Stunning Coast Walk Hive Beach to West Bay Jurassic Coast Dorset
Dorset isn’t just lazing on beaches and promenading along Bournemouth beach. It’s perfect for revitalising coastal walking. The county is latticed with an intriguing myriad of walking routes, connecting coastal meadows, 175 million year old prehistoric landscapes, bountiful subtropical gardens and pretty ‘Olde England’ villages where tired walkers can anticipate a seafood and wine dinner after an uplifting day out on the trails of the South West Coast Path.
In this series of posts, I’ve detailed three coastal walks along different stretches of the Jurassic Coast. Two hikes begin at Hive Beach near Burton Bradstock, one heading West the other East along the SW Coast Path. They are easy to adapt to suit everyone’s desires and abilities with several options to extend them or to make them circular. There is also a fairly regular coastal bus service (every hour at peak times, every two hours at other times) so, if you wish, it is possible to walk as far as your legs can carry you then hop on the bus to return.
The first of these walks is an easy one, around 6 miles taking in panoramic sea views, ancient golden cliffs bursting with Jurassic period fossils, Mother Nature’s finest work and, of course, the bustling activity of a typical British seaside town.
DorSet Walks 1 - Hive Beach to West Bay
ROUTE: Hive Beach to West Bay returning to Burton Bradstock
HIGHLIGHTS: The crumbling golden cliffs of West Bay on the 175m years old Jurassic Coast, Brunch/Lunch at the Watch House Café, the pretty village lanes of Burton Bradstock, panoramic sea and coastal views, optional detour via the “Broadchurch” filming location of Bridport.
TYPE: Straight coastal route with a circular option
WALK DISTANCE: 6 miles (I walked just over 10 in total allowing for detours and exploring West Bay and Burton Bradstock)
LEVEL: Easy with one potentially trick descent/ascent
WALK TIME: 3-4 hours
Where to Start Your Jurassic Coast Walk
Chesil Beach National Trust Car Park
Post Code: DT6 4RF
The start of this walk is at the National Trust car park adjacent to Chesil Beach, just outside of Burton Bradstock. This route assumes you’re starting at Chesil Beach. You could also start at West Bay and follow the route in reverse if you prefer. Parking is operated by the National Trust and can appear expensive though it’s free to members.
TIP: Being a member of the National Trust not only provides free parking at many prime sites but helps preserve Britains natural and historical heritage. UK taxpayers can also reduce their annual tax burden by supporting this hard-working charity (see my earlier blog on the tax perks of joining the National Trust).
The car park is large but can get busy at peak periods so arrive early if you can. There are toilet facilities as well as the excellent Hive Beach Café, which also has a takeaway option.
Stage 1 – Chesil Beach Onto The Dorset SW Coast Path
After you’ve fuelled up at the Hive Beach café, head onto the beach and look for the South West Coast path to your left as you look back inland. The path makes its way across the front of the Hive Beach Café and then up the cliff towards the Seaside Boarding House (a large white building). After only a few yards, the path is impassable due to the crumbling cliff and is cordoned off for safety. Instead, head up the steps into the Seaside Boarding House car park (passing the sign granting permission to progress through this privately owned stretch of land).
Continue heading West, with the sea on your left, across the car park and onto Cliff Road. Follow this quiet road (it’s just a narrow tarmac track) to just before the first bend, then pass through the gate into the field ahead to rejoin the SW Coast Path.
Stage 2 – Cliff Top SW Coast Path to Burton Freshwater
Follow the SW Coast Path along the cliff tops, taking time to look back across the countryside to the idyllic village of Burton Bradstock nestling in its valley, with the Grade I listed St Mary’s church tower dating from the 14th century. Also, take time to admire the abundant wild flowers growing on the cliff’s edge, such as the Sea Pink Thrift in the photo above.
After around 600 metres, you will pass over the top of the headland and the distressing sprawl of holiday caravans in the Burton Freshwater valley below, like some kind of polished favela scarring the otherwise green blanket of the ancient countryside.
Take care descending into the valley as the path is steep and can be slippy underfoot. At the bottom take time to look at the way the Environment Agency has diverted the river’s path to the sea, to slow down its flow and to reduce its previously frequent flooding and resulting erosion. There’s an interesting information board here which, to their credit, praises the holiday company’s contribution to this preservation project.
Stage 3 – River Bride Footbridge Then Onto West Bay
At the bottom of the incline turn inland and follow the path inland alongside the River Bride until you come to its first crossing point, after about 250 metres. Cross over the river via the footbridge, then double-back and follow the path back through the holiday park’s playing field towards the beach. At the beach, turn right and head back up onto the West Bay cliffs. This short but steep climb up a well marked path, is rewarded with broad views towards West Bay and the Golden Cap. On the headland across the bay you can see Lyme Regis and, beyond that, the coastline of Devon.
Continue along the top of the cliff until you come to the next ascent. This part of the walk is the trickiest stage as there is a very steep incline down into West Bay, which even on a dry day can be quite treacherous. Take care descending and, if you can, take a walking pole to provide more stability.
Stage 4 – Exploring West Bay
Once you arrive in West Bay take time to wander around the pretty harbour and head out onto the harbour wall for an opportunity to take perfect ‘Instagram’ style photos of the famous old West Bay cliffs. If the light is right (ideally the golden hour before or after sunset or sunrise) then the cliffs will glow and change colour as the light changes.
In West Bay, you will also find ample fish & chip and seafood stalls, several pubs, seaside rock and all the trappings you would expect from a British seaside town.
There are also public toilets here, opposite the excellent Watch House café.
If you’re a fan of the TV series Broadchurch, you can head north out of West Bay to the adjacent town of Bridport, where much of the on-location filming took place.
After you’ve refuelled and explored the town, head back to the beach and walk along the glistening shingle along the wave lapped shore to view the cliffs from a different angle. If the light is right, it’s possible to capture some stunning photos from the beach.
This is the famous fossil beach, where hundreds of fossils, many millions of years old, can be discovered. However, take care as the cliffs are constantly crumbling, dumping huge slabs of solid sandstone from great height. This erosion is evidenced by the huge piles of rubble occasionally piled along the base of the cliffs. Bizarrely this trail of destruction and danger doesn’t seem to prevent a small number of day-trippers setting up for a picnic, sitting right there on the freshly fallen rocks!
Stage 5 – Heading Back to Via the Beach OR Optional Circular Route
Continue walking along the beach until you arrive back at the caravan park on Burton Freshwater beach. You now have the option of heading inland through the fields to Burton Bradstock, or continuing the way you came back to Hive Beach on the SW Coast Path.
If you do want to take a look around the ‘chocolate box’ village of Burton Bradstock (I heartily recommend you should) then it is easily accessible from either route. It’s therefore entirely up to you which way to head back.
If you’re heading inland, look for the signpost to Burton Bradstock after you cross the river via the same bridge as before (basically after the bridge you can go left for the inland route, or right to head back along the cliff tops).
Final Stage – Burton Bradstock
Assuming you opt for the coast path, once you’re back at Hive Beach head past the cafe. Immediately after the café, there is an overflow car park in a mowed field to your left. Cross the field to the far corner, where you will find a ‘kiss-gate’ with a foot path beyond.
Go through the gate and cross the field diagonally, following the just visible path indicated by the trodden grass, flattened by the feet of previous walkers. At the opposite corner of the field, you will come to a stile and some stone steps leading down onto Cliff Road.
Walk along the footpath beside the road into Burton Bradstock, over the river via the bridge and then take a right at the Three Horseshoes inn. Head towards the church, where you will find a maze of narrow streets lined with pretty thatched roofed, stonewalled cottages with manicured gardens. Keep an eye open for the handsome old schoolhouse, part of which dates back to the 14th Century, in its idyllic position overlooking the flowing waters of the river.
Finally, head back to your start point at the Hive Beach car park, perhaps after a much-deserved beer or gin and tonic at either the Three Horseshoes or Anchor pubs.
Where to Stay
Chesil Beach Lodge just a short distance to the east of Burton Bradstock along the coast road (satnav postcode: DT6 4RJ).
The lodge is set amongst fields, set back from the cliffsand Cogden beach.
There are just a small number of recently renovated self-catering apartments, all fully equipped with modern appliances and tasteful decor. I stayed in the Golden Cap Suite, named after the famous hill that can be seen across the bay from one of the large picture windows. There are unobscured sea views from the living room and bedroom.
Conveniently, the South West Coast Path is accessible via the garden and a short walk across the adjacent field. The popular Hive Beach Café and Hive Beach is less than a 5 minute walk, and a pleasant, 20-minute stroll over lush fields will take you into Burton Bradstock for dinner or supplies.
Abbostbury with its Swannery and Subtropical Gardens is a 10 minute drive along the coast road, and Bridport, with its supermarkets and facilities is about the same distance in the other direction.
There is ample free parking on-site and good wifi coverage in the rooms and around the site.
Where to Eat
Pick up a takeaway breakfast at the start of the walk on Hive Beach at the Hive Beach Café. If you have lunch here, don’t go for the later sittings. We went at 2:30pm and there were only fish & chips (though these were excellent), crab sandwiches and a salad left! All the wonderful seafood and fish had gone (possibly because it’s really good, I will now never know!).
You can get lunch or snacks at any of the number of establishments at West Bay, though I can particularly recommend the funky Watch House Café (the sister venue of Hive Beach Café).
You could also have lunch or dinner at The Three Horseshoes (try the Seared Scallops and Thai seafood curry) or The Anchor Inn, with its very friendly proprietors and excellent fish, in Burton Bradstock, I tried and can recommend both.
UP NEXT - WALK 2 - Ringstead to Lulworth Cove
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Stunning Coast Walk Hive Beach to West Bay Jurassic Coast Dorset