Dylan's Dorset - a dogs view of winter walks
At this time of year, the days may be getting shorter and chillier, but that’s no reason to stay indoors; there’s still plenty to see, do and explore in Dorset.
And this season doesn’t necessarily mean muddy walks, though a few of those are good too! It’s the perfect season to get back on the beaches, enjoy bracing coastal walks, follow trails around nature reserves and explore some of the towns and villages in Dorset.
So if you’re visiting Dorset this winter, here are just a few ideas for some great, relatively mud-free, doggy days out!
Whatever the weather, on a winter’s day Portland is one of my favourite places to visit! Joined to the mainland by just a thin strip at the southern end of Chesil Beach, the Isle of Portland is the Jurassic Coast’s most southerly point. It’s a perfect place to explore year-round, with its network of footpaths criss-crossing the island.
The first stop has to be the viewpoint opposite the Heights Hotel. The views back across Chesil Beach to Lyme Bay are truly spectacular!
Continue to Portland Bill, at the southerly tip of Portland, where you’ll find a large pay-and-display car park, toilets and refreshments, not to mention Portland Bill lighthouse! The 2.5 mile circular route we usually follow explores both the east and west coasts; there’s lots of variety and great views.
To start the walk, head past the lighthouse to Portland Bill obelisk and from there the walk takes you towards Pulpit Rock, along the coast path onto Bill Commons then across to the East coast and back along the coast path to the car park.
With the cobwebs well and truly blown away, we usually head to the café where it’s easy to order refreshments from the café’s outward facing kiosk and, weather permitting, enjoy them outside. Perfect for people with dogs!
North Dorset Trailway & Sturminster Newton
At the heart of the Blackmore Vale, is the town of Sturminster Newton with its eye-catching mix of 17th- and 18th-century thatched cottages, Georgian architecture and modern brick buildings. It is renowned for its literary connections, including the poet William Barnes and Thomas Hardy. Hardy wrote his novel “The Return of the Native” whilst living in Sturminster Newton in Riverside, a stone mansion on the edge of town.
On the outskirts of town on the River Stour, the 15th century medieval bridge with six arches, still carries the penalty of ‘Transportation for life’ for anyone who damages it. I didn’t dare lift my leg as we crossed it! This bridge is the one featured in the poem ‘On Sturminster Bridge’ by Thomas Hardy. Apparently, he had a very mischievous dog with questionable manners, a fox terrier called Wessex, but I digress…
This is a great walking area with many footpaths along the banks of the River Stour, but a good winter choice is the North Dorset Trailway. This walking, cycling and horse riding route runs along the route of the old Somerset and Dorset Railway line and takes you through the beautiful North Dorset countryside and some picturesque villages of the Blackmore Vale.
Park at Station Road car park in Sturminster Newton for easy access to the Trailway and the town. From there follow the 2 mile circular walk to Fiddleford Manor. We found a bench for me to pose on and enjoy the rural views.
A short distance along the Trailway is Fiddleford Manor, an old medieval manor-house maintained by English Heritage. It’s always open and admission is free. The manor is thought to date back to 1370, though it has undergone many changes since, but the splendid timber roofs over the great hall and solar are said to be the most spectacular in Dorset.
Depending on the weather and how muddy it is underpaw, either cross the river and follow the route across the riverside meadows to complete the circular walk or avoid the dreaded bath and do a ‘there and back’ along the Trailway!
South West Coast Path
The South West Coast Path offers numerous opportunities for winter dog walks, from gentle strolls with spectacular views to more challenging longer distance options.
One of the shorter walks is the Fossil Forest at Lulworth Cove (2.2 miles). It’s just a short walk around Lulworth Cove and the nearby fossilised forest, but it’s a good one as it passes a beach and a pub where dogs are welcome!
Further west is Hive Beach, where you can enjoy another easy coastal walk (2 miles), visiting the world-famous towering golden cliffs on Hive Beach, where Hitler was planning to land his troops in 1940, and where Allied troops subsequently practised climbing for the D-Day landings.
After your walk, pop into the dog-friendly Hive Beach Café, where you can enjoy local seafood, homemade cakes or just have a cup of tea overlooking the sea. It’s often busy and you may have to wait, but it’s worth it!
Longer options on the coast path include Durdle Door to White Nothe (7 miles) - a challenging walk, but one with views that take your breath away!
If that’s a bit ambitious, winter is a great time to enjoy one of the most recognisable landmarks along the Dorset coast, Durdle Door. Park at the public pay-and-display car park at Durdle Door Holiday Park and follow the steep path down to the coast. It's about a 15 minute walk down to the viewpoint. Stop to enjoy the far reaching views before descending the steps to the beach. The pebble and shingly beach here is dog friendly all year round and though the access is down 140 steps, it is well worth the effort!
With a choice of beaches and a variety of town, coast and countryside walks, Lyme Regis is a great option for a doggy day out. And though shopping isn’t really a dogs’ thing, even the quaint little shopping streets are not short of interesting things to see and do!
After an obligatory run on the sandy beach, stop at one of the many dog-friendly cafes, pubs and restaurants before enjoying a walk along the River Lim.
Starting from the town centre, this 1.5 mile route takes you along the restored riverside footpath through the Lim Valley to the village of Uplyme, past the old mills that were at the centre of the wool and cloth industry back in the 18th and 19th century. We retraced our steps back to Lyme Regis, but if you time it right, you can catch the bus back!
If you still have energy left, head over to Monmouth Beach which stretches from the Cobb to the west, where you and your dog can hunt for some fossils among the pebbles. Rough weather helps expose more fossils, so winter is by far the best time of year for fossil hunting!
Weymouth & RSPB Lodmoor
Weymouth Beach. Well, what can I say? It’s an easily accessible, fantastic stretch of sand and here you’ll find lots of doggy friends chasing balls, splashing in the sea and generally enjoying the beach out of main season.
After a run on the beach, we like to go for a leisurely stroll at RSPB Lodmoor, a wetland reserve that’s just a short walk from the beach. A circular route takes you around this wildlife haven. With a combination of a large reedbed, open water, saltmarsh, wet grassland and bushes you may see lots of different birds, including bearded tits (my favourites obviously), gulls, ducks, kingfishers and winter waders.
A run on the beach followed by a walk around a nature reserve and a spot of birdwatching…now that’s what I call a good doggy day out!