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7 of the best winter walks in Dorset

Dorset is a county that shines in summer and sparkles in winter. From the majesty of the Jurassic Coast to the acres of magical woodlands, there are plenty of routes to blow away the cobwebs and help beat those winter blues.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your hat and scarf and let’s go exploring this winter wonderland we call home!

Take a look at our table of contents to skip to a winter walking spot near you.

7 winter walks in Dorset

Here are 7 of our team’s favourite places to get out and about this winter:

1.      Corfe Castle

Voted one of the best winter walks in the UK, Corfe Castle is just a 20-minute drive from Poole. Built back in 1086, this magnificent fortress was built for William the Conqueror, but was partially destroyed in the 17th century. What makes Corfe such a great spot for a winter walk is the variety of routes you can take, all showcasing the stunning surrounding scenery. Take an easy 2.5-mile circular stroll from the castle to East Hill for some incredible panoramic views of the castle and Corfe village.

If you’re up for more of a challenge, try the Corfe Castle to Kimmeridge and Kingston route, a 9.6-mile circular walk that takes you along the bay of Kimmeridge, then up to the Swyre Head for spectacular views of the coast and the countryside, before returning via the picturesque village of Kingston.

LiveWell tip: Head to Corfe Castle on 21st December and witness the sun rise over East Hill for the winter solstice.

Is Corfe Castle dog-friendly? Dogs on leads are welcome at Corfe Castle and water bowls are provided at the Welcome Centre, outside the ticket office and just inside the entrance of the castle.

Where to park? The West Street car park (BH20 5EB) is ideal for visiting the village and Castle. During winter months, you can park for up to four hours for £3.50.

2.      Upton Country Park

With its 140 acres of beautiful ornamental gardens, woodland and shoreline, Upton Country Park offers a variety of walks for all abilities and interests, from short and easy-to-follow strolls to longer and more challenging hikes. The Georgian Grade II* listed Upton House looks resplendent on a bright frosty day and the country park itself is a haven of tranquillity, offering a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of Poole, with a chance to admire birds and wild animals in their native habitat.

LiveWell tip: Visit the main Upton Park website where you’ll find a range of seasonal and festive activities for all the family to enjoy!

Is Upton Country Park dog-friendly? One of the most dog-friendly locations on the list, Upton Country Park has implemented the ‘Paw Prints’ code which signposts the areas dogs can be off lead and where they must be kept on lead.

Where to park? The main country park pay and display car park (BH17 7BJ) is open daily and costs £5 for up to four hours’ parking.

3.      Hengistbury Head, Southbourne

Hengistbury Head is a wonderful spot that bustles with activity in the summer but offers a far more peaceful experience for a bracing yomp during the colder months. Rich in history and culture, Hengistbury Head is a treasure trove of wildlife, archaeology and breath-taking views across the Isle of Wight and Purbecks. For those seeking a leisurely stroll, follow the tarmac path for a 3.7-mile circular walk, which takes in the windswept dunes of Mudeford Sandbank and the most iconic (and expensive) beach huts in the country!

LiveWell tip: Look out for the UK’s rarest amphibian, the Natterjack Toad, who can be spotted in and around the protected manmade ponds.

Is Hengistbury Head dog-friendly? Hengistbury Head is a nature reserve so dogs should be kept on a lead in most areas. Check out this map highlighting where dogs can be off lead during your visit.

Where to park? There is a large car park for visitors to Hengistbury Head (BH6 4EN). During winter months, up to four hours’ parking costs £4.20.

4.      Thorncombe Woods

This enchanting and diverse ancient woodland is home to trees including mature oaks, sweet chestnut and beech.  The woods also boast the birthplace of famous novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, where his picturesque, thatched cottage remains (although is sadly closed to the public during the winter months).

There are several routes to choose from for a great winter stroll. Follow the well-preserved roman road that runs through the woodland, giving way to Black Heath where you might spot a small herd of Dartmoor ponies. The Thomas Hardy Walk is less than a mile long but packs a lot in along the way (including water meadows, working farms, heathlands and Hardy’s cottage) or extend your walk to include nearby areas, such as Puddletown Forest or Dorchester.

LiveWell tip: Visit Dorset Council website where you can download some great walking trails through Thorncombe Woods.

Is Thorncombe Woods dog-friendly? There are a variety of dog-friendly trails, although dogs must be on leads at certain times of the year in areas of the woodland and heath.

Where to park? The main car park (DT2 8QH) is run by Dorset Council and costs £1 per hour. There is an automatic number plate recognition system is in place.

5.      Rodwell Trail

Running from Weymouth to Portland, this fully surfaced 2-mile trail follows a disused passenger railway line. With stunning sea views along the way, Rodwell Trail is the perfect place to blow away the cobwebs. En route you’ll pass Sandsfoot Castle, built by Henry Vlll in 1542, and its magnificent cliff top garden overlooking Portland Harbour. You’ll also spot some old station platforms and witness a variety of diverse wildlife, including overwintering birds such as overwintering birds such as the Great Northern Diver or Mergansers.

LiveWell tip: The route is very popular with cyclists, even in winter, so please keep dogs on leads and keep an ear / eye out for bikes along the way.

Is Rodwell Trail dog-friendly? The trail is great for dogs with lots of interesting sights and smells along the way for your four-legged friend to enjoy. Due to the route being used by cyclists and pedestrians alike, dogs should be kept on a lead at all times.

Where to park? There is parking available at Melcombe Regis car park (DT4 7DW) which costs £5.30 for up to four hours. At the Portland end of the route, use Chesil Beach car park (DT4 9XE), also £5.30 for up to four hours.

6.      Old Harry Rocks

This 4-mile route marking the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast has it all – Narnia-esque woodlands, majestic sea views and dramatic chalk cliffs. Starting from South Beach in Studland, follow the coastal path along the cliffs, savouring the fine views across Poole Bay to Bournemouth, Hengistbury Head and the Isle of Wight. Continue along the headland to Ballard Point, where you’ll spot Old Harry’s Wife rock stack and the Agglestone Rock, a huge sandstone boulder. Finally, make your way back down to Studland village and warm up by the fire in the Bankes Arms pub.

LiveWell tip: Look out for peregrine falcons circling high in the sky. This incredible falcon can fold back its wings and attack its prey with incredible speed. Listen out for its unmistakable piercing cry.

Is Old Harry Rocks dog-friendly? Dogs are welcome at Old Harry Rocks but should be kept on the lead at all times due to the sheer cliff edges.

Where to park? Pay and display car parking is available at South Beach (BH19 3AU), owned by the National Trust. Parking is free to members and £5 for a day’s parking for non-members.

7.      Charmouth Beach

While Dorset’s beaches can become a magnet for sunseekers during the summer, Charmouth stands apart as a winter gem, having recently been crowned the best winter beach in the world by Lonely Planet Travel Guide. As you walk along the shore, it’s not hard to see why. This beach is renowned for its fossils, especially in winter months when more are washed up on the shore due to the rough seas. After a bracing walk along the beach, head inland towards the picturesque Charmouth village for a look around the local shops and cafes, or for a longer, more challenging hike, take the 5-mile trail to the iconic Golden Cap, the highest point along the south coast.

LiveWell tip: Take a guided fossil walk with a Charmouth Heritage Coast warden where you’ll discover the best places for finding fossils and learn tips and tricks on how to hunt for them.

Is Charmouth Beach dog-friendly? On the east side of the beach, dogs are welcome all year round with no restriction but on the west part, dogs are banned from May to September.

Where to park? The main beach car park can be found on the left towards the end of Lower Sea Lane (DT6 6LL) costing up to £5 for a whole day’s parking.

Want to get more active this winter?

Walking is a fantastic form of exercise, whatever the weather. It can be enjoyed alone or with a group and has multiple benefits for your physical and mental health. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a penny!

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or prefer a casual stroll on a frosty day, here in Dorset we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to great places to walk this winter. If you’d like to find more great places to stretch the legs, or are looking for walking groups in your area, head over to our website for more information.

We also have a fantastic team of advisors and coaches who can put together a personalised plan to help you get more active and achieve your fitness goals. Register today to find out more.

Further reading

Georgina

"In January 2019, I was five stone heavier. Now, with the weight loss, parkrun and netball, my anxiety has improved tenfold."

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