This bit of Dorset’s coastline is famous for smugglers and shipwrecks. Let your kids’ imaginations go wild as you walk out on a high ridge with stunning views along the rugged coast to Anvil Point lighthouse then drop down to the coast path and walk back to Durlston Castle looking out for Guillemots, Gannets and Puffins (or smugglers if you prefer).
Location: Durlston Country Park, Swanage, Dorset
Miles: 1.85 km (just over 1 mile)
Suitable for buggies?
This isn’t a walk for buggies. The terrain is rugged and steep. Best to take a sling or back pack (or be prepared to carry the kids on your shoulders).
Parking: Park in the Visitors’ Centre pay & display car park (not the Castle car park)
Things to see along the way:
- Anvil Point lighthouse
- Tilly Whim Caves
- The metal posts of the Measured Mile used by todays sailors
- Durlston Castle
- The Durlston Globe
- Birds galore (and take a few minutes to spend time in the coastal facing Hide)
- And even dolphins have been spotted from the coast path
What to take
This is an exposed area of coast and the terrain is rough. Wellington boots (or walking boots) are a must in winter and stout trainers (or all terrain sandals) are recommended in summer. The wind can be very strong so worth having a jumper with you even in summer. On a sunny day, make sure you have sun cream and sun hats for the kids.
Refreshments: Café in Durlston Castle offering light meals and tea and cake.
Details walk directions
From the bottom of the Visitors’ Centre car park, find the tarmac road and look for a stone signpost located in a wall which says “To the lighthouse”. At the sign turn right and walk uphill. There is woodland on your left but you soon leave this behind to emerge on a high ridge.
At a gate, go through the gate and turn off the road (which continues downhill). Walk along the grass and stone track which continues straight ahead. Enjoy the stunning views of the sea which open out on one side and the countryside on the other.
At a gate and style, do not go through the gate but turn left and follow a small footpath downhill slightly to cross a wooden bridge. Then continue uphill to emerge at the top of a small hillock with views down the coast in both directions. The lighthouse will now be visible. Walk down a well-worn grassy path towards the lighthouse.
Built in Portland stone, the Anvil Point lighthouse was opened in 1887. It is no longer manned but the lighthouse keepers’ accommodation is now rented out as two holiday cottages.
From the lighthouse join the rough, stony track which is the South West Coast Path. At this point it is very steep and stony and young children may need to be helped over the rugged terrain. Take your time and enjoy the views that open out along the coast and over to the Isle of Wight.
The path takes you downhill to the Tilly Whim caves which are no longer open to the public but will feed your child’s imagination about where the smugglers might be hiding! From here, the path climbs steeply. (So steep and rugged is the terrain here that I have seen adults freeze with fear. If you are worried, there is a detour you can take in land up a grassy slope and from there drop back down to the coast path).
At the top of the slope you will see two tall metal posts (a bit like pylons) on the hillside. These mark the eastern limit of a “measured mile”, used by sailors as a navigation aid and for running time trials.
Follow signs “Coast Path” which undulate up and down along the next bit of coast. You will go passed a Hide (used for watching sea birds and dolphins) and reach a horse shoe shaped viewing area with information about the types of birds you might be able to see. From here, ignore the tarmac road which heads uphill and continue instead along the stony coast path which heads downhill. On the left you will shortly see the Durlston Globe.
This great stone Globe weighs about 40 tonnes and is 3 metres in diameter. It maps the world as it was thought to be in Victorian times when it was built. See how many anomalies you can spot!
Climb the steps up to the Globe and then up still further to reach Durlston Castle.
Durlston Castle is really a Victorian folly built by John Mowlem, founder of the quarrying and construction business. These days the castle is home to visiting exhibitions and a café, and is also available to hire for events. Situated on a number of levels with passage ways, stairwells, lifts and ramps, children love to explore the castle and parents can be rewarded with a cup of tea in the café!
From the castle, walk back up the timeline walkway (at the front of the castle) back to the car park.
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