The Jurassic Coast - Jay Birmingham

The Jurassic Coast

I am sometimes asked if I have a photography ‘bucket-list’. In general I don’t – I like to try my own angles at places, and am always more pleased with the shots I take that are different. However, there is one shot I do want to take, and that is of Corfe Castle shrouded in mist. Dorset is home to some wonderful photographers, and I have seen some magical photographs taken by them, so I would like one of my own. I have taken shots of Corfe Castle before, but never in the mist.

With this in mind, my wife and I went to spend a week in Dorset. This really is a beautiful part of the world – jagged rocks, lighthouses, misty moors, ruined castles, rolling hills and sandy beaches to name but a few of its features. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may recall my winter gamble, when I visited in order to take the only other photograph on my ‘bucket-list’ – the ‘through the keyhole’ shot of the sun rising through Durdle Door. That gamble did pay off, and we wanted some more of that magic this time.

Through the Keyhole

We tried to visit as many places as we could during this week. On the first day, we did a wonderful cliff-top walk, which was a tiny portion of the South-West Coast Path (that is 630 miles – we did about 16!). It was a phenomenal day – two good friends were with us, so it was fabulous to catch up with them, and it was also a good opportunity to do a recci for some of the locations I wanted to visit at sunrise later in the week.

On our walk we visited St Aldhelm's Chapel. Whilst there are many pictures of the outside of it in muddy conditions, I really liked the inside - especially with the bright sunlight streaming through the door and window.

We visited Peveril Point for sunrise on two occasions – this is at the most southern part of Swanage. The first occasion was clear and gave us a bit of colour (and also the opportunity to meet Pete Humphry, who takes some wonderful photographs).

The second occasion had very interesting weather (and the only time of the week we had to wear our waterproofs). Both times we visited, we watched a man rowing past the point, and then back again. He must do this every day, as he expertly guided his boat through the rocks amidst the crashing waves on his return journey.

I also visited Swanage during the daytime, to take long exposures of the old pier, and the groynes when the tide was in.

Dancing Ledge was another sunrise location. This is on the Jurassic Coastline, and is a little tricky to get to, as you have to scramble down a small cliff to get there. It was a popular Victorian bathing spot and a small pool was blasted into the rock for local schools to use.

The next bay along houses the sea-cliff quarries of Seacombe. This was another bracing start to the day, and it was rather windy whilst we were there. Nevertheless, it was worth it for the sea-views, and the scenic vista in front of us.

Winspit Cove is another disused quarry, and a fine place to watch the sun rise. This was another early-morning scramble. This is a place full of Portland Stone, and, like Seacombe, is a Pleistocene Valley.

Kimmeridge bay is a place I have written about on my blog before. I wanted to go back there for sunrise (I ended up visiting for two sunsets and one sunrise during my stay – the jagged rocks are lovely to photograph, and this location is only a short walk from the carpark, unlike most of the other sunrise locations!).

Sunset is another opportunity for photography – the 'golden hour' is the hour before sunset, and Dorset’s scenery looks fine in this light. We visited Portland Bill twice, which is the most Southerly point in Dorset, and has a iconic lighthouse. The rocks there are lovely to photograph, and the sea is definitely choppy – there have been numerous shipwrecks there over the years. I wanted to do some photography at Pulpit Rock. 

The entire golden hour had fishermen standing on and around the rock, which initially I found a little disappointing, and then I realised actually made my photographs far more interesting. They were extremely daring, and the waves really were quite big!

Another place we visited twice for sunset was Chapman’s Pool. This involves a steep and uneven descent down to the cove, but it is well worth it. There are fossils everywhere. We were trying to find a low-ish tide coinciding with sunset, which were tricky to marry up. However, we loved the place – particularly as we had it to ourselves.

Every morning, before going to our sunrise location, we drove to Corfe Castle to check the situation for mist, but did not find any (although the week was sunny, it was quite windy). The forecast for the last morning looked the most promising, and we awoke with anticipation. However, it was not to be. We thought we’d climb the hill for sunrise near the castle anyway, and saw some mist in the distance. We ran down to the car, and began ‘mist-chasing’ – we finally found some on the frosty nature reserve near Arne (the mist presumably arising from Poole Harbour). The temperature had dropped to -5 by this point, and the still weather made it a peaceful place to take in the scenery.

It was a wonderful week – great scenery, and also interesting places for daytime exploring in places such as Weymouth and Bournemouth (the latter also afforded us the opportunity to see the lovely photographs of Emily Endean, exhibited at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery), and log-fires and whisky in our cottage in the evenings. I wasn’t able to take the ‘bucket-list’ shot of a misty Corfe Castle, but this just means that I will have to return to this stunning part of the world… a sacrifice I am happy to make! This was the sort of trip that just makes me so grateful to be able to experience these inspiring places, and to be able to share the experience with others through my photography.

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