- From the bottom corner of the car park, by the Heritage Centre, take the right-hand footpath opposite to follow the South West Coast Path along the lane to the viewpoint above Stair Hole.
The rocks here, ranging from 150 million years old on the left to 60 million years old on the right, were formed underwater and were later tilted by the collision of continents. Some 10,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age, an enormous river of glacial meltwater carved a passage to the sea through the rock, and the sea flooded in, completely eroding the softer rocks behind the hard headland of Portland limestone and creating Lulworth Cove.
Over time, the pounding of the waves has continued to sculpt the rocks around the cove. Having to bend around the hard Portland limestone, the waves lost their energy at the point where they curved, depositing small particles of sand and shingle. Where they entered the cove head-on, losing none of their force, they piled up heavy rounded pebbles at the base of the chalk cliffs.
Winter storms cut away the base of these cliffs, loosening the rocks higher up and causing intermittent rockfalls. Where cracks and weaknesses existed in the rocks the waves carved these into caves, and as the trapped air was compressed in these caves by the action of the water so it escaped through cracks in the roof of the cave, slowly enlarging them to create blowholes. The caves were further eroded to arches, like those at Stair Hole, and these in turn disintegrated into stacks.
The fascinating 'Lulworth crumple' visible in the cliffs at Stair Hole was formed as the bands of softer shale collapsed under their own weight, leaving the alternating bands of limestone to topple against one another.
- From the viewpoint follow the Coast Path steeply downhill to Lulworth Cove, crossing the head of the beach to carry on up the steps.
For several centuries fishing was a major part of the local economy, but at the end of the nineteenth century fish stocks declined enormously. The last big mackerel shoal spotted in the cove was in 1946, and now just two boats fish commercially from Lulworth, landing crabs and lobsters. The biggest potential catch in history was in 1785, when a whale blundered into the cove; but despite the locals' best attempts to kill it, it managed to swim out to sea again.
- Follow the Coast Path steeply uphill, forking right with it towards the top to continue to climb, but more gently, around the cove to the far side.
Conservation methods here include using grazing ponies to control the more invasive plant species, and the result is fine grassland, bright with gorse blossom and dotted with a wide array of wildflowers. Tall stands of yellow evening primrose and blue viper's bugloss are interspersed with the pink and purple streaked blooms of the sea tree mallow. At ground level yellow-flowred bird's-foot trefoil winds around clover and speckled white sea campion, and clumps of pink and white valerians draw butterflies to the banks and walls where they flourish. Other species found here include cowslip, milkwort, scabious and wild parsnip, and in the summer the air is filled with the sound of crickets and grasshoppers.
- At the fork take the path ascending steeply to the left, away from the Coast Path, to the access gate to the MOD range.
- Going through the gate into the range, carry on straight ahead along the track towards the mast. When the path forks, continue on the track along the ridge of Bindon Hill, following the yellow posts throughout.
People have defended this high ground since prehistoric times. There is a Bronze Age burial mound on Hambury Hill dating from 1900 BC, and the ditches of a Celtic hillfort from 400 BC are still visible on Bindon Hill. A Roman grave dating from the first century AD was discovered on a nearby farm, and the ranges are said to be haunted still by a Roman army. In 1678 Captain John Lawrence fled to Wareham to raise the alarm after sighting a phantom brigade of several thousand soldiers! The first written record of an army based here was in 1794, when the Dorset Volunteer Rangers force was raised to counter the Napoleonic threat. It was disbanded after Napoleon was defeated, but after the harvest failed in 1799 widespread poverty led to poaching and sheep stealing and the Rangers were reformed in 1830 to deal with the subsequent unrest among agricultural workers. The First World War brought the army to Lulworth, and land was obtained for the new Tank Corps in 1917. The following year the area of the range was expanded and moving targets installed on rails.
From the top of the ridge Lulworth Castle is visible inland towards Wareham. In 1929 the early seventeenth century hunting lodge was destroyed by fire, but it was restored during the twentieth century and reopened in 1998 by English Heritage.
- After dropping gently downhill for about half a mile the path forks again. Fork right this time, back onto the Coast Path towards Lulworth and descend steeply to where the path forks again, above the beach.
- Fork left to continue on the Coast Path, around the tiny cove and onwards past the radar station, ignoring the paths to your right, which head inland, to round the point above Lulworth Cove.
Little Bindon was built by Cistercian monks in 1149, but just a few years later, in 1172, they left for Bindon Abbey, in Wool.
The fossil forest, on MOD land at the eastern end of Lulworth Cove, are the remnants of a coniferous forest from late Jurassic or early Cretaceous times, about 140 million years ago, when the sea flooded in and reclaimed the land. The 'tufa' or craters in the rock were formed from fossilised rings of algae that grew around the tree trunks in a forest where dinosaurs walked.
- Either drop down the path to the beach to return around the cove, or carry on along the path back to 4 and retrace your steps above the cliffs. At 3 take the road back up to the car park and the start of the walk.