When visiting the UK’s Isle of Purbeck there’s no better way of tiring the kids out than dragging them along on a coastal walk. There are few places as picturesque as the Jurassic Coast, and the stretch between Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door is one of the prettiest parts.
The Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It stretches for 95 miles from Dorset to East Devon and is a geologist’s dream; telling the story of 250 million years of evolution. The rocks which form its cliffs were laid down in layers which are clearly visible today. The coastline dates from the Mesozoic Era, covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
As any five year old will be able to tell you, this was the time of the dinosaurs. Exploring along this coastline is a great way to learn about this period of pre-history. So if you’re lucky enough to get a sunny day, head down to West Lulworth and the Coastal Paths.
West Lulworth and the Cove
You can start your walk in West Lulworth; a tiny but beautiful village. Its narrow winding streets are lined with thatched cottages and there are few shops on the main road, only a couple of pubs.
Weave your car through the streets and park in the main car park near the Cove (this is expensive; £9 for the whole day). Just by the car park you’ll find a cafe and some shops so you can stock up on refreshments here if you haven’t brought your own picnic.
Before you go anywhere, make sure you take a look in the Visitor’s Centre. You can brush up on your geography in here and see how the coast was formed millions of years ago. You can also pick up useful information on tide times and activities in the area.
Head on down to the sea and you’ll find yourself in Lulworth Cove; an almost perfectly circular bay surrounded by white cliffs. The turquoise sea wouldn’t look out of place in the Mediterranean. At low tides kids will love poking about in the rock pools.
If you walk along the pebbly beach you might be able to spot some fossils, but please be careful to stay away from the cliffs as rockfalls happen frequently.
The Coastal Path
Walk back towards the car park and you’ll see a white path heading up a steep hill. This is the path to Durdle Door, to the west of Lulworth Cove. It’s a bit of a trek for very small children (2.5 miles) so if you don’t think your kids will make it you can drive to Durdle Door instead – it’s just five minutes away by car.
You’ll get some wonderful views back over Lulworth Cove from this path, and out to sea too where you can see as far as the Isle of Portland and the famous Chesil Beach.
Watch out for the local wildlife on this path – cows roam freely. You should also keep your kids away from the cliff edge as there aren’t any barriers.
Man O’War and Durdle Door beaches
The first sheltered bay that you’ll see as you walk down the cliff towards Durdle Door is Man O’War Bay. You can swim and paddle safely here, or catch some rare British rays on the beach, a mix of sand and shingle.
The star attraction of the walk, you’ll find Durdle Door in the next bay. This is one of the most famous sights in the UK; a beautiful rock arch formed 10,000 years ago. From the clifftop that overlooks the beach you’ll see old sea stacks which were once arches, and at the far end of the beach, a new arch is being formed.
Follow the steep path down to access both Man O’War and Durdle Door beaches. You should make sure you’ve got good shoes on as it’s not an easy path, and small children will need help. It’s worth the effort once you’ve reached the beaches!
The beach at Durdle Door is pebbly but very comfortable, though it’s best to bring rugs or a towel to sit on. Kids will have a whale of a time playing here; ours always enjoy playing with the stones and paddling in the sea.
You can swim in the sea as it’s quite a sheltered bay. Be aware that the sea floor drops away quickly so it gets very deep only a few feet from the shore, so Man O’War Bay is safer. There are no lifeguards.
After fun playing on the beach and the walk back to Lulworth Cove, your little ones (and you) should be exhausted. Job done!
Other things to do in Lulworth Cove
You can also walk east along the coast path from Lulworth Cove. This path will take you to the Fossil Forest and Mupe Bay, two miles from Lulworth. The paths are quite steep so may not be suitable for very small children. You’ll need to check that the Army ranges aren’t firing when you want to visit as the path will be closed.
There are lots of activities for families with older children, such as guided bike rides and coasteering; a guided adventure tour. Take a look on Lulworth’s website for details and how to book.
Lulworth also has a castle and grounds. The castle certainly looks impressive from the outside. However the inside is empty as the castle was destroyed in a fire nearly a hundred years ago, and only the outside has been restored. There’s a kids playground and plenty of castle grounds to explore. The castle and estate are often hired for weddings so check that there isn’t a function on before you travel.