Our staycation guide to the Jurassic Coast
of Devon & Dorset
Plan your perfect staycation with our guide of where to visit in Devon and Dorset along the Jurassic Coast. Are you planning a Staycation?
Enjoy a Jurassic Coast Staycation
There is something truly pleasing about travelling in the United Kingdom where you and your partner or family can discover new places for a weekend break or longer. One such area is the Jurassic Coast and England’s only World Heritage Site designated in 2001 for its outstanding universal value of rocks, fossils, and geological landforms. Measuring 95 miles its coastline of cliffs and beaches faces the English Channel stretching from Exmouth in the west and works its way eastwards to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage. The Jurassic Coast spans 185 million years of geological history exposing rocks and fossils covering the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. Among its most famous residents was the 19th-century self-taught palaeontologist Mary Anning from Lyme Regis who helped shape our understanding of paleontology.
The Jurassic Coast is an area of the South West coast of England full of discovery for curious travellers and food lovers. Our staycation guide starts in Exmouth and works its way to South Haven Point in Dorset. Plan your perfect staycation with our guide for the top things to see and do. Please refer to UK Government Guidelines as COVID-19 restrictions may apply so you might need to save these ideas for a future trip.
The town of Exmouth is twinned with Dinan in France and Langerwehe in Germany. It is a short drive from the City of Exeter and exit junction 30 off the M5. Exmouth is located on the east coast of Devon and believed to be Devon’s oldest coastal holiday resort town. Exmouth’s seafront esplanade has over two miles of sandy beaches situated alongside the River Exe estuary. The beaches at Exmouth are popular destinations for watersports including kite surfing, kayaking, and windsurfing as well as fishing, sailing, and beach rugby in the Summer. At the most easterly point of Exmouth’s esplanade beyond Exmouths Lifeboat Station dating back 200 years, there is a short zig-zag climb up to the South West Coastal Path to Orcombe Point where you are met by the “Geoneedle” a pointed stone needle sculpture representing 180 million years of the Earth’s history with Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rock formations found along this World Heritage coastline.
Ladram Bay is located west of Budleigh Salterton and offers a sandy and pebbly beach surrounded by red sandstone cliffs. Ladram Bay is part of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the South West Coast Path that passes by the beach area. The bay is popular for water sports and is the location of Ladram Bay Holiday Park first opened in 1943 it is now recognised as a finalist for ‘Holiday Park of the Year’ in the 2020 Devon Tourism Awards. Today, this holiday park has grown to include luxury lodges with hot tubs, holiday homes, touring caravans, glamping, camping, and elegant wooden Otterpods provide a cozy and comfortable retreat. Due to steep gradients, and steps in certain areas, Ladram Bay may not be suitable for wheelchair users or persons with severe mobility difficulties.
The town of Budleigh Salterton is a short distance from Exmouth and within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). J.K. Rowling, a former resident, graduate of Exeter University and author of the Harry Potter, named “Budleigh Babberton”, the home of retired Professor Horace Eugene Flaccus Slughorn, is named after Budleigh Salterton. A big attraction, besides the beach that looks eastward towards the rocks at Ottermouth, is its selection of independent and craft shops. You can pick up the South West Coast Path at Lime Kiln Car Park in Budleigh Salterton named after the old lime kiln where historically coal and limestone were brought in on special flat-bottomed boats to be burnt to make Lime. These boats were beached at high tide and then unloaded at low tide. Alternatively, you simply relax and rent a beach hut by the week or daily from between April and October from the Tourist Information Centre on Fore Street. Among the nationally recognised cultural highlights during the year is the Budleigh Salterton Music Festival (July) and Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival (September). Among the local attractions is Bicton Park Botanical Gardens and Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre.
Sidmouth is one of four picturesque places located in the Sid Valley within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Sidmouth is a regency period coastal town once visited by Queen Victoria and the Grand Duchess of Russia in 1831. Situated by the Triassic red cliffs of the Jurassic Coast it is best described by Poet Laureate, John Betjeman as, 'A town caught still in a timeless charm'. A prominent feature of Sidmouth is its seafront promenade lined with hotels, independent shops cafe's and restaurants. The South West Coast Path has great views west to Ladram Bay and eastwards towards the cretaceous chalk cliffs of Salcombe Hill, Branscombe, and Beer. One of Sidmouth’s largest family-friendly beaches is known as Jacob’s Ladder accessible by a series of wooden steps above the Chit Rocks leading down from Connaught Gardens. It is also possible to walk around from own's main beach via the Millenium Way. At the other end of Sidmouth is the steep hilly view of Mutter's Moor famous for its nocturnal birds including the Nightjar. Near to Sidmouth are the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary and World of Country Life award-winning attractions and good causes.
Branscombe is a picturesque coastal village located between Sidmouth and Seaton on the Jurassic Coast and within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and by the South West Coast Path. A place name with the word "combe" means a location or meeting point for two valleys or combes. Branscombe has a family-friendly shingle beach bordered by brightly coloured beach huts and seaside Sea Shanty beach café. Driving into Branscombe you will pass colourful cottages and decorative thatched buildings. Whilst in Branscombe visit the historic Forge, Old Bakery and Manor Mill as well as Branscombe beach. Branscombe has two historic pubs called, The Fountain Head and The Masons Arms serving homemade, locally sourced food and traditional ales including the ale from the Branscombe Brewery.
Beer known for its rich maritime history is a picturesque coastal village surrounded by chalk cliffs whose caves were a past haven for smugglers is located eastwards beyond Branscombe on the Jurassic Coast and on the South West Coast Path. Among those notorious smugglers was Jack Rattenbury who was known as the 'Rob Roy of the West' who smuggled contraband French Brandy during the Napoleonic war. The jetty and footpath lead down from the Jubilee Gardens to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee to the shingle beach lined with fishing boats. The traditional Beer Lugger was once the local fishing boats launched and retrieved from the beach with large winches and wooden rollers. Driving into Branscombe you will pass flint-studded buildings and decorative thatched buildings, independent shops cafes, and pub restaurants. The beach has brightly coloured beach huts and seaside beach cafés. An interesting attraction is the Beer Quarry Caves an ancient quarry that dates back 2,000 years to Roman times. Beer is also the place where Queen Victoria’s wedding lace was made. Though the bridal dress was said to be Honiton lace it was really worked in the village of Beer by Miss Jane Bidney, her team of 200 lacemakers and cost £1,000. It is believed that all the patterns and prickings were destroyed.
Seaton is a picturesque coastal village located along the Jurassic Coast, with the South West Coast Path, neighbouring Seaton Wetlands Nature Reserve, and overlooks Lyme Bay. Seaton has been a popular destination since the Victorian times and is credited in the 1930s as the location where both Harry Warner and Billy Butlin created the concept of a large-scale holiday camp. Seaton has a flat promenade taking in the Cliff Field Gardens and the Labyrinth built to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the town and revealing 185 million years of evolution. Seaton’s attractions the Jurassic themed play park at the Underfleet; Seaton Tramway a narrow-gauge heritage tram running 3 miles through the countryside and two nature reserves between Seaton, Colyford, and Colyton; and Seaton Jurassic a community-led center and Devon Wildlife Trust’s first flagship visitor centre that engages thousands of people with East Devon’s unique geological, coastal and marine heritage.
Lyme Regis is known as ‘The Pearl of Dorset’ a picturesque coastal town featured in the Domesday Book and famed for its rich abundance of fossils along the beach but its iconic curving stone harbour is known as the Cobb dating back to the 1300s. The cobb would be the backdrop on one of the cinemas most endearing scenes where Hollywood actor Meryl Streep stood, looking forlornly out to sea in the film adaptation of John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. Lyme Regis was the favourite destination and setting for Jane Austen who described, “the principal street almost hurrying into the water,” in her novel, Persuasion. Among the most famous residents of Lyme Regis were Georgian fossil collector and palaeontologist Mary Anning whose home is nowadays the Lyme Regis Museum who celebrate 100 years in 2021. Lyme Regis beaches provide the opportunity to relax on a deck chair or take to the water to enjoy fishing trips and water sports such as sailing and windsurfing.
Charmouth is a picturesque seaside village set only two miles west from Lyme Regis. Charmouth has an internationally recognized family-friendly beach renowned for its fossils. Charmouth is an elegant mix of Regency houses, thatched cottages, and steep streets with a wide range of places to eat, from traditional pubs and restaurants, beachside cafes, and some fantastic fish and chips shops. Historically Charmouth was a guest to Catherine of Aragon, who stayed at The Queen’s Arms in 1501 and by Charles II in 1651 when he was looking to flee to Europe. The Charmouth Heritage Centre provides help, advice, displays, and even guided fossil hunting on the beach. Among its incredible fossil collections is the ichthyosaur that starred in the BBC documentary ‘Attenborough and the Sea Dragon’. Aside from the beaches and fossils, the village itself is within the National Trusts Golden Cap Estate of rolling hills, pastoral fields, sunken lanes, ancient hedgerows which all lie within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This area is well known by walkers including Julia Bradbury who described it as, “The Dorset walk takes in three magical hills, and a dramatic climb to the highest point on the south coast, the delicious Golden Cap. It really does give the best views possible of the Jurassic Coast. Mind you the crew huffed and puffed a bit lugged the equipment to the top!” Furthermore, Jane Austen is known to have been a frequent visitor to Charmouth, describing it as a place of “high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and, still more, its sweet retired bay, beached by dark cliffs where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide; for sitting in unwearied contemplation”.
Seatown is a small coastal hamlet within one of Dorset’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The shingle shelving beach area is open to the public and has been privately owned for three generations by the Wraxall family. Seatown is a favourite amongst fishermen, fossil hunters of the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods, and dog walkers. A feature of Seatown is the award-winning and dog-friendly pub, The Anchor Inn, overlooking Seatown Beach. Part of Palmers Brewery the oldest thatched brewery in the UK serving West Dorset since 1794.
Only a few minutes’ drive towards the coast from Bridport is the picturesque fishing village of West Bay formerly known as Bridport Harbour. West Bay is situated at the mouth of the River Brit was the clifftop backdrop between 2013 – 2017 for ITV’s award-winning drama series Broadchurch starring David Tennant as DI Alec Hardy, Olivier Coleman as DS Ellie Miller, and Jodie Whittaker as Beth Latimer. The smooth pebbly beaches of West Bay are to the West and East of the Jurassic Pier, accessible to the public, and marks the entrance to the harbour. West Bay is known for its walking paths, boat trips, leisure activities, and seafood served by its seaside cafes, restaurants, and pubs. West Bay has a number of caravan parks, hotels, and B&B ideal for an informal, enjoyable, and relaxing break beside the sea.
Hive Beach is a shelving shingle beach close to the village of Burton Bradstock with views round to Portland and round to the East Devon Coast. You don’t have to look further than the beach to find fossils originating from the limestone cliffs. Hive Beach played an important role in training allied troops preparing for the D-Day landings. Enjoy something to eat from the award-winning Hive Beach Café.
West Bexington is a small coastal village with a steeply shelving shingle beach and whose shoreline is part of the 18 mile Chesil Beach. The author, John Fowles, describes the landscape of Chesil in his quote, “It is above all an elemental place, made of sea, shingle, and sky, its dominant sound always that of waves on moving stone: from the great surf and pounding … of sou’westers, to the delicate laps and back-gurgling of the rare dead calm….”. West Bexington is surrounded by National Trust land and is both an Area of Natural Beauty (ANOB) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). At its heart is a nature reserve, a well-used stop-over for migrating birds, managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust to protect wildlife and rare flora. West Bexington is the home to the 600-acre Tamarisk Farm established in 1960 as one of the first farms certified by the Soil Association as an organic farm committed to traditional, sustainable farming for healthy soil, people, and the planet. West Bexington is popular with dog walkers, walkers using the South West Coast Path, beach fisherman, bird watchers, and visitors with panoramic views of East and West of the Jurassic Coast. The landscape has reminders of World War II with bunkers or "pillboxes" looking out to sea or simply enjoy a meal of locally sourced food and beverage from the nearby Manor House or The Club House.
Abbotsbury is everything a west country picture-postcard village should be in Dorset located along the Jurassic Coast within the valley of the Ridgeway Hills. Though many of its buildings date back to the 16th century Abbotsbury was once an abbey dating back to 1044. The village has panoramas over Chesil Beach and Portland and whose streets make way for tea rooms and olde pubs. Abbotsbury is home to a Swannery with the only colony of nesting mute swans that can be visited anywhere in the world. Between May – June is busy with new cygnets and wardens help visitors feed over 600 adult swans. Another attraction of Abbotsbury is its Victorian walled garden of woodland, sunken gardens with golden pheasants, and a stream crossed by Japanese-style bridges. Abbotsbury has a number of independent shops, craft exhibitions, and galleries showing off several creative trades. In the surrounding area, visitors can walk to the Hardy Monument built-in 1844 in memory of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, Flag Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and today managed by the National Trust.
Langton Herring is a picturesque Dorset rural village along the Jurassic Coast named from the old English for “lang” and “tun” meaning Long Farmstead that stretched along the shores of the Fleet and Harencs, a Norman family that settled at Langton during the 13th century. Sitting above Fleet Langton Herring is known for its 17th and 18th-century chocolate box thatched cottages as well as a number of listed buildings. At the heart of these idyllic surroundings is the village pub, called The Elm Tree, built over 400 years is also known as a hot spot for smugglers, wreckers as well as a rendezvous for cold war spies in the 1960s. Langton Herring made for a good operational location during World War II for Barnes Wallis to conduct the prototype tests of his famous ‘bouncing bomb’ on the lagoon lying behind Chesil Beach. Langton Herring is not only one of Britain's 56 “Thankful Villages”, a term is given by writer Arthur Mee in the 1930s, describing villages and parishes which lost not one man to the Great War but also one of 17 villages and 4 in the South West who were “Doubly Thankful”, after the good fortune was repeated during the Second World War.
Moonfleet sits behind Chesil Bank looking over the Fleet Lagoon on the Jurassic Coast. Moonfleet is dominated by the Georgian Moonfleet Manor Hotel built for Maximillion Mohune. Moonfleet was used as the backdrop for John Meade Falkner’s swashbuckling novel of the same name. Set in 1757 Moonfleet is the home to the protagonist John Trenchard, an orphan living with his aunt, not only finds Blackbeards coffin, whose ghost is said to haunt the village but takes a note that starts an adventure to find a lost diamond. John Meade Faulkner wrote, "And once on the beach, the sea has little mercy, for the water is deep right in, and the waves curl over full on the pebbles with a weight no timbers can withstand. Then if the poor fellows try to save themselves, there is a deadly undertow or rush-back of the water, which sucks them off their legs, and carries them again under the thundering waves. It is that back-suck of the pebbles that you may hear for miles inland, even at Dorchester, on still nights long after the winds that caused it have sunk, and which makes people turn in their beds, and thank God they are not fighting with the sea on Moonfleet Beach"
Isle of Portland
The Isle of Portland is one of the Jurassic Coasts' notable limestone island features and most southerly point linked to the mainland by a causeway. It is 4 miles long and nearly 2 miles wide it is internationally important for its geological interest including its Portland Stone. This stone has been quarried for hundreds of years and used extensively as a building stone throughout the United Kingdom, notably St Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace as well as further afield in the United Nations headquarters building in New York City. The Island has a rich assemblage of plants and animals associated with limestone grassland, scrub, and coastal habitats, a combination of features and species unrepeated elsewhere. Portland is also a famous site for the study of bird migration centered on the observatory at the Portland Bill. Portland’s coastline is a destination for sports activities including a home for the National Sailing Academy on Osprey Quay and a host venue for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing events. One of the best ways to explore this fascinating island is on foot and take the 13 miles Portland Loop of the South West Coast Path around the island. Along the way visit the distinctive red and white striped Portland Bill Lighthouse and visitor center and climb the 153 steps to the top of the tower for some panoramic views.
Weymouth and Weymouth Bay have been described as, The Naples of England by author Andy Christopher Miller in his memoir of family, truth, and secrets and what it was like to grow up in small-town Britain in the years following the Second World War. Originally a fishing village Weymouth is the largest town along the Jurassic Coast with sandy Blue Flag winning beaches, picturesque harbour, sailing, diving, walking, nature reserves, fossil hunting, shopping, eating, and drinking. A favourite of King George III he influenced the Georgian Esplanade overlooking Weymouth Bay. There are many hotels, restaurants, and cafés for all budgets and its harbour has ferry connections to the Channel Islands and France. Weymouth’s harbour has two main parts with the Custom House Quay is on the Melcombe Regis side of the river estuary and the Old Harbour is on the Weymouth side connected by a drawbridge bridge dating back to 1930. A feature of Weymouth is Nothe Fort, the Museum of Coastal Defence that lies at the end of the Quay. This fort was built in 1860 as part of the defense of Portland Harbour giving excellent views of the Isle of Portland. At the center of Weymouth is the RSPB Radipole Lake Nature Reserve and visitor center which is accessible for everyone.
Osmington is east along the South West Coast Path from Weymouth and located by the large iconic 320ft chalk figure carved into the hillside as a tribute in 1808 called the Osmington White Horse depicting King George riding on his horse. This village was originally developed for farming and is believed to have been settled during the Bronze Age about 2,000 BC. The beach is a combination of boulders and pebbles for rock hopping and at low tide rock pools are revealed ready to explore. At the heart of Osmington is the Smugglers Inn believed to be the headquarters of infamous French smuggler Pierre Latour (French Peter) in the 17th century. The cliffs at Osmington have been known to expose fossilised marine reptiles including a 2.4-meter pliosaur skull in 2008. The fossil is now on show at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester, in the "Jurassic Coast Gallery". The village was formerly home to the Warnham family, one of whom, William Warham (1450 – 1532) who as Archbishop of Canterbury, is believed to have crowned Henry VIII. The landscape painter, John Constable, spent his honeymoon at Osmington, completing his painting of Weymouth Bay which hangs in the National Gallery.
Ringstead Bay is a quiet part of West Dorset along the Jurassic Coast managed by the National Trust. The beach has a changeable shoreline changing from sloping shingle to expose sand at low tide and fossils. The beach is ideal for swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing and has a beach café. The South West Coastal Path runs along the beach heading passing World War II pillboxes out towards White Nothe passing above Burning Cliff which once caught fire due to its composition of oil shale and iron pyrites.
Lulworth & Lulworth Cove
Covering an area of 20 square miles of rolling countryside including 5 miles of World Heritage Jurassic lies the Lulworth Estate and Lulworth Castle. The Lulworth’s Estate was known in Doomsday times in the 11th century. Today the Lulworth Estate is owned and managed by the Weld family who purchased it back in 1641. Lulworth has beautiful beaches at Lulworth Cove, historic village country pubs, tearooms, cafes in East Lulworth and West Lulworth. Lulworth is known for its dramatic geological feature known as Durdle Door. Here the sedimentary rocks no longer lay one on top of the other but have been twisted so that the oldest rock is nearest to the sea and the youngest inland. Some of the beds have crumbled, twisted, and sheared including Durdle Door formed from a layer of hard limestone standing almost vertically out of the sea. The name Durdle derives from an Old English word 'thirl' meaning bore or drill.
Kimmeridge Bay is located on Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck and falls within the Jurassic Coast marine Special Area of Conservation and along the South West Coast Path. Kimmeridge Bay has also one of the most important geological sequences of late Jurassic bedrock including the Kimmeridge clay not only famous for fossils but also its sources of oil. Kimmeridge Bay is good for water-based activities. The Wild Seas Centre beside the slipway encourages all ages to explore the bay, its ledges, and rockpools. Above the Bay sits Clavell Tower a four-story circular tower built-in 1830 used by both P.D. James and Enid Blyton for literary inspiration.
The coastal resort town of Swanage is found on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset and well located for easy travelling to Corfe Castle, Studland, and Worth Matravers. Swanage has a sandy beach awarded a Blue Flag and Seaside Award and a destination for outdoor adventure including coasteering, abseiling, climbing, paddle-boarding, kayaking, and fishing. The original Swanage Pier was constructed in 1859/60 by James Walton of London for the Swanage Pier and Tramway Company and opened by John Mowlem (1788-1868) a local stonemason and founder of quarrying and construction company "Mowlem, Burt, and Freeman". Swanage has a heritage railway that operates full-size steam and diesel passenger trains along five and a half miles of line from Norden to Corfe Castle and down to the Victoria seaside town of Swanage. The Swanage Railway is no longer connected to the main national network and has stations at Corfe Castle and Harman’s Cross as well as a halt at Herston, on the outskirts of Swanage. A short distance from Swanage is the 320-acre National Nature Reserve Durlston Castle and Country Park. Durlston is regarded as one of several easterly gateway’s to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site towards Exmouth in the west to Old Harry Rocks at Ballard Down just north of Swanage. The Park is also designated as Heritage Coast, Special Area of Conservation, Site of Special Scientific Interest, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and National Nature Reserve. Additionally, offshore the coastal waters are part of the Marine Research Area. Swanage has a plethora of bistros, sea view restaurants, traditional pubs, and tearooms as well as award-winning independent butchers, bakers, fishmongers, and farm shops, and locally produced chocolate, ice cream, beer, cider, and cheese.
Studland Bay & Old Harry
Studland Bay has four miles of beaches that mark the gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site starting Old Harry Rocks. Above the South Beach, Middle Beach, and Knoll Beach including a 1km designated naturist area is a large expanse of unspoiled lowland heath known as the wilderness of Studland and Godlingston Heath. It is this area that was the inspiration for the fictional Egdon Heath in the novel, “Return of the Native” by Thomas Hardy. These views from this elevated position can be further enhanced by visiting the Agglestone a 400-tonne rock sitting alone on a hill. At the southern end of Studland Bay is Old Harry one of the most famous landmarks of the Jurassic Coast. This is a towering chalk stack formation at Handfast Point is popularly known as Old Harry Rocks, but the name actually refers only to the single stack of chalk that stands furthest out to sea. The small stack next to old Harry is often referred to as Old Harry’s Wife. Old Harry is believed to be named after the 14th century Poole pirate Harry Paye whose ship used to lurk behind the rocks ready to pounce on passing merchantmen.