When you think about exploring rugged coastal landscapes your mind automatically goes to Big Sur in California, Atlantic Drive in Ireland and, closer to home, maybe the wild west of Wales. I never realised we had a mini version a couple of hours from us, in Dorset!
I went to uni in Bournemouth and heard lots about the so-called Jurassic Coast that was nearby – mainly because the original films had just come out and it sounded cool – but in reality I was too busy eating £1 microwave meals from Asda and
partying studying to even think about visiting a World Heritage Site that was just 40 mins away!
We did Big Sur last year (full itinerary and video coming very soon!) and we’ve also done Ireland and Wales a few times, so Dorset always felt a bit too close – and easy – for a trip.
We finally got there last weekend though, when we visited the region for my sister’s 40th birthday.
As you’ll find out below, we didn’t expect it to have such amazing views – or to stumble across the filming location of a big ITV drama – so we didn’t record any video. Don’t worry, we’ve learned our lesson.
Here’s what we did. Let us know what you think, if you go!
Day 1 – Weymouth
A trip to the seaside is a great place to start any trip with kids. Weymouth has a wide and sandy beach. It has all of the nostalgic attractions on the seafront that will remind you of your childhood: donkey rides, swing boats and random fairground rides with Ronan Keating painted on them.
The buildings are all Georgian, which adds some grandeur, and is very apt because King George III (you know the one who had to deal with those unruly Americans on July 4th) first visited the town in 1789 and came along for his summer holidays every year until he got too old.
You’ll see a huge painted statue in his honour, which you can’t miss, and the replica of his bathing machine, which you might!
There are lots of tea houses/coffee shops and cheesy souvenir shops, which even sell Fish & Chip flavour rock, on the sea-front. You could easily spend the day at the beach and have lunch in one of these places.
We parked up in the Pavilion car park and paid £6 for the whole day, because it’s free after 6pm!
If the weather’s not great, you could visit the Northe Fort which has protected the British Isles from invasion for centuries. The Sea Life Adventure Park, with access to the spinning viewing tower on the harbour, would be a great day out for young ones. You could even watch a show at the Pavilion theatre.
These all cost money – and we’re tight – so we just enjoyed walking around, watching the kids dig in the sand, dawdling around the shops and looking at the brilliant sand sculptures which Weymouth is famous for. We did a Treasure Trail with the whole family, which gave us a fun hour of learning a bit more about our surroundings.
There are some nice views and places to eat around the old harbour. It makes you want to imagine how busy it must’ve been a few hundred years ago. This is a rubbish analogy but…it reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland where you get an idea of what a busy old harbour would have been like.
There are lots of places to stay in the region. Our tight-ness continued with our hotel: we stayed in the same Premier Inn for our two nights in Dorset.
Yes, it was on an industrial estate on the edge of the town but it was clean, cheap and kids for free at breakfast. We’d have preferred to stay closer to the town but it was a great base for us, as we only visited Weymouth for one day.
Day 2 – West Bay aka Broadchurch
The following day we decided to travel to the west of Weymouth.
West Bay is a quaint fishing village. It’s really small actually, but it’s everything you’d want from this kind of town.
We parked in the old station car park which was only £2 for the day and it was also home to – believe it or not – an old railway station. This thing looks like a toy station that I had with my Hornby Railway when I was a kid.
The original track is still next to the platform so you can get some great photos. Railway enthusiasts will love it even more.
The station is now a cafe, so you could enjoy a cream tea here. There’s much more to see in West Bay, though.
The beach has unique sandstone cliffs, which are imposing, and the views from the top are breathtaking. It’s probably the reason that ITV Drama producers decided to make it the fictional home of Broadchurch.
The harbour village plays such a big part in the crime series that it feels like its one of the main characters. This is also backed up by the creator who says he wrote it as a love letter to the Jurassic Coast.
We have to confess, we only started watching Broadchurch two days before our trip so we can’t tell you where many of the key sets are but, even with our limited knowledge, we recognised the cliffs, the harbour and the modern flats, which double as the police station. I’m sure bigger fans will recognise much more – if not, here’s a list of filming locations.
It was an unsettled day when were there, so some of the family stayed in the aptly named ‘Windy Corner Cafe’ (real name) while we went for a walk to the top of the hill on the west side of the harbour.
It looked like it might be a hike, but it was quite a gentle walk. There were some good view of the land below. We would have continued along the path but the rain clouds weren’t looking good in the distance and we made it down to the cafe just in time before a huge downpour.
After a coffee, we planned to try to get up the famous ‘Broadchurch cliffs’ which the opening murder scene is set around. It looked pretty steep from the bottom so Dylan and I left Alicia and Samantha in the cafe.
The rain had stopped for about an hour but the steep grassy bank was still quite slippery. It was a case of finding somewhere to safely put your foot and keep on going without looking down. I did look down at one point – and regretted it – but we were soon safely at the summit.
At the top, you get a beautiful panoramic view of the coastline and West Bay. For some reason, the wind wasn’t too bad up there. There’s no fence at the cliff-edge, so I held Dylan very tightly the whole time and gave him a health and safety briefing, which started and ended in: “you will DIE if you let go of my hand and get too close to the edge.”
I might have made something up about four boys plunging to their untimely deaths in the past week, but I can’t remember! 😉
We walked to the end of the cliff-top path but it continued for quite a while after a dip, so we took some photos – and the selfie below – and headed back to the steep bank to make our descent.
Gripping each others’ hands, Dylan and I took one step at a time to quickly (and safely) made it to the bottom without even a stumble.
I wouldn’t take any children under five up there, even with them on my back, as it was quite steep.
Another walk around some other parts of the village and it was time for us to go and get some dinner.
We could have stayed in West Bay, as there are loads of pubs to eat in, but we fancied exploring Dorchester.
We’d planned to walk around the town before we ate, but we were all so hungry from all of our climbing and walking, that we went straight into a restaurant and went back to the hotel for a few drinks after.
Day 3 – Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door
I studied GCSE and A-Level Geography, so I’d heard of both of these places but had never actually visited them.
Lulworth Cove is about half an hour east of Weymouth.
We parked in the official car park, which was £4 for four hours. That was just about enough. You can use the same ticket to park in the Durdle Door car park, but I’d recommend leaving the car here and walking to Durdle’s famous arch.
Lulworth is another picture postcard coastal village but very small. There are two or three thatched cottages, a couple of cafes and a visitors’ centre. It makes it very safe to walk around and it was nice and compact.
We ventured out to the cove. The view is quite amazing from the shingle beach. It’s a perfectly formed circle which has been carved out by the waves over thousands of years. It’s a small, natural harbour. The blue sea and white stone makes it look really special.
It all feels as though it could be the setting for an Enid Blyton novel.
After yesterday’s Broadchurch cliffs, I didn’t fancy taking Dylan or Samantha on the walk to the top of the cove. It was pretty safe, and there were some steps this time, so it was a shame we didn’t get to all experience the beautiful views from the top, together.
There’s a small walk around the top of the coastal path which then descends into the village again. There are a couple of stunning views of waves crashing against crazy rock formations – and some very rugged ‘Big Sur’ landscapes just in this small walk, so give it a go as a family.
I didn’t take the kids on the three mile round-trip to Durdle Door. This was a tough walk with some long stretches uphill and steep stoney slopes going down.
It was also a very satisfying hike, when you look back to see how high you are, or get your first view of the amazing archway. It’s a real sense of achievement when you make it down the steep and winding stairs down to the beach. You really do deserve your selfie at the bottom.
It would have made an amazing family photo but, again, I don’t think Dylan (at 4) would have been able to walk the route himself – and buggies are out of the question.
I could have probably made it with Samantha in a baby carrier, but it wouldn’t have been easy. This would be a great jaunt for anyone with kids over seven, though.
After the one hour walk, we we needed some water, rest…and a cream tea!
There’s a cafe at the bottom of the hill into Lulworth which ticks every box. They’re also very generous with their double scone, double teapot combo, which helped the clotted cream and jam go down reeeeally well!!
While I was trekking to Durdle Door, Alicia and the kids were walking around the cove looking for fossils and interestingly shaped stones. It was a great little history lesson and he loved hearing about how there could’ve been dinosaurs on the beach a few thousand years ago!
The wind was quite unforgiving, so we called it a day at around 4pm, so we could get home at a reasonable time.
We all really enjoyed the trip back to the Jurassic Period – I definitely know Dylan did because I found half of the rocks from Lulworth Cove were hidden in his coat pockets!
I promise to no longer turn my nose up at places that are too close to home – as I’ve just found out that there’s still lots to discover in your back yard! I also promise to bring my video camera next time and make a video.
It sounds like a pretty good reason to go back and do it all over again, don’t ya think?!