Lulworth And Durdle Door


Durdle Door near Dorset's Lulworth Cove was named by readers of Country Walking magazine in May 2006 as the best view on the southwest coast. There is dramatic scenery all along this key section of the 'Jurassic Coast,' and there are walks with dramatic views all along here [starting from OS grid ref SY824800] Below is a heritage guide to the area.

Lulworth Cove is the most enclosed and sheltered harbour along this coast, and the only place where a captain could find a lull from sea breezes - hence Thomas Hardy’s poetic names for it, ‘Lulwind” and “Lulstead.” (In fact it also shelters a unique type of butterfly, the Lulworth Skipper.) It is mainly used by sailing or fishing boats, but small “pleasure steamers” began to navigate their way in during the late 19th Century – the birth of its popularity as a tourism attraction.

  Stone plaque above Cove
Lulworth 'Crumple'  

As the Visitor Centre exhibit at Lulworth Cove indicates, the ‘Jurassic Coast’ is designated a World Heritage Site due to its unusual geology, containing an abundance of fossils. This is where Purbeck ‘marble’ first meets Portland Stone. Purbeck “marble” was once the same limestone as the rest of southern England’s white chalk cliffs. But in the Purbeck area it is so old it has become fossilized. (On the east side of Lulworth Cove is a spot named the Fossil Forest where you can see the stumps of giant prehistoric trees which over the ages turned to stone.) The result of the fossil process is a limestone that can be polished to look like marble and used to “dress” the facades or fronts of public buildings. On the western side of the Cove, you can see how mountains and ridges are formed by geological pressure that fold the rock strata (layers) upward. Hidden just behind the western headland of the Cove is the 15-million year old Lulworth Crumple. The sea has eaten into it an archway called Stair Hole, forming a smaller, hidden cove containing sea-caves.
Lulworth is the westernmost landmark of Purbeck District. From here, the cliffs are marked by outcrops of Portland stone. This type of “oolite” stone is so solid it became the basis for an important stone quarrying industry, centred on the the peninsular Isle of Portland, visible to the southwest, across St Oswald’s Bay beyond Bats Head. After the architect Inigo Jones discovered in the 16th century that it was ideal for large public buildings, stonemasonry became an important local industry. (Thomas Hardy’s father was a stonemason, while the author himself was an architect.) It meant chiselling and cutting stone out of the cliffs in square blocks so that it could delivered by boat to places like London. It was chosen for the rebuilding of London under the direction of architect Sir Christopher Wren after London’s Great Plague and Fire of 1666. You can see Portland Stone “dressed” when you look at London buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, and in its natural state in the cliffs at Durdle Door.

Lulworth Cove, a 1950s-oldcolourpostcard.

Lulworth Cove, a 1950s colour postcard. The Cove has been a tourist spot since paddlewheelers began to pull in here in the Victorian Era. The grassy field behind the couple is now an enormous coach and car park, whose parking charges include entrance to an onsite heritage centre. The path in the foreground leads to Durdle Door, a mile away.

Durdle Door is the giant rock archway a mile west of Lulworth Cove, which juts out to sea “like a great beast’s head” (Shire County Guide). It is normally reached by a half-hour walk from Lulworth Cove car park west along the Dorset Coast Path. This runs along the clifftop or headland overlooking Man 0’War Bay (enclosed almost as a lagoon by Man 0’ War Rock). Another access route is south via Daggers Gate and Newlands Farm, through Durdle Door Caravan Park. Coastal cruises are also available in summer to view it from the seaward side.

You can also see here at Durdle Door how the sea eats away at the chalk cliff, to form first small caves all along the base, which slowly undermine the cliff. (Note the signposts warning you about cliff-edge subsidence or collapse.) Eventually tidal circulation scours or rounds these out into coves like Lulworth, which is the most enclosed of these along this coast. In the case of the much harder Portland Stone, the sea eventually creates stone archways or “doors” in headlands.

Durdle Door is much larger than Stair Hole, and will continue to erode away until it eventually collapses. The explanation that the name “Durdle” derives from English Thyril or Hole Hill is not very convincing. The root may be even older and come from the Celtic word for water (or a water barrier), dwr, which is found in place names all across Southern England. Another large archway eroded in the rock face is visible westward towards Portland, below Swyre Head and Bats Head.

At Durdle Door you can also see a beach in the process of formation, in the sense it is not the fine grains of white beach sand dredged up from underwater to make beaches like Bournemouth’s, but consisting of larger granules of crushed rock. (The beach at Lulworth Cove, being “younger,” is of pebble.) The shore along here is unprotected from the Atlantic tides, and the finer sand is washed out to sea by the current.


Durdle Door

Jurascci Coast from boat

Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Cove,  foggy day

Lulworth On Screen
This has been a popular area with filmmakers since the days of silent British cinema, when a wood and plaster castle was built on the cliff outside the cove for a 1913 film of Hamlet [stills and production info here]. Several films about 17th-century cavaliers have also used Stair Hole, Durdle Door and the cliffs here as a backdrop for scenes of swordfights, chases, or romantic rendezvous, from The Moonraker in 1958 (starring a young George Baker) to the Barbara Cartland Regency romance A Hazard Of Hearts in 1987, co-starring Helena Bonham-Carter. The beach here also doubled as California's Big Sur area in Kevin Spacey's 2004 Bobby Darin biopic Beyond The Sea.
The distinctive rock arch called Durdle Door a mile west up the coast footpath has also appeared regularly on-screen. In Hardy’s novel Far From The Madding Crowd, Sergeant Troy, when swimming here, is carried away out to sea. The scene was authentically filmed here for the 1967 film version. Cliff Richards stood atop the rock arch for his 50th-birthday pop video Saviour's Day in 1990. There is more of a secluded beach here than at Lulworth Cove, and this has attracted filmmakers needing to film a beach scene, as with the 1997 Wilde starring Stephen Fry. Most recently, it was used for the beach scene in Nanny McPhee in 2005, where Nanny assists the children's kite flying.The coast downs area to the west around Bat's Head has been used in the BBC's Hardy short-story adaptations series Wessex Tales in 1973.

 The finale of Cliff Richards's pop video Saviour's Day was shot atop Durdle Door


Cliff Richards atop Durdle Door in his 50th-birthday pop video Saviour's Day, 1990

Coast view from Lulworth Castle down to Arish Mell cove

Top: Coast view from Lulworth Castle down to Arish Mell cove.
Bottom: The view from the castle ramparts towards the modern [1977-] manor house, called Castle House, visible behind the trees.


Lulworth village is really in two sections, East and West Lulworth, with Lulworth Cove forming the latter’s south-western end. West Lulworth stretches from Lulworth Camp army-camp entrance downhill to the Cove itself, where there is a village with various B&Bs and hotels, notably the thatched Castle Inn.
Three miles inland from the Cove, at East Lulworth, near award-winning pub the Weld Arms, is Lulworth Castle. The Castle stands on the Lulworth Estate belonging to the Weld family which still owns much of the area. It was begun in 1588 (the year of the Spanish Armada) for Thomas Howard, the Viscount Bindon (patron of nearby Bindon Abbey) and completed by 1608 for the new owners, the Weld family. It is built of Purbeck ‘marble’ limestone rather than Portland Stone as it was not meant as a defensive structure like a mediaeval castle, just a stately home in castle style. Called “one of the most perfect Jacobean manors in the country,” it is said that it was built in that style, with a large flat roof so that it could act as a deer-spotting platform, to impress a king, James I, who was very keen on hunting.
A century later, King George often stayed here when on his annual visit to Weymouth, and allowed the family to build, in 1786, the first Catholic Church in England since the Reformation, on condition it be disguised as a mausoleum or family burial crypt. The family chapel (with burial crypt below) is thus a Catholic church disguised as a temple, and is separate from the mainly Victorian parish church which also stands on the walled estate’s 600 acres of woodland, and was rebuilt in 1867 to plans drawn up by Hardy. The Castle was left roofless and derelict by a 1929 fire, but was restored in 1994 and opened to the public.

The Weld landowners were prominent Catholics whose daughter helped members of her community in France escape the guillotine after the French Revolutionary “Terror” of the 1790s. At the time of the Napoleonic Wars invasion-scare ten years later, there was still no village settlement on the Cove, and its hidden and enclosed nature made it ideal for smuggling, which was a major industry when the war cut off supplies of French brandy by any official route. Smugglers often also acted as spies for the French, and there was a worry the Cove might be used to launch a French invasion. Local scare stories led the magistrates to call up the militia in 1802, and there was a story Napoleon was seen landing in 1804 at Lulworth (to inspect it as an invasion beachhead), Thomas Hardy later writing a poem and a short story about these incidents.

On the road to the village, note the Army Camp with tank outside (and armed guards - no stopping or photography allowed). Over 7000 acres of land to the north and east of Lulworth are the designated as the Army’s Lulworth Ranges. Owned by the Ministry Of Defence, since World War Two the Ranges have been used as a tank-driving and gunnery range for training tank crews. You will see that the upland area is marked with red warning flags indicating the Range is in use. The Range is open on weekends and holidays but you have to stay on the signposted route which is checked every day (the tanks practise with live shells).
The military takeover has meant no commercial development of the land since before the war, and the only buildings on Bindon Hill, which forms the east side of the Cove, are a stone gateway (just visible from the Cove), plus the ruined remnant of Little Bindon Abbey, which was the original Abbey, built in by monks of the white-robed Cistercian Order, replaced in 1172 by the larger Bindon Abbey inland near Wool.
The local population was evicted from the Ranges in 1943, and on the far eastern end of the Ranges there is a deserted village, Tyneham. After the war the military decided to keep the land, despite a lengthy public campaign, and the now-ruined village, carefully maintained, is a tourism attraction, complete with a car park. The valley with the village in it can be seen from above, along the track (there is an adjacent road) that runs atop the Purbeck Hills eastward from Flowers Barrow hillfort, from Whiteways Hill viewpoint and picnic area.



Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Army Range sign

Lulworth, from Whiteways Hill

Lulworth Crumple

The eastern end of the Luworth Ranges area, above Tyneham

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