the caves but the sea, its behaviour and the hidden rocks below, giving them a great advantage. Meanwhile the, slightly vulnerable, government officers would have patrolled the paths above.
At a stone wall that runs down the slope to the sea is the tip of Dancing Ledge. Take the small path on the right, over a choice of stiles, down the cliffs to reach the lower levels. There are no aids to help you, so manoeuvre with care as a little scrambling may be required.
Dancing Ledge has gained its name thanks to the appearance of the waves crashing and then rolling onto the small plateau of the Portland stone ledge. For keen eyes, within the surface, Ammonites & bivalves can be seen! The quarry was closed during the Victorian period and little has changed since, but activity in the area did not stop. The ledge was a very convenient spot for access and therefore used by anyone who has required it, but more recently it has been used for recreational activities such as climbing and swimming. The caves have been closed and blocked up for safety and conservation reasons.
Within the ledge is a carved out bathing pool. This was done by the headmaster (Tom Pallett) of Durnford all boys Preparatory School in the early 20th century. It became a regular activity, applied into their daily timetable at the school, as Pallett believed a fresh dip in the ocean was the best start to the day. One of the young pupils was Ian Fleming author of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond novels. Durnford House still stands in nearby Langton Matravers but the majority of the school no longer exists. During Fleming’s attendance, much of the nearby land, as well as a number of manor houses (Tyneham, East Creech, East Holme and Moigne Combe) were owned and managed by the prominent Bond Family. Their family coat of arms featured in the book ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ the motto inscribed within was ‘Non sufficit orbis’ translating to ‘The World Is Not Enough’. Maybe Dorset has more of a role in the life of James Bond than first thought!
Just like Winspit, Dancing Ledge has also had its fair share of media appearances. In 2008 it was used for the film ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ and more recently the retelling of the sad tale of Gaia Pope, a young girl who went missing and perished on the slopes above.
From Dancing Ledge climb back up to the south west coast path but take the track that leads inland to Spyway Barn, forking slightly right. At the top turn right then left through a wooden kissing gate, Spyway visible ahead.
This route was used frequently by smugglers, carting their goods, under the shadow of darkness avoiding the coastguard’s watchful eye. Spyway Barn was a handy hide away spot for their loot, a half way point to the proper hiding spot within Langton Matravers church tower. Although it may seem a little exposed, in the eyes of the coastguard it even seemed too obvious – hiding in plain sight. However, it was also unappealing; being wet and dirty. It apparently was also once guarded by a vicious bull, one that even the coastguards wanted to keep a distance from!
Pass through a gate at the barn (full of local info) and continue straight ahead to join onto the Priest’s Way. This ancient route follows a track taken by local priests as they travelled back and forth between the churches at Swanage and Worth Matravers. The track straight ahead leads to the old Durnford School House, now known as Langton House.
Turn left walking east back to Worth Matravers, Langton Matravers appearing in the valley on your right. Follow the route for about half a mile, passing a number of quarries, both working and retired. The walk is also accompanied by the angry sounds of engines beeping and grinding, but occasionally they are interrupted with a gentle toot from the Swanage Steam Train. Behind you, the views drop down to the small town of Swanage before the blue sea then meets the sky, the cliffs of the Isle of Wight sometimes marking the divide.
Keep your eyes peeled for the dinosaur sign, guiding you to Keates Quarry on your right. Keates Quarry is a flat layer of rock where fossilised footprints can be seen that were created by dinosaurs 140 million years ago. It is thought that the concentration of these prints indicates that the dinosaurs were coming to this spot to refresh in a water hole that once lay here. It is thought that the prints are of the brachiosaurs which were long necked plant eating dinosaurs weighing up to 50 tonnes (five times the size of an elephant). They were only recently discovered by quarrymen in 1997 when the site was still active. It was opened in 2016 when the work was moved elsewhere.
Return to the Priest’s Way and turn right. This time the views look to the south. St Aldhelm’s’ Head is the last patch of land before meeting the sea, highlighted by its white washed coastguard cottages and triangular peak of the chapel. Pass the 17th century Eastington Farm on your left, behind which are a collection of earthworks and strip lynchets that indicate that this settlement was once much larger.
Continue to the road and turn left. Follow it down the hill and back into the village. The pub appears on your right and, soon after, the road that leads back to the car park.