I have a guide book “Bournemouth Poole and District” published by Ward Locks in the 1950s.
Once the reader gets past the pages of advertisements for Burberry coats, household insurance and for other holiday resorts around the country there are short articles about places to go.
In the article titled, Durlston Head it says, "All who have time and can climb a steep hill should walk." Both of us are more than capable of making this one mile walk that takes you from sea level to over 200 feet to the castle. As our ongoing mantra for this part of our holiday was ‘doing nothing’ we drove from Shore Road up to Durlston Castle. There is no need for me to write directions as the castle is well signposted from the town.
Durlston Castle was not purpose built as a military fortification to guard the south coast from invasion although some of it’s Purbeck and Portland stone walls look like they would repel any medieval attackers. The Castle was built in the 1860s by a local man, George Burt, with the intention of providing a restaurant in the Durlston Estate for visitors who could either walk up from the town or travel to it in ‘public motors’ as the Ward Lock’s book describes what I presume to be taxis.
150 years after Durlston Castle was built there is still a restaurant. During 2010-11 the place underwent a renovation. I am sure that the way modern designs of stainless steel and plate glass have been integrated into the original building would have met the approval of George Burt.
Visiting Durlston Castle
If like us you drove to the Castle you will find adequate parking which costs £2.50 for two hours. Longer stays are available if you are going to use the place as a base for exploring this part of the South Coastal path.
Let’s assume that you are going to visit the Castle first.
A Walk Through Time
The walk will take about 4.54 billion years. This is because it has been laid out to illustrate how the earth has developed in that time to what it is today. Lining the walk are markers in time to show when the various geological eras such as Cambrian and the Jurassic. On either side of the walk are large rocks with fossils embedded in their surface accompanied by explanations of what they are. There are also markers to show when different forms of life appeared and disappeared. At one point along the path are human footprints about a metre apart that tell us every step represents 30 million years.
Every time I go along this walk I begin to feel very insignificant. That feeling then becomes overwhelming at the front door. Set in stone is a marker that declares when Man first appeared on earth. Based on the scale on the path our presence is between only three and four millimetres.
This walk way has been designed with gentle slopes and curves to allow people with mobility issues to fully share the experience with every one else.
Through the main doors there is a large reception area. To the right is a display of pictures of the wildlife that can bee seen, with patience and keen observation, around the estate. A recent innovation is that windowsills are packed with pre-loved books for sale at £1 each which is always worth a quick browse. To the left is a gift shop stocked with all of the usual gifts and postcards along with some small specimens of fossils and polished stones as befits a site on this part of the Jurassic Coast.
Straight ahead is the corridor leading to the restaurant. There the visitor can buy anything from light snacks through to a three-course lunch. Breakfast is served from 0930 to 1200 and lunch service ends at 1545 with the restaurant facility closing at 1600 on weekdays and 1630 at weekends. Dinner is available only on Fridays and Saturdays from April to October. It is only closed on Christmas and Boxing Day. We just bought a couple of soft drinks and sat outside on the terrace looking back towards Swanage across Durlston Bay, Peverill Point, Swanage Bay, Ballard Point and beyond to Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight. My wife excitedly pointed out the seals near the beach in Durlston Bay. We both watched the black dots we thought might be bottling as seals do in the surf only to be disappointed. It was a group of surfers waiting for that elusive high roller to come in. Our first job once home is to have our eyes tested.
A Walk Around the World
Having walked through 4.54 billion years of the earth’s history you now have the opportunity to walk around the world in about a minute. Hidden from view from the Castle but just a short walk towards the cliffs is a globe made out of Portland stone that is ten feet in diameter and estimated to weigh some 40 tonnes. In the Ward Lock’s guide book visitors were charged six pence to see it. Nowadays, like the rest of the estate there are no charges once you have parked the car. Around the globe are eight stone benches that mark the main points of the compass.
For the more adventurous of you there are the Tilly Whim Caves and the Anvil Lighthouse that are within easy walking distance from the Globe and of course the South Coastal Path.
Durlston Castle marked the end of our first full day of ‘doing nothing’ in Swanage. We returned to the Coastal Cabin tired, relaxed and with that fresh air tingle you get from being out and about on a brilliant day.
Tomorrow our destination is Kimmeridge Bay.
Ward & Lock's Guide
From a time when men smoked pipes, wore cravats and drove open topped sports cars. At least, that is what the advertisements showed.
The Starting Point of the Walk Through Time
This only takes five minutes from car park to the main entrance.
Main Entrance to Durlston Castle
Just a few more million years before you reach the doors.
Looking North Over Durlston Bay and on to Ballard Point
We thought we saw seals down there in the surf.