Golden Cap is the rather obvious name for a high, flat-topped hill of deep orange sandstone on the cliffs between Charmouth and Bridport. It represents the tail-end of a vein of warm-coloured sandstone. The Cap is the highest point on the south coast, at 627ft (191m), with views along the shore to the tip of Portland Bill in one direction and to Start Point in the other. Inland, you can see Pilsdon Pen.
Climbing towards the top of Golden Cap, you pass from neat fields, through a line of wind-scoured oak trees, into an area of high heathland, walking up through bracken, heather, bilberry and blackberry, alive with songbirds. The loose undercliff on the seaward side creates a different habitat. In botanical and wildlife terms, Golden Cap is one of the richest properties in the National Trust’s portfolio. Today people associate the National Trust with grand houses, but its first acquisition, in 1896, was a stretch of coast in Wales.
On the very top of Golden Cap itself is a simple memorial to the Earl of Antrim, chairman of the National Trust in the 1960s and 1970s. It was he who spearheaded the National Trust’s 1965 appeal campaign, named ‘Enterprise Neptune’, to purchase sections of unspoiled coastline before the developers could have a chance to move in. Golden Cap was part of this ambitious campaign, and over the years the National Trust has continued to buy up pockets of land all around this area, with the aim of preserving the traditional field pattern that exists in the region between Eype and Lyme Regis. The Trust’s acquisition includes the ruined Chapel of St Gabriel’s (which is now little more than a low shell with a porch to one side) and the neighbouring row of thatched cottages that have been smartly refurbished to a high standard and are now let out as visitor accommodation. They are all that now remains of the small fishing village of Stanton St Gabriel, sheltering in the valley behind the cliffs, which was largely abandoned after the coast road was rerouted inland in 1824; the chapel had fallen derelict long before this, however.
Walk back up through Seatown to the village edge. A gap on the left is signposted ‘Golden Cap’. The path goes through a gate at the end, and crosses the field to a gate and footbridge into woodland. After two gates at the other side, bear right up the hill, signposted ‘Golden Cap’.
Where the path forks by a bench keep left. Go through some trees and through a kissing gate. Bear left, around the open hillside, with Golden Cap ahead of you. Pass through a line of trees and walk up the fence. Go up some steps, through a gate, and continue ahead. At the fingerpost go left through a kissing gate to follow the path of shallow steps up through bracken, heather, bilberry and bramble to the top of Golden Cap.
Pass the trig point and carry on along the top to the left of a little stone coast path marker. After the stone memorial to the Earl of Antrim the path bends right and zig-zags steeply downhill, enjoying great views along the bay to Charmouth and Lyme Regis. Go through a gate and bear right over the field towards the ruined St Gabriel’s Chapel. In the bottom corner turn down left through a gateway, passing the ruins on your right, then go through a gate. Go down the track, passing St Gabriel’s manor house on your left, and bear right down the farm road, signed ‘Chardown Hill’. Follow this uphill between high banks and hedges, to Pickaxe Cross junction at the top of a tarmac lane. (Here you’d go straight on for St Wite’s Well and Hardown Hill.)
Turn right, signed ‘Langdon Hill’, down the tarmac Muddyford Lane. Pass the gate of Shedbush Farm and continue uphill. Turn right up a concreted lane to Filcombe Farm. Bear left just beyond the farm buildings, following blue markers through two gates. Walk up the track, to go along the foot of the first field and straight across the next one. Head up left, ignoring the grassy track leading straight on and go over the green saddle between Langdon Hill and Golden Cap.
Go left through a gate in the corner and down a path (Pettycrate Lane) beside the woods, with sea views to the right. Ignore a footpath over a stile to the right. At a junction of tracks keep right, downhill. Pass Seahill House on your left and at the road turn right. Continue down into Seatown village to return to your car.
Field tracks, country lanes, steep zig-zag gravel path
Windswept coastline of lumps and bumps
Some road walking; all the stiles have dog gates
OS Explorer 116 Lyme Regis & Bridport
Car park above gravel beach in Seatown; beware as can flood in stormy weather
At end of road, Seatown
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Dorset means rugged varied coastlines and high chalk downlands. Squeezed in among the cliffs and set amid some of Britain’s most beautiful scenery is a chain of picturesque villages and seaside towns. Along the coast you’ll find the Lulworth Ranges, which run from Kimmeridge Bay in the east to Lulworth Cove in the west. Together with a stretch of East Devon, this is Britain’s Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, noted for its layers of shale and numerous fossils embedded in the rock. Among the best-known natural landmarks on this stretch of the Dorset coast is Durdle Door, a rocky arch that has been shaped and sculpted to perfection by the elements. The whole area has the unmistakable stamp of prehistory.
Away from Dorset’s magical coastline lies a landscape with a very different character and atmosphere, but one that is no less appealing. Here, winding, hedge-lined country lanes lead beneath lush, green hilltops to snug, sleepy villages hidden from view and the wider world. The people of Dorset are justifiably proud of the achievements of Thomas Hardy, its most famous son, and much of the county is immortalised in his writing.