Kimmeridge Bay is totally unspoiled and raw Dorset coast line. When I say unspoiled I really do mean that as there are absolutely no amenities tourists would normally expect at the seaside such as cafes, gift shops and deck chair hire. There are public toilets but that really is about it. Kimmeridge Bay is famous for its geology and potential for the absolute amateur of finding small fossils. After all, this is part of the Jurassic Coast.
If you like your coast line eau naturale then Kimmeridge Bay has to be the place to visit.
Getting There by Car
Leave Swanage following the signs for Corfe and Wareham. Go through the main part of Corfe Village and turn left immediately after passing the castle picking up the signs for Church Knowle, Steeple and Kimmeridge. Through Church Knowle and a couple of miles on there will be a junction where you have to turn left to Kimmeridge which will take you into Kimmeridge village past the church on the right, the New Inn on the left and the new ‘Etches Centre’ on the right. From the village just follow the road and the whole of Kimmeridge Bay will open up before you filling your windscreen.
Entry per car is £5 and that is for the whole day so find a space in the car park that will accommodate up to 1100 cars, kick back and enjoy.
On your right as you leave Swanage is ‘Nine Barrow Down’ where the maximum height above seal level is about 650 feet that in Corfe drops precipitously to form a gap beside the castle for the road and railway. As you leave Corfe heading towards Kimmeridge the hills on the right of you are The Purbecks and these rise to any height up to 550 feet as you head west.
In the off-season you will most likely be able to park near the cliff edge and be able to enjoy the view of the coast line.
To the left is Hen Cliff with Clavell Tower built at its summit. This was built in 1830 as a folly and observatory tower. In 2002 the tower was moved about ten metres back from the retreating cliff edge. In 2010/11 it underwent major renovations to preserve its Tuscan style design. The tower is available for holiday lets and a link to the website is below.
Leaving the car and walking towards Clavell Tower will eventually take the visitor down to the part of Kimmeridge Bay where there are some boathouses. Looking back towards the clifftop where the car park is you will see the stratification of the shale cliff face. Dark thick layers of shale interspersed with thin layers of lighter coloured stone. You will also see the surf breaking on the shore revealing the shelves of shale reaching out into the bay.
Walk away from the buildings towards the headland and from there you will be able to see the full width of the entrance to Kimmeridge Bay as well as the open ocean. As with the rest of the bay, this area has a very rocky shore but the visual rewards for the photographer or those who just want to look are dramatic, even on a calm day.
Nestled in amongst the boathouses is the ‘Wild Seas Centre’. This has tanks housing species of the smaller inhabitants of the bay and a small gift shop.
To access the main part of the bay will involve returning to the main car park and then walking down a narrow path to the beach. At the foot of the path is a concrete pill box left over from World War II. On a still day thee visitor will hear a faint chipping sound. This is caused by fragments of shale falling out of the cliff face. The beach is made up entire of shale either in the form of small chips or ‘shelves’ reaching out to sea. Take your time to explore these shelves as you may be lucky enough to see fossils on their surface.
The bay is adjacent to the Lulworth Gunnery ranges so on some days there will be the muffled sound of artillery in the background of the waves.
Kimmeridge Bay is the sight of an oil well that has been pumping since the late 1950s producing up to 60 barrels a day. The well is 1100 feet deep and the oil is extracted using a nodding donkey to the west of the car park.
The day we made our visit there were very strong winds blowing and by the time we left they had got even stronger. The sky was overcast with broken clouds which made the whole seascape look very dramatic. It was well worth the visit.
The Etches Centre
This is located at the centre of Kimmeridge village.
A local man, Steve Etches, has made the fossils of Kimmeridge Bay his life long passion. The Etches Centre was opened recently and houses displays of fossils along with animations of what the now fossilized creatures looked like. The entry fee is £8.50 for an adult and this is valid for a year.
My own opinion about this centre is that 'yes' it is brilliant that this collection is finally on display in a purpose built facility but as it is located in such an interesting geological area of the country it is a shame that some of the space was not devoted to this aspect of our world.
The Margaret Green Rescue Centre
This is on your right as you drive into Church Knowle from Kimmeridge.
It is an animal rescue centre that homes animals of all sorts that have been found in distressed circumstances offering them a home for life or if possible a second chance at new forever home.
The whole atmosphere is of peace and calm as you walk around the paddocks and pens housing pigs, sheep, horses, chickens, guinea pigs, ducks and cats.
Entry is free and they rely entirely on voluntary donations.