Before you go any further I should probably make one thing abundantly clear: after cursing Durdle Door for being a photography mecca I found myself there at the beginning of January 2016. Even though I previously said I would actively avoid it. But I do have a genuine reason, so let me explain.
I was heading for Worbarrow Bay. According to the opening times on a website I had looked at the night before, Worbarrow Bay was open to the public until the 4th January, which was a Monday. Therefore, you can probably imagine my shock when I arrived on Monday afternoon, after a long drive, to find the gates down to the bay locked shut.
My patience was a little tested, but I decided not to waste the trip. The way I saw it, I had two options. Drive further east and visit Kimmeridge or turn back and visit Durdle Door.
And because it was closer to home, Durdle Door won.
When I arrived I cringed as I saw a long row of cars parked on the hill above the famous archway. I thought of the last time I visited and the many photographers that had been there, stationed like chess pieces along the cliffs and on the beach. So instead of rushing off I ate my lunch in my car and thought for a while.
I really wanted a long walk, so after eating I decided to avoid Durdle Door and skirt above it along the undulating cliffs. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done. The cliffs were tough to walk up. They were slippery and steep. But they were also completely devoid of people, as everyone had funneled down to the beach in front of the famous archway. This gave me a fantastic perspective; tiny people shadowed by huge cliffs and a wind-whipped sea. The further I walked, the more I enjoyed it; the breathlessness of the ascents, the relief at the summits and then the swooping descents into a head wind so strong it completely blew me over a couple of times. Just when I thought I knew which way it would blow, it would come from the opposite direction, channeled by the inland hills. It was relentless, wild and exhilarating, like the rush of air before a falcon. The sound it made as it came up the cliffs from the sea, roaring and howling like a jet engine, frequently confused me. Several times I looked up expecting a nimble aeroplane to pass overhead at a great speed.
I was also fascinated by the cliffs I walked. The well trodden, eroded pathways that meandered up them were like muddy waterfalls, cascading down; year after year of foot fall and memories deeply etched into the soil.
I saw a peregrine falcon patrolling the cliffs. I watched great, dark, heavy showers move across the milky sea, devouring the light. I saw far off boats near Portland Bill, highlighted by sun rays and raindrops. I admired the effortlessness of the gulls above me and I laughed as the wind knocked me about, even when I sought respite behind the tall navigation beacon on Chaldon Hill.
By the time I had walked back to Bat’s Head my opinion of Durdle Door had changed. A year ago I had been determined not to visit because it already has thousands of other people coming to see it every year. But my walk had reminded me that there is more to Durdle Door than a natural archway. What surrounds it is a dramatic coastline and, if you’re prepared to put in some effort, you can be rewarded with some of the best views in Dorset.