By Gareth James
From a young age, I have been fascinated with local maps and finding locations that the general public overlook or may not even know existed. Luckily, living in Swanage at the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, these places are plentiful – from hidden beaches and coves to caves and incredible viewpoints.
The majority of the articles published about the Jurassic Coast will use the same locations, and I don’t blame them as they are stunning, but head off the beaten track and even in the height of the tourist season you can park without a wait and whilst walking will barely see a soul.
Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove will easily be the most visited and photographed locations along this stretch of coast with hundreds of thousands of people making the trip each year. To get a photo at these places will often mean jostling with others for a good position and vantage point, even in the winter months. In the busier times and when the sun is out you will regularly witness queues of photographers, cameras and tripods ready, waiting in line to take the iconic shots from exactly the same point.
Listing all the locations would easily fill a book so I’ll concentrate on a few of my favourites, working from West to East.
Located to the East of Ringstead Bay, White Nothe is a 160m high chalk headland with incredible views along the coast to Weymouth and Portland in one direction and along to Durdle Door in the other. This is a perfect spot for sunrises and sunsets but also suits moody monotone photos, just be wary that if the wind picks up you are very exposed. If you’re feeling brave, it is possible to access the far end of Ringstead Bay via the smugglers zigzag path but check for tide times to ensure you don’t get cut-off. For added foreground interest, the summit also contains the ruins of a WW2 pillbox, a few rustic stone benches and a terrace of old coastguard cottages. A walk from here to Durdle Door is exhilarating with steep inclines and declines but does give you views down to inaccessible beaches and bright white cliffs.
Parking – National Trust Ringstead Bay
Arish Mell is an inaccessible beach a few miles East of Lulworth Cove and within the Lulworth ranges. Those familiar with the coast path would know it, as the descent from either side is extremely steep. The best access (when the ranges are open) is from a small style across the road from Lulworth castle and from here it’s approximately 1 mile to the sea. Both sides of the bay have great opportunities for photos but the view East is stunning, especially in the height of summer or after stormy weather as the chalk deposits in the sea turn the water a milky white.
Parking – Lulworth Castle. Also a couple of laybys on the main B3070 road to Wareham.
Leaving Arish Mell and climbing the steep coast path east brings you to Flower’s Barrow, an ancient Iron Age hill fort that unfortunately has a limited future due to constant coastal erosion. Archaeologists estimate that more than half of the site has already disappeared. The views from here are incredible. Weymouth and the Isle of Portland can be seen looking west along the coast while in the East you look over Worbarrow Bay. Like White Nothe, this location works for sunset and sunrise due to its elevation and in Summer you could easily confuse the scene with Mediterranean countries such as Greece, or Italy. This photo was taken after some high winds explaining the white milky sea and made the national press in 2016.
Parking – Whiteway Hill car park (Limited access, check Lulworth range walks opening times), or Tyneham Village.
This stunning beach is accessed primarily from a track running from the Tyneham Village car park. It is still within an active military area, highlighted by the remains of old tanks, firing ranges and ruined buildings. It very rarely gets busy, even in August, meaning plenty of opportunities for creative photos. The shoreline is covered in smooth pebbles for foreground interest and there are some rocky ridges that head out to sea at the eastern end of the beach. To capture panoramas and the full arc of the bay, a short climb up to the summit of Worbarrow Tout is worth it – this is the promontory that juts out from the beach. From here there are beautiful views in all directions and if you’re lucky, dolphins can be seen playing in the water alongside colourful jellyfish. Not advisable for sunrise or sunset due to the access issues.
Parking – Tyneham Village (Check Lulworth ranges opening times)
Swyre Head is the highest point of the Purbeck Hills (208 Metres above sea level) and offers panoramic views over Kimmeridge Bay, Gad Cliff and the coast heading east toward Weymouth. Facing north you can see across the Isle of Purbeck to Poole Harbour and Bournemouth. The coast path does not go past this viewpoint so the best way to reach it is by a small walk from a parking area near the main entrance to the Encombe Estate. Sunset is ideal here all year round but during the winter the sun can be seen dipping behind the Isle of Portland creating reflections across the water.
Parking – Encombe Estate/Swyre Head Car Park
Chapman’s Pool and Houns-Tout
Houns-Tout is a viewpoint near the small village of Kingston and a few miles along the coast from Kimmeridge Bay. Although the view west is impressive, the scene looking over Chapman’s Pool makes the walk worth it. The colour of the water always looks fake, the blues look too intense so there’s no need to add any extra saturation! Chapman’s pool itself is a semi-circular cove littered with photo opportunities – giant ammonites, rocky ledges and the remains of old fishing buildings and equipment. It’s a steep walk down so only recommended for the experienced and able-bodied walkers.
Parking – Houns-Tout car park near Kingston Village.
St Aldhelms Head
St Aldhelms head is a personal favourite of mine and a location visited numerous times over the years. Although the views along the coast are beautiful, the main feature is the 13th century Norman chapel close to the cliff edge. The chapel is very photogenic and I have photos in all seasons but this taken with the bright yellow rapeseed and wispy clouds remains a favourite. Close to the chapel is a memorial commemorating the important work completed at the old radar station, now in ruins, and also the coast watch building. There are rugged cliffs to explore below and in summer wildflowers pop up everywhere.
Parking – Renscombe Car Park
Winspit, Seacombe and Hedbury Quarries
Heading East from St Aldhelms, the coast becomes even more rugged with beaches being replaced with quarries, caves and rocky outcrops. Many years ago these would have been busy places for the extraction of Purbeck Stone and the scars left create great locations for exploring and photographing. It’s easy to spot huge ammonites on the ledges and in some cases on the ceiling of the caves. Winspit has the remains of old houses and storerooms and a network of caves stretching deep into the cliffs. Seacombe is basically one big rocky ledge and is great for long exposures and crashing waves. Hedbury is more of an open space and contains the remains of an old cannon reportedly from a shipwreck. Generally I visit these locations when the forecast is for cloudy weather to add some drama to the photos, although the local pub is also an extra draw. All three quarries can be accessed by parking at the Square and Compass at Worth Matravers, a rustic and welcoming building with carved Purbeck stone tables, hundreds of local ales and ciders and a resident family of chickens.
If you’re brave enough to visit in the dark then the stars and Milky Way are clearly visible as the light pollution is virtually nil.
Parking – Square and Compass car park
Durlston Country Park
The final location is the often overlooked Durlston Country Park, again a place that photographers, tourists (and even some locals) tend to forget. This 320 acre national nature reserve includes countryside walks with orchids, stunning views across to the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth and Old Harry Rocks, a lighthouse, caves and the Victorian castle. Sunset is best from the Anvil Point lighthouse in the winter and the sunrise is best from the headland below the castle looking across the Durlston and Swanage Bay.
Parking – Durlston main car park
The Jurassic Coast is an incredibly diverse location to walk and photograph and there are numerous places to visit that are not as prominent in the guidebooks so go and explore and see what you can find.
Gareth JamesVanguard Ambassador was born in Cardiff, but has lived in Dorset for many years, specialising in landscape photography, which has allowed him to share his suggestions on some of the less known spots along the spectacular Jurassic Coast. Check out Gareth's social media to see some stunning photos: