By Gillian Thornton for Silver Travel Advisor
Standing respectfully back from the cliff edge beside Old Harry Rocks, I’m thrilled to get a clear view across the water to The Needles off the Isle of Wight. For someone who always loved physical geography lessons at school, it’s very special to be standing at the eastern end of one of the world’s most unique coastlines.
In millennia gone by, the Old Harry Rocks and The Needles were part of a continuous land mass, gradually eroded by the sea to leave two groups of chalk stacks. Today Old Harry marks the east Dorset end of the UNESCO-listed Jurassic Coast which runs westward for 95 miles to Exmouth in Devon.
Any outdoor person will tell you that walking is good for both body and soul, but I’d go one further. Group walking trips should be available on the NHS, the perfect antidote to lethargy, loneliness and any fit of the blues. There’s nothing quite like following a footpath in good company to boost the mood. So a spring break with HF Holidays along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast ticked all my boxes. Spectacular coastal scenery, like-minded company and the promise of HF’s plentiful home-cooked food.
My base for four nights was West Lulworth House a short walk from the iconic horseshoe bay that is Lulworth Cove. Built in 1881 and brought bang up to date with all modern facilities and stylish decor, the property is open most of the year, but if you want to stay here, you’ll need to book ahead. The 22 well-appointed rooms with views over the village to sea and hills are very popular. But you’ll find similar facilities and an equally warm welcome at all of HF’s 18 country houses.
West Lulworth House follows the company’s tried-and-tested formula – a choice of guided walks each day with qualified, knowledgeable leaders with accommodation on a full-board basis. Spring and winter walkers may find a pub lunch or afternoon tea replacing the usual al fresco picnic, a popular comfort break in case of inclement weather. In March however, just a week after the Siberian snows sent temperatures plummeting across Britain, I was blessed with blue skies and a light sea breeze. Stunning doesn’t even come close.
My three days of walking involved two pub lunches – food choices selected the night before – and one of HF’s fabulous picnics. Dinners are all home-cooked and eaten companionably around large tables in the pretty dining room with panoramic windows over the village. And if you are one of the many people suffering from food intolerances, be reassured – many of their home-cooked dishes are marked Gluten Free and managers Mark and Lisa bent over backwards to accommodate my travel companion’s additional allergies.
Just as menu choices are made each evening for the day ahead, so too are the walks. In spring we had a choice of two each day, Easier and Harder. Summer clients generally have a third option. Our routes were all between 4 and 8 miles, one starting direct from West Lulworth House, the other two involving a short journey by coach to the start with pick-up afterwards.
This section of the Jurassic Coast does not involve the rugged ascents of mountain landscapes, but there are some long, steady climbs. It is not however beyond the capabilities of any regular rambler, and stops for drinks, snacks or photo moments ensured that nobody felt overstretched. Along the way, our excellent local guides Kai and Jo added to my rusty school knowledge of this unique coastline.
It’s one thing to read about chalk and greensand, Purbeck Beds and Portland Stone, but quite another to see the coloured rock layers jutting out into the sea. The horseshoe shape of Lulworth Cove and the natural arch of Durdle Door still pull visitors by the thousands, but in spring, we were almost alone, and every step brought new views, both coastal and inland.
We walked across protected heathland with views of Poole harbour; headed over chalk downs to the song of skylarks; and stood on shingle beaches to the soothing sound of the sea. After three days on the trail, I’d walked around 22 miles, eaten some great food, and met some really lovely people. I felt energised but mentally relaxed and my bathroom scales proved that walking in the fresh air does a great job of burning off calories.
So what’s not to like? Honestly nothing. So if you’ve ever fancied a walking holiday but hesitated, don’t. An HF holidays short break is the perfect option with its daily choice of routes. All you have to do is turn up and put one sturdy walking boot in front of the other – everything else is done for you. And if you fancy a day off the trail, that’s fine too.
One lady who had damaged her knee since booking still came with her sister-in-law and simply drove herself to local attractions such as Corfe Castle and Swanage. Another woman let her husband do the walking one day whilst she sat in the sun at Lulworth Cove. And the company can be invigorating too. I walked with a lovely young French girl living in Oxford and a lady from Bergen in Norway, together putting Europe to rights as we tramped the undulations of Dorset. Just three days on the trail, but an immeasurable boost to both wellbeing and fitness!
For more information about HF Holidays call 0203 974 8878 or visit www.hfholidays.co.uk.
HF Holidays offer a Book and Travel with Confidence policy which includes flexible booking and full financial protection for all holidays. Their country houses are Covid-compliant; they only work with handpicked partners who are ‘Covid-compliant’ ; and they only operate and travel to locations that are deemed ‘Covid safe’ by the FCDO.