Dorset, and the Jurassic Coast of England

Durdle Door, the iconic limestone arch that has been eroded over time, is 140 million years old.

I kept hearing about the Jurassic Coast and how it was so beautiful, but I never really knew WHAT it is was. I just knew England has impressive coastlines. A quick google search, and it immediately went on my list of “must see” places in England! Living in England, we have access to many discount airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet, out of London Stansted airport. It can be so simple to find a cheap (50 pounds or less roundtrip) flight to the mainland of Europe. Since moving here, we’ve been to over 20 European countries! One regret I do not want to have, is to live in England, without actually SEEING anything more than our town and London. So a weekend trip to the Jurassic Coast was a must for us, and should be for you as well! I can honestly say we’ll be back to explore areas farther west on the coast.

What is the Jurassic Coast you ask and does it have anything to do with dinosaurs??? The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site; it spans 95 miles of coastline in Southern England, stretching from Dorset (the area we visited) to Devon. The stunning coastline features a variety of rocks and cliffs from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. This area brags 185 years of geological history, all in one place! As the cliffs erode, they expose more and more of the past. The study of the rocks, and evidence of fossils prove how the area has changed over millions and millions of years. During the Triassic Period (around 250 million years ago) the Jurassic Coastline was a desert. The region was covered by a tropical sea during the Jurassic Period, and then a swamp during the Cretaceous Period. I guess a lot can change in 250 million years! As one might predict, fossils are found in abundance in this area, allowing us to learn so much. Most of the fossils found have been marine animals such as mollusks, clams, starfish, sea urchins, and even nautilus. Interestingly enough, there was indeed a dinosaur fossil discovered on the Jurassic Coast. In 2000, the remains of an armored dinosaur, Scelidosaurus, was found. (Please don’t ask me to pronounce that). The fossil was determined to be 195 million years old! Sheesh. And I feel bad about turning 42 this fall. Compared to that guy, I got a lot of life left in me.

The area itself is full of idyllic views, each with their own unique look and history. There is SO much to see in the area, and 48 hours is obviously not enough time to explore all 95 miles of nature’s splendor (especially since you have to drive back roads to get to everything), but it does make the perfect weekend getaway for exploring PART of the coast! There are so many options and things to see. To be honest, we tried to make it a relaxing weekend and didn’t have a jam packed agenda; there is definitely potential to pack in much more than we did. Given that we wanted to relax, and the fact that it rained on and off on Sunday, we moved at a slower pace. The decision has already been made to return to the Jurassic Coast, but instead of staying in Dorset, explore the Devon area. However, my husband is not eager to drive the M roads around London anytime soon, so it may be a while….

gorgeous views of the English Coastline

We drove to the Jurassic Coast, as we thought it would only be a 3.5 hour drive, and it would be nice to have a car once there. However, nothing is ever easy with the M11 and getting around London. We made the mistake of traveling on the last weekend of half term, which also turned out to be a beautiful. Cue lots of cursing and frustration as our trip turned out to 5.5 hours! After an agonizing drive, we arrived in Weymouth, our “home base” for the next 45 hours or so. We stayed at the Kelston Guest Home, a charming B and B in a row house. Everything was perfect about our stay, except the parking situation. Traffic had delayed us, so by the time we arrived, there was no parking to be found. Pretty much all of the BnBs in the area offer a limited number of parking passes, but it is applicable for street parking, which is limited. We drove around the streets of Weymouth for almost 40 minutes until we gave up and went back to our guest house. The owner was kind enough to give us her spot, and then took off searching for parking (which presumably she knows the ins and outs of the area, because she found parking rather quickly). It appears that parking is an issue for all visitors (except those who take the train to Weymouth, so if that is an affordable option for you, I’d strongly consider it). The owners at Kelston Guest House were amazing and so accommodating; they also cooked the most delicious full English breakfast with incredible sausages and French pressed coffee! They also gave us information about the area and were super friendly. Our room was cozy and quiet, and the location was perfect for us – gave us easy access to the boardwalk and restaurants. We loved our visit, and would definitely stay there again. However, the owners told us not to book their place on in the future; they shared that the best rates are found on their actual website. Good to know for next time, as we’d certainly love to come back!

Kelston Guest House
Downtown Weymouth

After the great parking dilemma, we put our luggage in our room and set out to explore and find dinner. As I mentioned, the location of our guest house was ideal for walking the beach and boardwalk. It was a bit brisk that evening, but we enjoyed our walk past the houses and guest houses that lined the beach. Determined to find a good meal, we stopped and browsed menus until we decided on Enzos. I can always eat Italian food, especially when there is gnocchi on the menu! We had an enjoyable dinner and then had a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk, back to our guest house. Exhausted from our drive, we set our alarms for the latest time possible that would still allow us to get to breakfast and get our day started.

exploring Weymouth

Our Saturday started with the aroma of rashers (British bacon; it’s different, but so much better than American bacon, believe it or not!) and we quickly got ready and headed to the dining room for breakfast, where we had an assigned seat. Here’s a random fact; prior to moving to the United Kingdom, my husband and I lived in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, just next to Virginia Beach. Due to the time change, we didn’t find out until that morning that a mass shooting had taken place the evening before, in which 12 people were fatally shot. The events were unfolding on BBC as we ate our breakfast. It was so surreal for this to have happened in our town! You never think it could happen where you live, but it can. I also wondered what the other guests thought of us, specifically the gun violence problem in America. I wonder how many of them were surprised by the news, since mass shootings appear to now be a daily part of American. Honestly, seeing those images on the news and coming to the realization that this was the place I used to live, was just so crazy and will forever be a memory when I think of the Jurassic Coast.

After breakfast we had to give up our coveted parking spot, unfortunately. We really wanted to leave our car there to avoid another dramatic evening circling around the same streets, looking for somewhere to park. But, none of the places we were going were in walking distance. However, we did decide to be back by early evening so we could find a spot more easily. Or so we hoped. Our first stop of the day was to a site I’d been excited to see, and probably the whole reason I planned a trip to the Jurassic Coast.

Durdle Door was our first stop of the day, and it did not disappoint! I’d been wanting to see it since a friend showed me pictures of her trip. Durdle Door in Southern Dorset, is one of the most photographed (instagrammed?) features on the Jurassic Coast, and possibly all of England! It’s not hard to see why, with it’s stunning formation, and blue green water. Seriously…. who knew we had water like this in the United Kingdom?? Durdle Door is a limestone arch that has been eroded over time. It was formed 140 million years ago, and one day, the top will be eroded away as well, leaving just two stacks sticking out of the water. It’s truly an incredible site to see, and worth the short, hilly, hike from the parking lot. (Yes, there is a plethora of parking there but you do pay a small fee). You can walk the path further along the coast, for different views of Durdle Door. It was truly amazing to marvel at the beautiful colors of the English Coast. Durdle Door is definitely the highlight of any Dorset trip, so don’t miss it!

Durdle Door
These are unedited photos! The English Coastline really is this stunning!
Man o war Beach, right next to Durdle Door

After wandering around for a bit at Durdle Door, we set out for Lulworth Cove. The parking that we paid for also included Lulworth Cove, so that was a nice bonus, and the two sites are somewhat close to each other. There is a way to hike from Durdle Door down to Lulworth Cove, but we had a jam packed day and I wasn’t feeling well, so it was better to drive. I definitely would like to make the trip back to the coast to do some hiking. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, the views are spectacular! Lulworth has a slightly touristy vibe to it, with gift shops, many ice cream carts (of course we had some!) and ads for homes to let. The area gets pretty crowded, but I’m still glad we went. The cove and white pebble beach is beautiful, even more so from above. There are hiking trails all around, and the area is a great place for families, especially since the swimming area is protected and calm. The Fossil Forest is also right near Lulworth Cove, something we will be going back to do! The Fossil Forest is from the Jurassic Period, and many fossils are found in the petrified remains of a former swamp.

Lulworth Cove makes a perfect swimming hole for young kids.

I wish we could’ve spent more time and done some hiking around Lulworth Cove, but we had to make the most of the sunshine! We were spending less than 48 hours on the Jurassic Coast, and Sunday the forecast was for rain all day, so we did our best to squeeze in a lot on Saturday. Our next stop after Lulworth Cove, was a boat tour of the Jurassic Coast, to see the stunning cliffs from the sea. We booked a 2.5 hour return boat trip from Poole to Swanage and back, on Poole City Cruises. The main reason for wanting to book the tour was to see views of the spectacular Old Harry Rocks. I had seen so many pictures on instagram, many of them drone pics, and knew I wanted to see it up close. The boat tour was pretty easy to book and you have the option of getting off in Swanage and returning on a later boat, but we didn’t. The weather was perfect for the tour, and we even received free entertainment from the dolphins that caught a free ride in the current next to the boat. The views of the Jurassic Coast from sea are phenomenal, and I highly recommend this tour for a relaxing afternoon. My pictures from the moving boat do not do the area justice.

After our boat trip, we wanted to explore Poole, but didn’t….. Ugh, the whole parking situation in Weymouth is seriously insane and annoying. We felt like we had to be back around 5-5:30pm in order to find a spot. While we loved our guest house, it’s so worth it to find one that has it’s own lot instead of just parking passes. After returning to the guest house, we relaxed and took a nap before heading out to dinner. Side note: my pet peeve about England is the lack of good burgers. You can go to a nice restaurant or a charming pub, and if you order a burger it always comes back well done and like a charcoal briquette with no flavor. It’s constant disappointment with burgers in England. They just don’t make them like we are used to in the United States! So naturally, we were in the mood to complain, so we tried Dorset Burger Company. OMGGGGG. This place is the real deal! We FINALLY found a good burger in England! The ambiance is great as well; you must try this place if you stay in Weymouth and like burgers. I know we will be back!

We woke up Sunday morning to the sound of rain, and overcast skies. After a delicious breakfast at Kelston Guest House, we checked out early, and re-evaluated our plans for the day. We opted for a steam train experience, leaving from the small town of Norden and going to Corfe Castle and Swanage. The Swanage Railway makes for a fun afternoon, riding in historic steam and diesel trains to different tourist attractions. You pass through beautiful countryside along the coast, with tons of sheep (which we love). Since we bought a return ticket, we decided to ride straight to the last stop, Swanage, and walk around. We had been to Swanage on our Jurassic Coast boat tour, but never actually got off the boat. We browsed some shops, and meandered the streets until we arrived at a hilltop overlooking the city. Swanage seems like a cool town to explore, but we wanted to make the next train so we only stayed an hour.

Coastal town of Swanage

After wandering around Swanage, we headed back to the train to catch a ride to Corfe Castle. Corfe Castle is both a village and the ruins of a castle. We loved this stop; it was so adorable! The sun even peeked out for a tiny bit, so we could enjoy this charming village, with it’s stone buildings and iconic uniformity. We spent some time admiring the cottages and visiting the shops; in particular we enjoyed some fudge from a local store. You can enter the castle grounds but we opted against it as our National Trust membership had run out, and we would have to pay to enter. It’s a great deal (free!) if you are a member, so definitely take advantage of that. If you’re not a National Trust member or haven’t heard it, definitely check it out. We will be joining again after our English Heritage runs out. After wandering, we stopped at a pub for a delicious Sunday Roast and a pint of cider, and sat in the back garden with views of the castle ruins. It was the perfect afternoon!

charming village of Corfe with castle ruins on the hill.
castle ruins

Thinking we were having luck with the weather, we thought we’d make one more outdoor stop for siteseeing before leaving, but as soon as we arrived, it started pouring. We opted to get an early start on the drive home, thinking we’d be home in time for a late dinner. But guess what? That damn London traffic turned it into a 5 hour drive again! I guess the moral of the story is to take the train! We definitely were thrilled with our time in Dorset, and would like to return again soon to see more of the coast. I hope you are convinced to go as well!

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