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The Dorset walk — Eype Down and West Bay

Matt Wilkinson and Matt Bauer on hill-top and beach.

Colmer's Hill

Colmers Hill from Eype Down

Purbeck or west Dorset (or indeed the hills of central and north Dorset)? The fact that I can never decide which is my favourite walking area in Dorset suggests that they are all pretty good – how lucky we are! At the moment, west Dorset is top of my personal pops, but that’s because I have just finished this delightful walk.
It starts near Eype, by-passing the more populous Lower Eype but going through the scattered houses of Higher Eype before skirting Eype Down. A sharp turn takes the route up to the top of the Down at 500 feet. At almost the same height is Thorncombe Beacon, which would dominate this stretch of coast were it not for Golden Cap a couple of miles to the west. Its name comes from its role as the site of one of the Armada beacons.
The coast path leads to West Bay, both a popular resort and a working harbour. It has a long history as both, and has been revived in recent years by some interesting (not always successful) new architecture and the huge civil engineering works which made the harbour more usable and improved the flood defences. No longer can visitors watch the spectacular sight of waves rolling up the narrow channel between the old piers, but those waves meant that boats were confined to harbour almost as often as not.

Distance: About 51/2 miles.
Start: The picnic/parking area just off the A35 Bridport by-pass, on the road to Eype. OS ref. SY452922.
How to get there: The turning to Eype is off the A35, about halfway along the Bridport by-pass.
Maps: OS Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis & Bridport); OS Landranger 193 (Taunton & Lyme Regis).
Refreshments: In West Bay.

The view east from the southern end of Eype Down

The view east from the southern end of Eype Down

1. Leave the picnic/parking area, ignore the no through road straight ahead and turn left. Take the first turning on the right, signed to Higher Eype. This lane is very quiet but also very narrow, so be prepared to take to the banks if any vehicle should come by. Follow it for a mile, with the slopes of Eype Down to the left and views of distinctive Colmer’s Hill to the right. Reaching the main A35, turn left by the ‘Stop’ sign up a rough track, passing a white cottage on the right. In a further 15 yards, turn left on a path through the undergrowth; it is signed (on a sign which was almost obscured by vegetation when we did the walk) to Eype Down.

Looking back on the descent from Thorncombe Beaconl

Looking back on the descent from Thorncombe Beacon

2. Follow this path uphill and near the top, fork right to continue right to the top of the down, from where there are spectacular views from Bridport round to Golden Cap and beyond, all the way to Start Point on a clear day. Continue in the same direction and re-join the original path coming in from the left, now more of a grassy track. In about 100 yards, fork left. At the next junction turn left and in a further 400 yards, emerging from some woodland, reach a wooden post with Coast Path and Thorncombe Beacon signed to the right. Turn right here and follow the path as it winds through the undergrowth to reach a metal gate and stile. Cross the stile. Quite a well-defined path goes over the rise ahead and continues roughly parallel to the left-hand field-edge to reach a stile at the far end of the field. Beyond that, bear right across the grass to reach some rough steps leading to the summit of Thorncombe Beacon and some more sensational views.

The beach at Eype Mouthl

The beach at Eype Mouth

3. Turn left onto the coast path, steeply downhill, and follow it for 2/3 mile to Eype Mouth. Here descend to the beach and walk right to the end, where clamber over the rocks and the railings to reach the paved road which leads into West Bay. (If walking on shingle and pebbles is not to your taste, the alternative is to stay on the coast path up and over West Cliff – a stiffish climb.) Reaching the harbour at West Bay, follow the road round to the left and at the roundabout continue straight ahead into West Bay Holiday Park. Go straight through the park: where the road bends sharply to the left, turn right to continue in the same direction as before, now on a paved footpath. At the end of the park, this becomes a rough path through woodland. At the end of the woodland, stay on the path (which is actually the Brit Valley Way) all the way until it goes under the Bridport by-pass.

West Bay, with Pier Terrace in the background

West Bay, with Pier Terrace in the background

4. Immediately afterwards, turn left along the left-hand edge of the field. In the next field, cross to a double stile in the far right-hand corner. Bear right to cross the next field diagonally to another stile by a redbrick house with a slate roof. Turn right up a grassy path to a metal gate. On the other side of the gate turn left, then right at the T-junction. At the top of the hill turn left into Broad Lane. Follow this as it crosses the by-pass on a bridge. Immediately on the other side of the bridge, cross a stile on the right onto a path which leads through trees to the picnic/parking area and your car.

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