Fossil Forest, near Lulworth Cove - July 2020
It was always going to be a challenge to reach the Fossil Forest located to the south of the popular Lulworth Cove. However, on a glorious Saturday in July, I had a plan! Park away from the hotspots and walk via the quieter Eastern flank of Lulworth Cove. However, I started to question this plan when the traffic ramped up as I approached....
Driving from Weymouth, you turn off the main road near Winfrith Newburgh onto the smaller road towards Lulworth. The road started off relatively quiet but things started to escalate. As well as providing access to the beautiful Lulworth Cove, the road continues to the ludicrously beautiful, famous Durdle Door sea-arch. A real crowd-pleaser. Uh-oh. As I approached the Durdle Door car park the traffic slowed and I could see the main car park was full. Cars were being turned away and pandemonium ensued. The Highway Code was being ripped up and it was hard to predict what the drivers in front of me were going to do. One car hastily turned on a six-pence and narrowly missed a car in the oncoming lane. In the excitement, a further car stalled and then struggled to get moving again. An irate driver pulled up on the grassy verge and started to remonstrate with his Sat-Nav about a lack of nearby parking and then his wife about the inconvenience and finally his kids for some other misdemeanor. I tried to look as apathetic as possible to shield myself from any raging drivers attempting to make eye contact as they u-turned away. After avoiding any unsavoury incidents, I rolled on down the hill towards the village of Lulworth.
I turned off before getting towards the busy areas and headed off to my parking safe haven away from the centre. After parking up and getting my backpack on I followed the public footpath through the gaps in the houses and up towards Bindon Hill which separated me from Lulworth Cove. In the early stages I was flanked on both sides by some very well manicured flower and vegetable patches which really were idyllic with views sprawling across the leafy village.
Views over West Lulworth from the base of Bindon Hill
Resisting the temptation to stop and brew up a coffee after 200 metres of walking I plodded on up the hill. After a time walking along narrow paths the public footpath opened up into a field and here there were a couple of groups of people striding up the hill. I noticed a couple wielding steel walking poles in their hands and a steely look of determination on their faces and I realised I was going to have to move through the gears if I wanted to beat them before the field constricted into a narrow path again. The other group of walkers were not so athletic looking and I was convinced I would breeze past them with so much fuel in my tank at this early stage of the hike. After flying past the group of puffing walkers and after a bit of a struggle, I managed to dart ahead of the Nordic walkers. We exchanged pleasantries through gritted teeth.
Skipping over the stile flamboyantly without touching anything I realised that we had now indeed entered a narrow pathway and congratulated myself on the foresight. I approached a fork in the path and with the unflappable Nordic walkers bearing down on me with military precision I had to decide quickly. Using all of my well honed natural instincts I confidently strode off on the right fork and after opening up a gap on the walkers behind I checked the map on my phone. I was heading in the wrong direction. I sheepishly made my way back to the fork in the path and joined the orderly queue behind the Nordic walkers and the slow moving group. Both sensed my presence and somewhat too merrily greeted me in chorus - obviously tickled by my mishaps. With a wall of thistles and nettles flanking the path, any hopes of hostile overtaking manouevres were dashed on my cursed, soft skin. I meekly slotted at the back of the slow moving Peloton creeping up the hill. The Nordic walkers who had all the equipment and provisions to get to the Isle of Wight by sundown made a well-timed break from the Peloton and I was powerless as they strode away from us. The rhythmic chinks of their walking sticks fading out of hearing range. A consolation was the views at the top of the hill. Looking west towards Weymouth and Portland you could see the glare of the sun reflecting of hundreds of cars parked at the Durdle Door car park which I had driven by.
Top of Bindon Hill with views out to Weymouth Bay and in the distance on the right hand side of the photo, the Durdle Door car park.
The slow moving group turned off a different path and I carried on along the crest of the hill. The Lulworth Ranges on my left are open on most weekends in the year and most of the school holidays but it is important to check before making any plans. As I started to make my way down the hill, the distinctive horseshoe shaped Lulworth Cove came into view. What a delight! I stopped pretty much every 5 metres down the slope to snap a new picture. The one below was probably the best of the bunch with clouds gathering overhead. Despite the clouds the Cove looked stunning and was littered with a nice mix of pleasure craft and fishing vessels. I could also see that the easiest access across the Cove was indeed, very busy.
Beautiful Lulworth Cove
Continuing down the hill through some thickets, rather than turn right onto the beach I followed the signs towards the Fossil Forest which took me through a wooded area and past what seemed to be a secret, fenced house. If that house is actually inhabited it must be an amazing place to live. I passed by some sheep and goats who were resting in the shade and, following the signs, started up the hill towards the Fossil Forest. At the top you are greeted by the sign shown below. The local council have done a great job of building these steps after the previous access was swept away in a landslide.
Fossil Forest Sign
The Fossil Forest looks otherworldy. The rock beds look almost lunar in places and are sheltered by cliffs on one side and low cliffs on the other leading to the swirling sea below.
Hemmed between cliff and sea
An information board a little way down the steps informs you that you are entering a site of prehistoric catastrophe. Drama! Millions of years ago a forest grew across a flat coastal landscape. Slowly the forest was drowned by rising saline waters that effectively pickled the trees. Algae deposits around the base of the pickled trees were fossilised into rounded stone shapes known as 'burrs'. Algae was apparently the only thing that could survive in the salty waters of the lagoon. The pickled wood where the wood itself was replaced by the mineral silica are unfortunately all long gone taken possibly by Victorian collectors. However, there are a few examples by the seating area.
A 'burr' - old algal build up around the tree roots
The accessible area runs for a few hundred metres away from the steps toward a radar station that sits on the cliff. Heading towards the end I could hear the cries of seagulls wheeling around in the sky. The odd shadow cast over me caused me to dart to cover as my flight mechanism was triggered. Satisfied that I didn't want to get any closer to what may have been some nesting Seagulls I looked out for good coffee spots in the cleft of rocks looking out over to sea. It wasn't hard to find a good location and happy that the Seagulls/Pterodactyls were socially distanced, I began to brew up something magical!
For this trip I had bought a ceramic V60 (brave/stupid) our Burning Cliff Seasonal Blend and all the associated paraphernalia. I managed to spark a degree of panic amongst the neighbouring Seagulls when I brandished my hand grinder and seamlessly began to furiously grind the coffee beans. After this short burst of industry, tranquility resumed. However, I did feel that the Seagulls had a new found respect for their ungainly and erratic visitor. They were a little apprehensive, unsure of what else I could create. Well, I was going to show them. Finding my perfect spot I brewed a V60 coffee using the following recipe:
- 16 g of medium-ground Burning Cliff coffee (think salt grain size)
- 250 ml of water
- Brew time of 3 minutes
Looking West towards Weymouth and Portland
After finishing I turned around and half expected a row of seagulls to be clapping their wings at me. Mildly disappointed, I turned back to the main event, the spectacular coastal views. Perched on my rocky outcrop I could soak up the panoramic views over the Jurassic coast from Weymouth and Portland in the West to St Adlhelm's head in the East. All washed down with a smooth, flavourful cup of Burning Cliff. A little slice of paradise sat at the site of a prehistoric catastrophe!