With over 95 miles of coastline, the Jurassic Coast stretches from Exmouth in Devon all the way to Studland Bay in Dorset and spans a staggering 185 million years of geological history. Through the rocks and fossils that have been found after coastal erosion has laid them bare, Earth’s ancient past has been uncovered and with it, fascinating tales from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
And, while this UNESCO World Heritage Site draws in a number of visitors who are eager to learn more about the wonders of this natural phenomenon, there are many other reasons that attract the crowds.
For us, it was the promise of stunning coastal views, historic landmarks, first-class beaches, a huge choice of family-friendly attractions, outdoor adventures and top-notch seafood that drew us to Dorset. Having been to Swanage and Bournemouth as a child, this was the first time I had ventured back to the region for many years – and we were all excited to explore such an awe-inspiring part of the UK.
The other bonus of our Jurassic Coast road trip was being able to do it in style by driving a hi-tech, fully equipped Hyundai Tucson – a four-wheel-drive SUV, loaned to us for the duration of our Easter break. Navigating a number of different terrains from motorways to narrow country lanes, A-roads, B-roads, and coastal routes, as well a being behind the wheel for hours at a time meant that we needed a comfortable car to do it in. Not to mention being able to fit all our luggage including a pram, travel cot and highchair into the boot.
So after setting off from a rainy Surrey, we made good time – just over two-and-a-half hours – to our first stop in Dorset. Follow our journey below and discover a leisurely way to explore the Jurassic Coast.
Driving through Poole, we were taken aback by the difference in the affluence of not only the properties but the whole ambience of two towns which sit side by side. Sandbanks is a small peninsula at the mouth of Poole Harbour and has the fourth highest land value in the world – due to its desirable sea frontage views.
We arrived just in time for lunch, and came across the Sandbanks Beach Cafe. We ordered fish and chips, which were not cheap, and afterwards, made our way onto the beach. Due to the abysmal weather, it was empty! Hurrah for Monkey, who got stuck into making sandcastles, while Peanut walked up and down the promenade.
After trying to spot the boats bob up and down in the harbour, we clambered back into the car and went for a drive around marvelling at all the upmarket restaurants and bars, as well as the million pound houses.
Leaving Sandbanks, we carried on further along the coast for another hour to our accommodation at Seatown in Bridport, where we settled in for the evening.
When we heard that Dippy the dinosaur – The Natural History Museum’s famous Diplodocus – was being hosted in the Dorset County Museum, Monkey was super excited but our hopes were soon dashed when we realised the tickets were all sold out. No matter, we promised him dinosaurs, and as it was a wet and miserable day, we still headed to the historic market town of Dorchester, where Dippy currently resides – but instead of going to see him, we went around the corner to The Dinosaur Museum. Even though it’s small and rather tired-looking – there are plenty of interactive exhibits and displays. Monkey enjoyed going on a dinosaur egg hunt, while the baby enjoyed excavating in the sand.
We spent just over an hour there before heading for a wander around the town and finding a quaint teashop to enjoy a big slice of cake. It was a great way of easing ourselves into our adventure to what was going to be a hectic fews days.
The sun finally made an appearance! So we knew it would be the best day to go fossil hunting. And while there are some great beaches to find them along the Jurassic Coast, we were told that Charmouth tops them all. After heading to the Charmouth Heritage Centre, we were astounded to see so many on display including a monster ammonite and an ichthyosaur which featured in the BBC documentary Attenborough and the Sea Dragon. This fired our resolve and armed with a fossil guide, we headed to the beach. It was busy, but we still had plenty of space to dig around. And after some time, it was Monkey who spotted a tiny ammonite. He was so happy. Even better still, we later found a grey pebble which is calcite ammonite!
After our fossil hunting exploits, we were all famished so drove to the nearby seaside town of Lyme Regis, or as it’s also affectionately known as, the ‘Pearl of Dorset’. It was so wonderful to walk along the seafront towards the Cobb (harbour) and take in the pretty buildings as well as the winding lanes in the town. We even saw a huge working water mill in the artisan quarter, after following a route alongside the picturesque River Lym.
After having a seafood lunch at the Ocean View, which had cracking views across the beach, we carried on walking until we discovered an ice cream shop. It really was such a lovely day out – and finally felt like we were on holiday. When the sun is shining and you’re on a beach – especially as one as attractive as Lyme Regis, there’s nothing better.
Another day, and another seaside. But this time we drove in the opposite direction an hour to Weymouth, which is situated around the halfway point along the Jurassic Coast. The journey there along the ancient Jurassic Coast Scenic Route was utterly spectacular. The panoramic views which stretched for miles along the coastline with the waves swirling below were spellbinding, and it was a shame we couldn’t find a safe enough point to stop the Hyundai and get out.
There were plenty of parking options in Weymouth, which is a large town with prominent Georgian architecture, as well as plenty of attractions. It wasn’t as warm as the previous day, but it was dry so we decided to grab some fish and chips and sit on the large sandy beach eating them out of the paper. It was great fun watching people flying their kites, children riding donkeys and tourists just chilling out on deck chairs. After our meal, Monkey spotted a small play area, so we brought him a ticket to go on a helter-skelter a few times.
We also intended to go to the Jurassic Skyline which is a viewing tower that has a 360 degree view across the coast, but after walking halfway there Monkey decided he wasn’t up for it and would prefer to see a lighthouse…
Isle of Portland
So getting back into the car, we drove another scenic route to the Isle of Portland – an island around five miles from Weymouth via Chesil Beach – and headed straight towards Portland Bill which sits at the most southern point of Dorset. The scenery surrounding this iconic landmark, which has been guiding ships since 1906, is breathtaking and reminded me more of the landscape from a Nordic country rather than the UK, so rugged and spectacular against the grey blue hues of the English Channel.
Unfortunately, we had just missed the last tour of the lighthouse, so were unable to climb to the top, but this did give us plenty of time to walk around the vicinity and take in our surroundings. When we finally decided to make our way back to Bridport, it was fantastic that we had another chance to drive along the ancient scenic route and experience the beautiful coastal views once again.
Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door
It was on our way back home we decided we couldn’t leave Dorset and not visit one of its greatest and most popular natural sites at the crescent-shaped Lulworth Cove and the dramatic limestone arch of Durdle Door. It was created when the sea pierced through the Portland limestone around 10,000 years ago and is really worth making a detour for.
It would be that on the morning we decided to go, some bizarre and unexpected fog descended. It was so bad, that driving into the car park was rather hazardous, but the Hyundai more than managed it. Around a 15 minute walk, with some rather hairy steep cliff edges and no barriers (thankfully the baby was in a sling), we made it to the viewpoint and waited for the swirling mist to subside. It was still majestic…
A comfortable journey
The Hyundai Tucson became an extended part of our family during our Dorset and Jurassic Coast adventure. Even though it’s classed as a compact SUV, there’s nothing small about it – there was tons of room for us and for our luggage. We really put it through its paces – it took the stress out of each and every one of our journeys. From the heated steering wheel, front and rear seats, which were a revelation in the cold wet weather to the blind spot warning signals and cruise control; I was only too happy to get behind the wheel and do some distance driving, and didn’t even flinch when faced with tight parking spots thanks to the superb rearview camera and sensors. We also all adored the panoramic sunroof, that pulled all the way back to let in so much daylight.
When we had to hand back the key, all of us were a little heartbroken. Not that there’s anything wrong with our trusty car, which we’ve had for years, it’s just once you experienced first-class, it’s hard to go back to economy.
Goodbye… for now
Our four-day adventure exploring Dorset gave us only a tiny taste of what this beautiful and historic part of the UK has to offer. There were so many things we didn’t get to do including seeing the swans at the Abbotsbury Swannery or the Weymouth SEALIFE Adventure Park. For us, it was more about being outdoors. The baby is at a stage where he cannot be contained in his pushchair for too long, so for us to be able to meander the different beaches, and explore the seaside towns was just the perfect introduction to the Jurassic Coast. And I have a sneaky feeling this won’t be the first or the last time, we’ll be holidaying there.
Ancient Route Road Trip Series
• Check out Gretta Schifano’s post on her road trip of how to explore the Pilgrims’ Way by car
• Kirstie Pelling takes a scenic drive from Fell to Coast along the Hard Knott Road in the Lake District
• Nichola West travelled along the Great Stones Way in Wiltshire
• Cathy Winston took an East Anglia family road trip through history
*Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Hyundai, who loaned us a car for the duration of our Dorset adventure. The route was our own choice and we chose and paid for the accommodation, attractions and refreshments mentioned.