West Dorset – Dorset
The cliffs of West Dorset’s Jurassic coast are rich in prehistoric fossils, and from its Iron Age hillforts there are panoramic views over the Channel. On the remote, shingle beaches there are ammonites to discover while, inland, the flowery meadows are alive with birds and butterflies.
Kingcombe meadows, one of the best places to see wild flowers in the south of England, is still managed using traditional farming methods. Its network of small fields, ponds and ancient green lanes is a delight to explore and the whole area is a blaze of colour in spring and summer. Nearby Powerstock is home to exquisite bee orchids and many rare butterflies, while tiny Loscombe is the place to see snake’s head fritillaries.
On the western side of the region are many hill forts, including Pilsdon Pen. For a long time, this was considered Dorset’s highest point, until adjacent Lewesdon Hill was measured and found to be a few feet higher. Another nearby hill fort, Lambert’s Castle was used as a signalling station by the admiralty in the early 19th century to warn of a possible French invasion by Napoleon’s forces. Like Pilsdon, Lambert’s Castle also has a single ditch and rampart, and was site of an annual fair from 1709. There was even a horse-racing track and parts are still visible in the south-west corner.
To the south are Dorset’s ancient holloways, sunken lanes used by cattle drovers, now almost completely roofed over by a latticework of branches. None is more impressive than Hell Lane, a dark underworld with banks more than 4 metres high in places. Rising up out of the landscpe, the great rocky shoulder of Golden Cap is greensand, which is more resistant to erosion than the surrounding clay. On a clear day you can gaze out in every direction and there are views across Lyme Bay to Dartmoor.
There is incredible ecological diversity in Lyme Bay’s clear, coastal waters. Around 300 species of plants and animals, including the pink sea-fan, the rare sunset coral, sponges and starfish have all been recorded here. Stretches of wild foreshore are, however, hard to access but a steep flight of steps, beyond ruined St Gabriel’s chapel, leads down to one of the remotest parts – and probably the best place to find fossils.