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Walks in West Dorset

Walks around Charmouth, Axminster, Lyme Regis and Bridport

West Dorset is blessed with a beautiful coastline, rich history and relatively unspoilt countryside. From tribal disputes to smugglers and rebellions the area is rich in culture and history which can easily be explored on foot. The area is at its most beautiful during the spring and summer months. It is hard to beat a woodland walk whilst the bluebells are in bloom during April.

Getting here

Most people come by car although the area is easily accessible by bus from either Weymouth or Exeter. The X53 bus travels between Weymouth and Exeter and stops in most coastal towns. The nearest train station is Axminster which links in with the local bus services.

Places to stay

There are literally hundreds of accommodation options in the area ranging from basic camping to luxurious hotels. Expect to pay from £10 per adult per night for a tent site.

What to bring

The ideal map for exploring West Dorset

For Day Walking:

  • A Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer 116 (ISBN 0-319-23536-X) Scale: 1:25 000 (4cm = 1km) Covering the area from Beer in the West to Bridport in the East this map includes public rights of way and local tourist information. It is an ideal map for walking.
  • Compass and GPS
  • Day pack
  • Walking Shoes or Boots
  • Wet Weather gear (Anorak/waterproofs)
  • Water
  • Food
  • First Aid Kit
  • Camera
  • A charged Mobile phone
  • Money

If you are bringing a dog:

  • A lead
  • Dog Mess bags
  • Dog Biscuits

A quick reminder of the golden rules whilst walking in the countryside:

  • Let someone know where you are going and roughly when you plan to return.
  • Take all your rubbish home
  • Keep to the paths at all times
  • Always shut gates after you
  • Keep dogs under close control especially around farm animals.
  • Don’t pick wild plants

Dangers, etiquette and potential risks

Traffic and parking

By far the most dangerous thing you will meet in the area is road traffic. Always keep an ear out particularly if walking along the ‘lanes’. If driving in the lanes drive carefully and considerately. Be prepared to reverse if required. The general etiquette is for people coming up a hill to give way to those coming down as it is much harder to reverse up a hill. Park only in designated car parking spaces and please don’t block access.

Stings and allergies

Stinging nettles may grow up around some styles so it is wise to have your legs covered. Some people may find hay fever a problem during some parts of the year. It is probably a good idea to have antihistamine tablets in your first aid kit just in case.

Ticks and Lyme’s disease

There are some species of Tick that may be prevalent in the area that are a vector for the microorganism that can cause Lyme’s disease so again long trousers are advised.

Animals (including dogs)

Cattle can sometimes get a little inquisitive so make sure you walk with care though fields that contain cattle. Always close gates after you, and always keep dogs under close control and obey any warning signage. Always clear up after your dogs especially in the villages and towns (penalties apply). Please that dogs are banned from several beaches during the summer months. Do not leave dogs unattended in parked cars.

Sea and Cliffs

Enjoy the Jurassic Coast Responsibly – Be aware that the cliffs along the whole of the Jurassic Coast are unstable and give way regularly without warning. Climbing up on to the cliffs is not only dangerous but sets a bad example to children. Do not try to walk between Lyme Regis and Charmouth along the beach on a rising tide. If swimming, always swim between the flags.

Things to do

Whilst you are walking you may also like to try:

Bird watching

The twitchers out there will be pleased to learn that West Dorset is rich in birdlife including several species of birds of prey including buzzards and peregrine falcons. The RSPB may have further information on what to look out for in the area. There are several excellent pocket bird field guides available.

Fossil hunting

The Jurassic coast has been a magnet for fossil hunters for over a century. Fossil hunting in the area was made famous by Mary Anning whose grave is situated in the churchyard in Lyme Regis. The best pace to find fossils is on the beach, particularly after a storm. Please be aware that the cliffs along the whole coastline can be extremely dangerous and large landslides occur regularly, especially after rain. Climbing up on to the cliffs in search of fossils is potentially hazardous for both you and your children, and also sets a bad example to others. Please do not attack the few remaining large fossil ammonites with geology hammers – don’t destroy them – leave them for everyone to enjoy. Organised fossil tours are run from both Charmouth and Lyme Regis.

Geocaching

Geocaching is great challenge for all the family. To play you will need a Global Positioning System and access to the internet before you set off. Basically people have hidden small treasure boxes all over the countryside, the location of which are logged at the website www.geocaching.com To play you must first visit this website ad register (It’s free). Search for sites in the area and make note of the locations (normally given in Longitude and Latitude) plus any clues that are given to locating the treasure. Once you have found the geocache you need to take an object from the cache and replace it with another. Fill in the log book and then place the cache back exactly as you had found it.

Photography

There are many great opportunities to take some spectacular photographs in and around the area. A couple of great ideas for photos for the album are:
The bluebell woods (some of my favourites are Champernhayes woods, Langdon Wood and Coney’s Castle). The bluebells appear during the month of .. The ‘Candles on the Cobb’ event for which you will need a slow shutter speed and a tripod. This wonderful event normally takes place one weekend evening in August. Please check local press for details.The view from the top of Golden Cap. At 191 metres it is the highest point on the south coast and it affords excellent views along the coast towards Lyme Regis in the west and Portland Bill in the East.Get the macro lens out and try and find a fossil on the beach between Lyme Regis and Charmouth. There are a couple of large fossils that even the greediest fossil hunters haven’t managed to take.

Visiting the Pub

West Dorset pubs are a great place to spend a lunchtime, afternoon or evening, particularly during the summer months. Most offer a selection of beers, wines and of course cider and a range of menus. Pub lunches or stops may be added to many of the walks in the area. Some pubs may offer camping and or nearby accommodation.

My personal favourites in the area are:

The Bottle Inn

The Bottle Inn in Marshwood is located on the B3165 and is a beautiful old thatched building. The pubs claim to fame is that it is home to the annual World Nettle Eating Championship which take place every year in June. The pub has a lovely beer garden and is open every day except Mondays. Food is served every lunchtime and evening. Well behaved dogs are welcome in the garden and also in the back bar. – Sadly this closed in 2010, hopefully one day it will reopen.

The Shave Cross Inn

The Shave Cross Inn is a beautiful thatched pub hidden deep within the Marshwood Vale. The pub contains an excellent restaurant which specialises in Caribbean cuisine using local produce. The pub garden is very beautiful especially in the summer months. The pub also boasts an ancient skittle alley and a well.

Further information

Information on selected walks

Jonathan Tolhurst

About Jonathan Tolhurst

Based in London, my interests include photography, kayaking, paddle boarding, electric unicycling, teepees, robotics, programming, databases, informatics and pharmacy.

Contact me

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Jonathan Tolhurst