- From Beach Road car park walk down to Hive Beach.
On the hill beyond the car park, to the left, is a bowl barrow known as Bind Barrow, dating back to the Late Neolithic (Stone Age) or Bronze Age, between 2500 BC and 701 BC. It was damaged by military activity during the Second World War, leaving an area of concrete on the top, and there is a wartime gun emplacement and pillbox nearby.
Lyme Bay was Hitler's target invasion zone, with Bridport and Hive Beach identified as the ideal landing spot for his 1940 Operation Sealion invasion plan. The whole stretch of coastline from Bridport to Portland became the UK's 'Stop Line' against invading forces, and there are many lookouts, gun emplacements and pillboxes on the slopes between the coast and the high ridges behind.
Later in the war, when the Allies were planning a raid on Dieppe, soldiers took part in exercises near Bridport, with Burton Bradstock the main focus. British Commandos and US Rangers used the cliffs between Hive Beach and Freshwater to train for the cliff climbing necessary to silence the guns stationed at Pointe du Hoc in Normandy.
In Burton Bradstock village there is a seat, dated 1994, marking the 50th anniversary of D-Day and recalling the US Troops billeted in the village.
Burton Cliff is a dramatic tower of Bridport Sands that looks as though it belongs in a desert landscape. The sandstone is broken down into horizontal strata, or layers, which were formed as sand was deposited at the bottom of the sea during the Lower Jurassic period, about 175 million years ago. Some of the strata are harder than the ones between them, making them more resistant to erosion, or weathering so that they stand out on the cliff face. There is more calcium carbonate in these bands, acting as a cement, and it is thought that this was as a result of stormy seas washing in more organic material, such as seashells.
At the top of the cliffs, and elsewhere on the beach, there is a layer of younger oolitic limestone. Oolitic limestones form in shallow sandbanks and they are composed of tiny round structures like pearls, known as ooliths. These started out as grains of sand or fragments of seashell, and as they rolled around in the sea they became coated in calcium carbonate. There are chunks of this limestone on the beach, where they have fallen from the cliffs, and like the rest of the local coastline, they are rich in fossils ammonites, shellfish and sponges.
Because of the danger of rockfalls, keep clear of the cliffs. Another hazard is the sea, which shelves steeply and has a strong undertow, so don't be tempted in. Dogs are not permitted on the beach between June and September inclusive.
- From the beach retrace your steps towards the car park, but before you reach it turn left onto the South West Coast Path, heading towards Freshwater and West Bay. Be aware of the diversion that was put in place in 2013. This diversion is now the permanent route. The re-routed SWCP goes inland before cutting back towards Burton Cliff just beyond the road. Ignore the footpath to the right at 2 (unless you want a shortcut back to Burton Bradstock).
The calcium-rich high cliffs give rise to an area of maritime grassland, providing a good habitat for wildlife, and clumps of pink-headed thrift grow in abundance along the cliff-edge, as well as mallow plants with their much larger pink and purple blooms. Many other plants flourish here, including the yellow-flowered bird's-foot trefoil, pink pyramidal orchids and aromatic wild thyme. The flowers attract insects, such as grasshoppers and the wonderfully-named green tiger beetles and bloody-nosed beetles. Butterflies found here include common blues and wall browns, as well as the Lulworth skipper, and nationally endangered miner bees and wasps burrow in the soft soil towards Freshwater.
Look out for herring gulls, fulmars and peregrine falcons nesting on the cliff ledges, and in the summer keep an eye open for dolphins swimming offshore.
- At Freshwater, follow the South West Coast Path inland as it heads to a footbridge over a stream.
The spectacularly sculpted banks of shingle on the beach at Freshwater are the result of careful work carried out by the Environment Agency to protect the free flow of the River Bride, continually under threat from the perpetual motion of the pebbles on Chesil Beach.
- Ignoring the bridge, take the footpath to the right, joining the lane at Southover.
- Crossing the road, climb the steps in the hedge opposite and continue ahead a short distance along the footpath. Bear slightly right across the field, towards the right-hand houses, to come out by the car park on Beach Road.