Somewhere that is always magical, always inspirational and always a good reminder to count our blessings, Stonebarrow is one of our favourite places as a family.
On the hills between Charmouth’s fossil beaches and Golden Cap’s breathtaking views, Stonebarrow is perfect for walking, for anyone and everyone. Criss-crossed with footpaths and directly leading to the South West Coast Path, it offers everything from a ten-minute leg stretch on the flat, to a potentially endless hike over hills and cliff tops and through wildflower meadows and gorse thickets. We have walked from Stonebarrow over Golden Cap to The Anchor Inn at Seatown and back again, (quite a challenge on the way home as the food at The Anchor is particularly good, and you will not get out of there without a pudding) and erosion permitting, you can walk down to the little beach at St Gabriel’s, where I found my very first fossil whilst on a school camping trip. (As of February the steps are closed until further notice, as they have disappeared down the cliff!) You can be as energetic as you like (staying away from the cliff edges, which are constantly collapsing), or just pack a Thermos of tea and some sandwiches and indulge in that most British of pastimes and sit in the car looking at the view.
The top part of Stonebarrow is heathy, with paths through gorse, hawthorn and bracken and little grassy clearings which are buzzing with insects in the summer. Lower down, around Westhay Farm, there are some spectacular wildflower meadows, with lots of wildflowers including several different orchids, hay rattle, knapweeds and lots of butterflies on a sunny day. Further down still you have closely cropped grassland, leading to the cliff edges and land slips so typical of the area.
The varied habitats mean a rich variety of wildlife, with birds including larks, buzzards, and the occasional peregrine, and I have see a red kite down there, which is not a regular sight in these parts.
Managed by the National Trust, it strikes a nice balance between convenience and wildness. There is an old WWII radar station which has been converted into a small shop and cafe, which is open from Easter to October. They also run events from there, including an Easter Egg Hunt on April 14th, and a guided Orchid Walk on May 1st. We did an orienteering session once, and a pirate trail when the children were younger; just check the National Trust website to see what’s on. I have also just discovered whilst writing this that there is a Smuggler’s Trail; starting from the Information Centre, this is a self-guided trail with a map, activity sheets and even accompanying music and commentary available to download from the AONB website. What a brilliant way to get children engaged with the outdoors and British history!
Stonebarrow is part of the wider Golden Cap estate. This is a real jewel in the Jurassic Coast’s crown, with some fantastic walking, wildlife and views. Last week during half term we met friends at the Golden Cap car park at Langdon Hill (just east of Morecombelake on the A35) and had a lovely walk around Langdon Woods, up Golden Cap and back down around some very Hardy-esque sunken lanes. There is a nice natural playground at Langdon Woods, and the level, gravelled path makes it idea for a pushchair walk.
I really can’t recommend Stonebarrow highly enough. The light is always spectacular, and in any season there is always something to see. The more you visit, the more you discover new paths and routes, and the farms and ruins dotted about are so reminiscent of Famous Five adventures it feels almost obligatory to load up with lashings of ginger beer and set off to find your own little glade for a picnic. Children love it, dogs love it, and I think anyone who visits will fall for the peace, the fresh sea air and the beautifully framed glimpses of Golden Cap and sweeping sea views.