Chesil Beach Spit walk

Remote walk along the length of an iconic shinge spit with views inland and out to see. Shingle! Sep-Mar only. Check firing times!

Warning

You can only do this walk (a) from September to March (access restrictions) and (b) when the firing range is open - you MUST check the firing times beforehand.

There is 9 miles of shingle walking.

Length 10.4 miles (16.7 km) with 350 feet (100 m) of ascent (all at the end)
OS Maps OS Explorer 15 (Purbek and South Dorset)
Toughness 10 out of 10 - not the ascent, the shingle!
Walk Notes

Chesil Beach is an iconic shingle tombolo (spit) of 180 billion pebbles that runs parallel to the Dorset coast, from the Isle of Portland causeway in the south east, to Abbotsbury in the north west. This walk is along its entire length, with uninterrupted views out to sea, and inland over the brackish Fleet Lagoon that separates it from the mainland.

The shingle spit, and lagoon behind it part of Fleet and Chesil National Nature Reserve (NNR).

The south/east end of the spit is public, the centre is part of an army firing range, and the north/west end is private land with a spring/summer close season.

This is a very interesting walk, but it has some serious drawbacks:

  • Almost the entire walk (8 miles) is over shingle (walking boots advised!).
  • You cannot do this walk from 1st May - 31st August. The north/west part of the spit, from Abbotsbury (the concrete "Tank Teeth") to the Portland Boundary Stone (a small square stone set in the shingle), is closed during breeding season due to ground nesting birds. Outside these times, you must remain on the outer flank (seaward side), below the crest of the beach, See accessing the reserve.
  • You cannot do this walk when the Chickerell army firing range is operational. The range is in the middle of the spit. It is closed to the public about 150 days a year. You must check firing times beforehand.
  • The walk is very exposed in windy/stormy weather. There is no shelter. There are no drop out points. Do not do in bad weather - see pictures on the 'geology' site below. Take plenty of water and in summer, a hat!
  • Swimming from the spit is not advised ('a strong undertow in some wave conditions')
  • The walk is very 'samey' after a while
  • The NNR does not encourage access: "... this is something we discourage. There are negative environmental impacts with lots of people walking Chesil and safety issues when inexperienced or unprepared people walking the beach."

The South West Coast Path ("SWCP") does not go along Chesil Beach, but along the land side of Fleet Lagoon behind it. It has good views of Chesil Beach. It a lovely walk, but does not compare to the nearby Wessex Ridgeway or SWCP coastal walks.

Technically Chesil Beach is 18 miles and runs from Portland at Chesil Cove, past Abbotsbury (where the spit rejoins the mainland), to Westbay in Bridport, so this walk is only walking part of the beach.

Links

Walk Options

A short out and back walk from either the NW / Abbotsbury (Sep-Mar only) or the SE / Isle of Portland (year round) access point car parks.

Restrictions

The north west and middle of the spit (about 3/4 of it) is private land.

  • it is closed from 1st April to 31st August due to nesting birds (from the fence by the "Dragon's Teeth" anti-tank blocks at the Abbotsbury end) to the "Portland boundary stone" in the middle
  • the lagoon side of the ridge is always closed (fragile environment) - stick to the crest or seaward shore. An exception is a few small areas where there are fishing huts (they're 'obvious'), and, in an emergency, to shelter from wind or waves.

The south eastern end of the spit (about 1/4 of the it) is public land, and always open apart from the firing range.

  • there are regular closures due to Chickerell army firing range, about 150 days a year
  • Firing times are published a month in advance. There is no firing after dark if you are planning a moonlight walk.
Emergency Contacts
  • Chesil Beach Centre: 01305 760579.
  • NNR Office : 01305 760579
  • Staff at Abbotsbury Swannery : 01305 871684
  • Local coastguard : 01305 760439.
Trip Report
... it's not that bad a walk as is made out. I've done the walk along Chesil Beach in front of the Fleet myself and as long as you take plenty to drink and allow plenty of time, it's fine. It is of course not the most varied of walks, but it's very interesting nonetheless (photos from that walk - flickr)
JC
Geology

Current thinking is that the beach isn't a 'spit' (caused by deposition of pebbles washed along the coast by tides), but a 'tombolo' (a barrier beach, sandbar, or in this case, shingle bank) instead.

The shingle is not moving (or hardly moving) along the beach, nor being replenished, so eventually (in a geological timeframe), the shingle 'wall' will be breached, unless man made repairs are made (as was done to Hurst Point Spit closer to Southampton).

The shingle extends beyond Abbotsbury as far north as West Bay, but has been covered by the crumbling cliffs.

If interested, Ian West's Chesil Beach Geology site, with current and historical photos for comparison, as well as storm photos, is highly recommended.

Travel

Trains go from London Waterloo to Weymouth, and take about 3 hours. Consider Advance Singles rather than a period return instead. There are (were?) occasional SWT Promotions, e.g. £15 day trips in summer 2014.

X53 Bus : Weymouth (station) - Abbotsbury. Jurassic Coast bus serves. Much more frequent in summer. [2019] Week tickets, and Group day tickets good value. Adult day tickets expensive.

Out: Take a regular local bus from Weymouth station to the Isle of Portland Causeway.

Back: From Abbotsbury, take the X53 'Jurassic Coast' bus to Weymouth station.

Car drivers: Park in Abbotsbury. Change buses in Weymouth.

Access Points

  • South East: DT4 9XE. By the Isle of Portland Causeway. Massive car park. Large cafe. Regular buses (Weymouth - Isle of Portland). Parking: £1/hour, cheaper in winter.
  • North West: DT3 4LA. Abbotsbury's beach, past the Subtropical Gardens. Parking £3 (per day only, when the cafe is open). Small cafe. It might be better to park in Abbotsbury viullage, by the bus stop.
Eat
  • Taste Cafe - Chesil Beach (SE end), by the Isle of Portland Causeway car park. Picture windows. Parking £1/hr (summer), 50p/hour (winter)
  • The summer only cafe at Abbotsbury beach (NW end) or pubs in Abbotsbury.
Nearby

If you're in the area: Weymouth's 'Old Harbour', the viewpoint from 'The Heights' hotel on the Isle of Portland (and beyond it to The Verne hill), Portland Bill, Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens and St Catherine's Chapel.

Not en-route, but with a spectacular view over the spit (and a 1/4 of the SWCP)

  • The Jailhouse Cafe 10am-3pm, inside The Verne Prison, Portland DT5 1EQ
  • The Heights Hotel - At the top of the road up the Isle of Portland hill, DT5 2EN. Coffee shop / bar / restaurant with terrace
Abbotsbury

Abbotsbury is a picturesque historic village with some special tourist attractions:

  • Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens - very highly recommended. DT3 4JT. £12.50. Free with HHA membership. 2-4-1 with Gardener's World annual scheme.
  • The Swannery
  • St Catherine's Chapel - idyllic location on a small hill with stunning views. All that remains of a dissolved Abbey. English Heritage. Free entry (when open), but worth a visit for the view alone.
  • Chesil Beach - the town's beach is at one end of the 10 mile long Chesil Beach spit (or shingle bar). Continue on past the tropical gardens to the car park DT3 4JT. Cafe (summer only). Parking £3 when the cafe's open. The spit is closed Apr-Aug (so open Sep-Mar). Chesil Beach : [wikipedia] [geology] [nature reserve].

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Start Isle of Portland Causeway car park, DT4 9XE Map Directions

Finish Abbotsbury, Dorset Map Directions

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Version

Aug-19

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