Best walks on the Isle of Purbeck holiday cottages

Best walks on the Isle of Purbeck

There are many walking trails on the Isle of Purbeck, an area full of cultural and geological history. It is one of the gateways to the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.  From the Purbeck Hills to the nature reserves of Poole Bay and Brownsea Island, to the sandy beaches at Swanage, high views over Old Harry Rocks and the striking profile of Corfe Castle. The Isle of Purbeck is a peninsula in Dorset that really does have an island feel to it. Surrounded on three sides by large bodies of water: to the south and east is the English Channel; and to the north is Poole Harbour

Here are just some of the finest walks in Purbeck, with varying lengths and difficulties. If you're taking your dog along for the journey, be sure to heed to the Dorset Dogs Doggy Do code.

The Priests’ Way

  • 3 miles – Swanage to Worth Matravers via Langton Matravers - easy / moderate

couple walking with white dog

This ancient track passes by the quarries of the southern coastal aspect of the Purbeck peninsula. Open fields and big skies await before you finally arrive at one of Dorset’s best loved pubs, The Square and Compass Inn, for a well-earned beverage.  The pub is unique in that it is home to a fossil museum which includes some very impressive dinosaur specimens. Less uniquely, the pub hosts a programme of live events. Swanage, Worth Matravers and Langton Matravers are all serviced by the local bus.

Preparation – Walking boots are a must / wellies in the winter; Explorer OS Map OL15; dog waste bags (if appropriate)

The Commoners’ Way circular

  • 5.5 miles – Kingston to Corfe Castle - moderate

corfe castle in snow

Allow up to four hours for completion of this countryside circular walk that originates in the small village of Kingston and winds through Corfe Castle. If you wish to make a day of walking along the trail there is much to see in the village of Corfe Castle namely the ruins of its hilltop fortress, a survivor of the English Civil War.  You could also watch the steam trains on the Swanage Railway pull in at the village station – an enjoyable sight for everyone. There is lots of choice for those looking for a spot of lunch too. Starting at Kingston Church the occasionally steep, occasionally muddy trail up and over limestone ridges, a short section of the Purbeck Way, and Corfe Common.

Preparation - Walking boots are a must / wellies in the winter; Explorer OS Map OL15; dog waste bags

Corfe Castle to Swanage walk

  • 12 miles (take a steam train home) - moderate/difficult

corfe castle and train

To get the very best of the Isle of Purbeck this 12-mile trek takes in the dramatic heights of Corfe Castle, the Purbeck Hills, the Jurassic Coast, ancient quarries, fossil hotspots, wonderful cliff top beauty spots, and the quaint seaside resort of Swanage.

Over the course of the 12 miles you will encounter Corfe Common, a section of the 28-mile Purbeck Way, the Swanworth Quarries, Keat’s Quarry, the Coast Path, St Aldhelm’s Head, St Alban’s Race, the iconic and much filmed Winspit Quarry, Dancing Ledge, Anvil Point Lighthouse, Durlston Head, Peveril Point, and finally Swanage Railway Station. It’s a great walk if you love fossils and geology. The stone quarried from the Isle of Purbeck has been used for building some remarkably engineered structures like Ramsgate Pier and the pillars in Salisbury Cathedral.

Preparation – Drinking water, walking boots are a must / wellies in the winter; Explorer OS Map OL15; dog waste bags (if appropriate)

Dancing Ledge and Langton Matravers circular

  • 4.5 miles - moderate

dancing ledge

Bucolic walk amongst the high nature of the Purbeck coast, hay meadows, limestone quarries, secret places where fossils have been found and cliffs that tower above the sea. All the wild flowers and grasses are in full throng during the summer and spring, there’s little shade so wear a hat.

Dancing Ledge is an interesting former quarry with a ledge that overhangs the sea and was a platform from which to load limestone shipments on to merchant ships. It earnt its name because it’s roughly the same size as a typical ballroom dancefloor. It’s a great spot to spy dolphins and other cetaceans from. See if you can find any fossils in the quarry’s high walls. Further along the path as after you’ve turned north towards Swanage, then west, you will be beholden to some grand views down to Corfe Castle. This path joins the Priests’ Way for part of the final section before reaching Langton Matravers.

Preparation – Drinking water, walking boots are a must / wellies in the winter; Explorer OS Map OL15; dog waste bags (if appropriate)

Studland Village to Old Harry Rocks circular

  • 4 miles - moderate

old harry rocks

As featured, in a slightly modified form, on TV’s ‘Britain’s Best Walks with Julia Bradbury’, this trail is at the north eastern corner of the peninsula. It’s a great stroll to take on in leisurely fashion that showcases the statuesque Old Harry Rocks and the chalk clifftops overlooking Swanage. The walk begins and ends at a pub, so you can bookend your travails with a cold drink!  

Punctuated by an obelisk that commemorates the arrival of a new water supply to Swanage in the late 19th century, the South West Coast Path cuts around the edge of the peninsula, along the cliff tops below Worth Matravers and along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Wild flowers and meadows gild the affair, and there are also lots of thermal hideouts for butterflies to thrive in the warmer months.

You can see Old Harry Rocks off Handfast Point – this is the most easterly point of the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. As the path turns towards Swanage, you will see the jagged Pinnacles, a massive roost for seabirds.  Converging with the Purbeck Way it goes over Ballard Down, which was featured in the TV series Howard’s End. This pleasant walk is a light challenge for most walkers.

Preparation – Walking boots are a must / wellies in the winter; Explorer OS Map OL15; dog waste bags (if appropriate)

The Lawrence of Arabia circular

  • 6.75 miles – The Tank Museum at Bovington to Moreton - easy / moderate


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The Lawrence of Arabia Trail begins and ends near The Tank Museum, (which is worth a day trip in its own right), in Bovington, close to the site where the explorer TE Lawrence was killed in a motorcycle accident in May 1935. The path takes in his former home at Cloud’s Hill (shown above), and his final resting place in Moreton. The walk can be walked in sections and for the most part it is level with few inclines and no stiles. Clouds Hill is owned by the National Trust and is now open to the public.

Look out for wildlife along the trail, much of it through woodland. Carpets of bluebells spread throughout the area in the late spring, and you may also encounter marsh tits, finches, redpoll, dragonflies and damselflies.  Follow a chalk river and you may see salmon, kingfishers, otters, and water voles. Past Clouds Hill you eventually come to a memorial stone commemorating TE Lawrence’s life.

Preparation – Walking boots are a must / wellies in the winter; Explorer OS Map OL15; dog waste bags (if appropriate)

Map of walking trails

Enjoy a walking holiday on the Isle of Purbeck

If we've inspired you to head to the Isle of Purbeck for your next walking holiday, take a look at our collection of Purbeck holiday cottages to find the perfect place to put your feet up after a long day's walk.

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