Golden Cap is the highest point on the South Coast of England! This prominent bump on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, whoops the pants off Beachy Head being almost a fifth taller in the “our coastal feature is bigger than yours” stakes.
At an official 191 metres above sea level, this distinctively flat-topped hill overlooking Lyme Bay is about 30 metres higher than Beachy Head and around twice the height of the White Cliff’s of Dover.
Why then, you might ask, don’t more people know about it?
Well, compared to Beachy Head, Golden Cap doesn’t make the news as often, thankfully, and unlike Dover’s White Cliffs, it’s not on major ferry routes nor has Vera Lynn been singing about it for the last seventy years!
All of which makes Golden Cap something of an unsung beauty of England’s South Coast. But unsung, literally or otherwise, does not mean unloved.
Owned by the National Trust, along with much of the surrounding landscape, Golden Cap is the focal point of a network of footpaths worthy of a piece of Swiss cheese. It is also part of a chunk of Countryside Access land, which in combination with more “access land” covering nearby woods on Langdon Hill, means room for roaming.
As it is also on the South West Coast Path, Golden Cap, is frequented by serious walkers doing the South West tour as well as Sunday afternoon dog walkers. This can make the “summit” seem a little crowded at times, as it is an ideal point to break for lunch, to catch your breath or to take in the view.
And what a view there is, to the East you can look down on Seatown and all along the coast to Portland. To the west there’s a unique view of Lyme Regis and the curve of Lyme Bay right round to the tip of Devon. There’s also a stunning inland view towards Morcombelake, rich in greens and patch-worked with small fields and full, lush hedges. Look South and there’s nothing but sea and sky.
This is, without doubt a truly beautiful spot, but despite its high vantage point, or perhaps because of it, the views from Golden Cap are not necessarily the best or most striking you’ll find along the Dorset coast.
The combination of height and the way the hillside drops away sharply to either side lends a slightly two-dimensional feel to the vistas, lovely though they are. With much of what would be the foreground and middle-distance almost 200 metres below, large chunks of the view are essentially birds-eye.
But when it comes to high places, the view is only part of the attraction. There’s also the challenge of getting there. Those doing the South West Coast Path will approach Golden Cap either from Seatown or Charmouth. Both routes mean a steady slog from near sea-level to the viewing point at the top. Those just interested in a local walk can also follow these routes, parking at Seatown, or for a longer walk Charmouth.
For the less energetic, the cheats’ route is to Park in the National Trust car park at Langdon Hill, just off the A35 West of Chideock.
Parking here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, is free to National Trust Members, but by “Pay and Display” if you’re not. You then have a 3 mile round trip to Golden Cap itself, mostly through coniferous woodland. The wood itself is pleasant, but walking through it is not unlike walking through many others like it. It offers only fleeting glimpses of the landscape that lies beyond. Only on emerging at the Southern most tip can Golden Cap and the coast be seen in all their glory. From here it’s just a short walk to the top.
If heights aren’t your thing, you’ll want to know that much of the cliff-top is unfenced and the drop severe on the seaward side. Paths and steps close to the top show the usual conflict between beautiful places and the footfalls of people wanting to see them. This, combined with the steepness of the walk could be off-putting to some.
But this is not a walk in the park, and the extent to which parts of it may feel that way, is the very small extent to which one’s enjoyment of this beautiful spot may be diminished!
Some will climb Golden Cap because they are on their way to somewhere else. Others will climb it to look at the view. And some, just because it is there. Whatever the reason, once they get to the top, no one on the South Coast will be higher!
Add that to the chips flying from a thousand clattering hammers and there can be quite a bit of Jurassic shrapnel flying about!"