Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door in Dorset, England

Stunning Beauty in an Unexpected Place: Lulworth Cove, England

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I never know what will ignite my travel imagination. Sometimes it’s an overheard comment made by a fellow wanderer. Other times I read about a city or place of great natural beauty and think, “I have to go there.” In this case, it was a map that piqued my curiosity. Knowing that I like to hike and that I’m also nuts about rocks, my friend and fellow travel blogger Heather Cowper, suggested that I consider Dorset, England, also known as the Jurrassic Coast for the proliferation of fossils that can be found along its beaches. I promptly pulled it up on Google maps and began examining the southwest coast of England. Midway between Swanage and Portland, a perfectly circular cove caught my eye and I zoomed in. Just above the cove was the town of West Lulworth, gateway to the South Coast hiking path. I followed the map westward to Man O’ War beach and Durdle Door. Even the names were intriguing! And that was all it took. I was hooked; I simply had to visit Lulworth Cove and hike the trail.

Lulworth Cove, seen from South Coast trail leading toward Durdle Door

Lulworth Cove, seen from South Coast trail leading toward Durdle Door

I arrived late in the afternoon on a chill, blustery day. Too excited to wait for morning, I snuggled into my crushable down jacket and headed out for my first view of the cove. Tentacles of icy air crept down the back of my neck as I trudged down the hill past ancient stone cottages with two-foot thick thatch roofs, but I would not be deterred. Tugging the zipper up to my chin, I lowered my head into the wind and plodded on. Minutes later the cove spread before me. Low grey clouds spit fat drops of icy rain, but not even the abominable weather could dampen my wonder at the perfectly circular inlet, broken only by a narrow entry at the headland, where choppy seas poured in.

Traditional thatch roofs in the village of West Lulworth are protected and cannot be replaced

Traditional thatch roofs in the village of West Lulworth are protected and cannot be replaced

The next morning, awakened by beams of sunlight filtering through the lace curtains of my room at St. Patrick’s B&B, I hurriedly dressed, wolfed down breakfast, and raced back down the hill. From gray and choppy, Lulworth Cove had been transformed into a sparkling ultramarine gem, framed by a headland of charcoal Portland limestone and backed by white chalk cliffs, all tied up with a ribbon of golden beach at the base of the cliffs.

Crashing waves have carved arches in this finger of Portland limestone known as Stair Hole

Crashing waves have carved arches in this finger of Portland limestone known as Stair Hole

For three glorious days I explored the Lulworth Cove area, with its exquisite beaches, bays and stunning geological formations. The South Coast trail led past Stair Hole, with its caverns and blowhole-pocked limestone, then climbed a steep headland carpeted in lush green grass before dipping back down toward the sea. Here I stood atop a precipitous, narrow finger of limestone that points out to sea, forming a natural boundary between crescent-shaped Man O’ War Cove and the long sweep of Durdle Cove that hunkers beneath startlingly white chalk cliffs.¬†Eons of battering wind and waves have pierced the promontory, carving a giant arch in the rock near its tip and earning it the name Durdle Door.

Man O' War Cove lies to one side of Durdle Door on the South Coast trail

Man O’ War Cove lies to one side of Durdle Door on the South Coast trail

Durdle Door, carved by eons of waves and weather, separates Man O' War Cove from Durdle Cove on the South Coast hiking path in County Dorset, England

Durdle Door, carved by eons of waves and weather, separates Man O’ War Cove from Durdle Cove

Geologists say that the forces of nature will eventually erode Durdle Door completely. I was inclined to pass that idea off as something unlikely to happen in my lifetime until I encountered a detour; less than two weeks earlier a massive chunk of cliff had slumped into the ocean, slicing through the trail. Just months before that, the steps leading down to Durdle Cove had disintegrated when erosion undermined them. Though the rock promontory appears to stand strong, conceding little to the massive power of the ocean, I was acutely aware that it could topple in an instant and did not venture too far out.

White chalk cliffs along England's south Dover coast

White chalk cliffs along England’s south Dover coast

On my final evening, I made the by now familiar trek down to the sea for one last look. I planted my toes in the sand, playing tag with dull green waves that temperamentally lapped the shoreline, and pondered the different moods of Lulworth Cove. I could spend a lifetime gazing at that view and no two would ever be alike. Aside from weather and light, the forces of nature inexorably chip away at the coastline. Ten million years from now the hungry ocean will have wiped all these features off the map. Lulworth Bay, Stair Hole, Man O’ War, and Durdle Door will have merged into one continuous bay. I cannot conceive of what it might look like at that point, but I can’t imagine that it could be any more beautiful than it is today.

20 Comments on “Stunning Beauty in an Unexpected Place: Lulworth Cove, England

    • It is amazing, isn’t it Mary? I had the exact same thought. Sort of a, “Am I still in England?” reaction.

  1. A very good chip shop lives in West Lulworth! It’s been years since I have been there and Durdle Door too. Great post :)

  2. Barbara – you take such amazing photos. I love looking at your pictures and seeing the amazing gems that you find. Don’t stop!

    • Thank you Lynn. Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside when someone says that :-)

  3. Nice to know others find my homeland worthy of international recognition! Dover really is beautiful, though I’m a northerner myself so I’d best not get too excited :-)

    • Adam! Your fellow Brits are going to tease you about thinking Lulworth Cove is Dover – it’s in Dorset, of course! But I think you can be forgiven, because I understand both places are equally beautiful.My next trip will be to Dover. :-)

  4. That place looks absolutely gorgeous! What a great place to hike around, and for three days too! It’s always a treat to be able to see that changing face of a place like that; no two days are ever the same. Find any fossils while you where there?

    • Hi Karen: No fossils in Lulworth Cove; it’s not known for them.But watch for my next story about Lyme Regis and Charmouth, where I hit the fossil bonanza!

    • It is indeed, Cristina. I really want to go back and explore some more.

    • You speak the truth, Tim. This has been the rainiest year on record and the cliffs have been slumping and slipping like crazy.

  5. Thank you so much, Barbara, for your posting about Lulworth Cove and the surrounding area – what a treat it is to travel “with you”. I enjoy how you see things, photograph them, and tell us about the details. I appreciate your generosity, and it is spurring me on to see different sights and sites than I would have thought of otherwise. Can’t wait to be back in Europe and the UK in the Fall. My list grows longer after I read your posts!

    In Peace,

    Irene

    • Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Irene. It delights me if my stories ignite the travel bug, at least more than you already appear to have it!

  6. It is lovely there. I went last year and even though the weather didn’t cooperate, we had a fab time. We spent some time looking for fossils on the beach, but no luck. :-)

    • Ah Jaklien, Lulworth Cove is not the place for fossils. Though it’s technically a part of the Jurassic Coast, the fossil hunting there is poor and you have to go farther west to Lyme Regis or Charmouth, where they are easily picked up on the beach. Watch for my next article, which is all about the fossils I found.

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