Dorset is my home county and we love to explore our local beaches, many of which are situated on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site which stretches from Old Harry Rocks in Swanage 95 miles west to Orcombe Point in East Devon, but this does not include the 7 miles of sandy beach which stretches from Sandbanks, Poole, past Bournemouth and all the way to Hengistbury Head and Mudeford Spit in Christchurch.
Whenever people think of the best beaches in Dorset, they always plump for Bournemouth and Weymouth and whilst I do enjoy visiting both, they are packed to bursting in the summer months with holiday makers and some of the smaller, quieter beaches get forgotten although they have a lot to offer too.
Here are my Top 10 beaches in Dorset:
1. Studland Beach – Unlike its nearest rival Bournemouth beach which is raked on a daily basis by tractors to ensure it is well maintained and clean, the four-mile stretch of golden, sandy beach, with gently shelving bathing waters and views of Old Harry Rocks and the Isle of Wight is kept as nature intended by the National Trust.
Studland beach is ideal for water sports and you will find kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing and peddlelows available to try. If the beach gets too much, the heathland behind the beach is a haven for native wildlife and features all six British reptiles with designated trails through the sand dunes and woodlands that allow for exploration and spotting of deer, insects and bird life as well as a wealth of wild flowers.
Be aware though, Studland also includes the most popular naturist beach in Britain!
2. Durdle Door and Man O’ War Bay – are part of the Lulworth Estate. Durdle Door is a shingle beach only accessible on foot via a steep path and steps over the hill from Lulworth Cove or down from the Car Park (located on the cliff top at Durdle Door Holiday Park) and Man ‘O’ War Beach sits to its left and is a very popular beach of sand and fine pebbles.
Durdle Door is a spectacular natural limestone arch but be aware that the beach shelves steeply in places, whereas the Man O’ War Beach allows safer bathing in shallow water. It is not for the faint hearted as it is a fairly long walk on uneven ground, the cliffs are not fenced (in places) and it is a very steep climb down to the beaches, but the steps have recently been replaced after a cliff fall in 2013 and the views alone are well worth it.
3. Lulworth Cove – is a very sheltered pebble beach in a remarkable, horse-shoe shaped cove, formed ten thousand years ago by erosion from the sea.
Lulworth Cove is the prime Dorset attraction for the budding geographer or simply for a leisurely walk along the Natural World Heritage Coastline and the challenging hills. By the Lulworth Cove there is the West Lulworth Heritage Centre acting as a museum about Lulworth and its coast and the history of the village. The Steps at the east end of the beach lead to the Fossil Forest and Mupe Bay with a stunning walk along the cliff top – this footpath is within the MoD restricted area and is only open on weekends and the whole of August.
There is ample parking, a cafe, toilets and boat trips in summer to Durdle Door and Mupe Bay, or you can take the short walk along to Durdle Door.
4. Burton Bradstock – is one of the main gateways to the Jurassic Coast and the South West Coast Path. The estate is easy to access and offers spectacular cliff-top views along the many varied and picturesque coastal walks. On a breezy day you will even catch paragliders flying along the cliffs edge.
Hive Beach is a popular family destination, made up of fine shingle, surrounded by spectacular sandstone cliffs which shine gold when bathed in the sunlight. It forms part of the larger Chesil Beach; a striking section of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and the largest shingle ridge in the world and if you need to recharge your batteries, Hive Beach Cafe is a wonderful seafood restaurant and their ice creams aren’t bad too.
5. Kimmeridge Bay – The rocks at Kimmeridge Bay were once the floor of a deep, tropical sea rich in pre-historic life making this the perfect beach for fossil hunting, in fact important fossils have been found in the Kimmeridge Clay. Hammering is strictly forbidden here and you may only collect loose fossils from the beach, but they are easy to find if you look hard enough.
Harder bands of limestone within the Kimmeridge Clay create a series of rocky ledges that run out to sea. As a result, the Bay boasts some of the most accessible marine wildlife in the UK and are perfect for rock pooling as the stone ledges make it easy to view life on the shore and in the shallow waters, and there is safe snorkelling for the more adventurous and you can even hire a glass bottomed kayak if you prefer to keep dry.
6. Mudeford Sandbank – is a sandy beach adjoining Hengistbury Head with picturesque views of Christchurch Harbour. The beach is well know for its 346 beach huts, which unlike the normal beach hut, the Mudeford ones have residential status and the owners can stay overnight from February to November. They’re also probably the most expensive in the UK fetching prices of over £100,000 and look posher than my house!
The beach can only be reached by foot, bicycle, landtrain (known locally as the Noddy Train) from Hengistbury Head car park or by ferry from Mudeford Quay or Christchurch Quay during summer months and the kids love climbing over the rocky groynes and playing amongst the Sand Dunes.
7. Canford Cliffs – forming part of Bournemouth’s 7 miles of sandy beaches, this is our favourite local spot as it is away from the main tourist areas of Bournemouth, Boscombe and Sandbanks and remains relatively quiet, even in the height of summer. With the promenade to walk / scoot along, sand to dig in, the sea for a paddle and the quite fabulous Treasure Island play park a short walk away, you will find us here quite regularly.
8. Lyme Regis – boasts breathtaking scenery and a special mystique. Lyme Regis’ picturesque harbour dates back to the fourteenth century and its historic Cobb and harbour are iconic features, set against moody blue cliffs yielding fossilised evidence of life.
It is a beautiful town, very proud of its Jurassic Coast status, with ammonite styled street lights along the promenade. The best view of the beach and the cliffs are from on the Cobb itself and the town really comes into its in the summer with events such as Lifeboat week featuring a display by the Red Arrows, Carnival Week and Candles on the Cobb.
9. Swanage – is a traditional Victorian seaside town, set at the heart of Purbeck and built around a beautiful bay sheltered from the north by Ballard Down and at the south, Peveril Point offering sandy beaches, magnificent cliffs and wonderful countryside to walk. Wildlife, attractions, steam railway and boat trips.
No visit world be complete without a visit to Durlston Country Park to see the Great Globe and Anvil Point Lighthouse. If you are here in the summer then Swanage Carnival is the best in Dorset, boasting a mile long procession along the beach and through the town.
10. West Bay – situated a couple of miles west from Burton Bradstock, West Bay is famous for its role in popular TV series Broadchurch. With the stunning golden glow of the majestic sandstone cliffs and the shimmering radiance of Golden Cap, Dorset’s highest point, West Bay, Dorset is a wonderful seaside location complete with a fishing port to explore.
The kids favourite part of visiting West Bay is sliding down the massive shingle bank, walking along the disused railway track and wave chasing as the waves can get quite large here thanks to the shingle ridge.
We still have a huge number of beaches to visit as I have heard Charmouth is brilliant for fossil hunting, Ringstead Bay is beautiful and Chesil Beach I have only seen from the Abbotsbury side at the Swannery.
What is your favourite beach in Dorset and why?