The Dorset Walk: Shipton Gorge, Burton Bradstock and Cogden Beach
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold by the sea in West Dorset
Published in August ’12
It is easy to take things for granted when you see them very often, so if this walk has one advantage, it is to remind us what a staggering creation of nature Chesil Beach is, and how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy the majestic sweep of Lyme Bay at close hand. The route actually starts by heading away from the sea, towards the ‘upturned boat’ outline of Shipton Hill and the village of Shipton Gorge. Anyone looking for a dramatic canyon or waterfall here will be disappointed: the name comes from the de Gorges family, who owned the manor after the Conquest. The 14th-century church of St Martin – much ‘improved’ by the Victorians – stands at the highest point of the village and has an unusual seven-sided font.
The prosperity of Burton Bradstock was founded on flax and fish, and workers in the flax industry were often allowed to leave their mills and dash down to their boats if a large shoal was spotted. The village suffered the greatest shock during the West Dorset earthquake of October 1863, which produced ‘feelings of dazed terror’ according to a contemporary press report. Today there is no industry to speak of in Burton Bradstock, which has some pleasant sleepy corners away from the main road.
Cogden Beach is in the care of the National Trust, who have left it mercifully unspoilt except to install parking meters at the top of the track that leads down to it. The beach is popular with fishermen and also with naturists. On a quiet day, with minimal traffic on the B3157 coast road, both the beach and the hinterland present a picture of wild isolation.
Distance: About 5¾ miles.
Terrain: Mostly good underfoot, but can be very muddy in gateways. Walking on Chesil Beach can be hard going and it is usually firmer either at the top of the beach or by the water’s edge. There is also a path along the cliff parallel to the beach.
Start: In the car park above Cogden Beach.
How to get there: The car park is on the south side of the B3157 coast road between Weymouth and Bridport, about 1¼ miles east of Burton Bradstock and 1½ miles west of Swyre. OS reference SY502886, postcode DT6 4RN.
Maps: OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset). OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth) and 193 (Taunton & Lyme Regis).
Refreshments: New Inn in Shipton Gorge, Three Horseshoes in Burton Bradstock, Hive Beach Café.
1 Walk back up to the main road, turn right and walk very carefully for about 300 yards, over the brow of the hill, to two ivy-covered stone gate-pillars on the left. Go down the drive between them and at a fork, take the right-hand option. At the end of the drive continue straight ahead through a gateway onto a rough track. This bends left then right, leaving the buildings of Cogden Farm behind and climbing up to an open field. Here turn left and follow the track round, alongside a drystone wall. Reach a metal gate on the left but don’t go through it; instead, turn right and walk across the open field to its far corner. Cross a double stile and turn left to follow the edge of two fields to a gate onto a lane. Turn left and in a few yards right, signed to Shipton Gorge.
2 Cross the pretty River Bride, pass Bredy Farm on the left and take the next lane on the left. Cross another stream and, opposite the drive to Graston Farm, turn right on a track that runs alongside the drive to Brook Cottage. Go through a gate and follow the stream on the right. In the next corner turn left, still with the stream to the right. In about 100 yards, turn right down to a gate, ford the stream and turn left to continue to follow it, now on the left. Go through a gate in the next field and turn right to parallel the right-hand edge. In the far right-hand corner, cross a stile and turn left to follow the path as it winds through a patch of woodland alongside a stream. Emerge into an open field and walk straight up to its highest point. Bear slightly left in the next field to a stile a little way up from the far left-hand corner, crossing another stile about 30 yards before it. Aim just to the right of the concrete posts and wire netting fence of a small pumping station.
3 Cross a track and walk across the next field to a stile visible on the far side. Go up the field beyond, heading for the right-hand end of the churchyard. Pass through a gate and follow the churchyard wall on the left. Near its end, turn left through an iron gate into the churchyard and walk through it to the front. Exit through iron gates onto a drive that leads downhill and to the right to a cross-roads. Here turn left. Where the road bends round to the right, signed to Bridport, continue ahead on a track. In about 150 yards, turn left through a gate and go down a short slope to follow the left-hand field-edge. Stay on the same heading to cross three more fields. In the fourth, head for the top right-hand corner.
4 Here go through a gate and turn left on a track up to a T-junction with another track. Turn right and almost immediately left through a gate alongside a ruined stone barn. Walk straight downhill and follow the left-hand edge of two fields to a gate onto an enclosed path which continues downhill. This becomes a track that runs down to meet a lane called Shadrack. Turn right and in about 60 yards left into Middle Street. At the next T-junction, turn left opposite The Rectory, then in a few yards right into Mill Street, alongside the parish church. Follow this lane round to the right to reach the main road and turn left. Re-cross the Bride and, where the road bends sharply left, carry straight on.
5 In a few yards, fork left up some steps. Cross the stile at the top of the steps and follow the fence on the left to the top of the hill. Here strike off to the right, across the field, to a gate about 200 yards to the left of a large white building on the cliff-top. Head for the far right-hand corner of the next field, bear right in the field beyond that (used as a car park at busy times) and head down to the beach. Turn left and walk along the beach for about 1500 yards to where the cliffs on the left slope down to beach level. Join a grassy path running along the top of the beach. Look out for a wooden gate on the left, giving onto a track. Go through it and walk up the track to the car park.