The walk from Corfe Castle to Swanage follows the next section of the Purbeck Way. The official trail actually ends at Ballard Down, which is essentially a dead end. So from there, you follow the coastline down the hill to reach Swanage.
What I’m going to do in this guide, is first give you an overview of what to expect when walking from Corfe Castle to Swanage, via Ballard Down. The I will provide full logistics, a map, and tips for the walk. After this, there is a full step by step route description with lots of photos.
What to expect on the walk from Corfe Castle to Swanage via Ballard Down
The walk between Corfe Castle and Swanage is pretty easy. There are a couple of uphills (and one section curving along the side of a hill), but the majority is level walking, along the Purbeck Ridgway, and then across Ballard down. The hills are to get up to these. Then you have one big stretch downhill into Swanage.
There are views most of the way, the best being near the start out of Corfe, with a great view back to the castle, and then as you walk across Ballard Down with a view to Old Harry.
On this walk, you don’t go all the way to Old Harry Rocks. You can add it on though as an optional detour. It’s really simple, and I explain how to further down in the route description. You can see what it’s like on my Old Harry walking guide here, and decide if you fancy adding it on.
There are some potential muddy areas, but not too much. It rained a hell of a lot before I got here, so I think I have a good idea of the worst of it. There is only one tricky mud bit, which is a little…unsafe. I will show you when I describe the walking route below.
Is the route well signposted?
Signage along the route is so so. In some places it’s missing, or points you into a house. Don’t worry, as I will show you which way to go when I describe the walking route below. Where there are signs, for the first part of the walk from Wareham, you will follow the ones towards Ballard Down or Old Harry Rocks (it might also say Purbeck Way). After this, you follow the coast path signs to Swanage.
- Start: Corfe Village, Dorset. BH20 5EZ.
- Finish: Swanage, Dorset. BH19 1LB.
- Distance: 9.3 miles
- Time: 3h 30min
- Difficulty: Easy
- Terrain: Mostly grass, some road, a bit of mud, dirt and gravel trails, steps at the end.
- Elevation: One main hill to get up onto the ridge. Some smaller hills later on, then a big downhill to reach Swanage. The hills are pretty easy overall.
- Dog friendly: No stiles. Some sheep across Ballard Down. Some doggy poo bins.
- Amenities: Corfe has a village shop, some pubs/cafes/tea room type places. Swanage is much bigger so should have most of what you might need. See below for parking and public transport.
- Time of year: I walked from Corfe Castle to Swanage in autumn.
The 40 Breezer bus runs between Swanage and Corfe Castle and village. Journey time is about 20 min. From what I can see, it runs daily, but double check! The bus also goes to Wareham where there is a main train line.
There is also a steam train between Swanage and Corfe village. This is not daily, so check the timetable here.
In Corfe there is a car park at the National Trust centre (NH20 5DR). You can pay by card (inside the welcome centre), cash (coins), or phone app. I have read that there is no signal, which makes it impossible to pay by phone. I don’t know this for sure, as I didn’t go to the car park. What I can say, is that I had normal phone signal in Corfe Village. At the time of writing, it costs £5 for up to 4 hours. It’s free if you are a National Trust member.
There is another place to park opposite the National Trust Centre, which I think is free (don’t quote me on this, but you can go and check it out). If you are driving down the road, with the National Trust Centre to your left, take the first right turn after you pass it. There is lay-by style parking on the right.
Map for the walk from Corfe Castle to Swanage via Ballard Down
You can find my more detailed route map for the walk from Corfe Castle to Swanage via Ballard Down on Alltrails. You can also download a GPX file from here.
Tips for the walk
- As you will be walking along a ridge for most of the route from Corfe Castle, and then along the coastline into Swanage, you are quite exposed. Might be best to avoid this one during high wind or heavy rain.
- If it has been raining recently, I would suggest waterproof hiking boots. The ground can wet and muddy in places.
- As you descend into Swanage, you will be presented with two routes. The beach or the road. Definitely pick the beach route.
- Following on from above, you won’t be able to access the beach at high tide, so check the tide times before heading out.
- If you plan to travel back to Corfe from Swanage, plan the walk on a day where you can catch the steam train. That should be fun.
- If you want to visit Corfe Castle, you have to buy your ticket at the National Trust Centre. At the time of writing, it costs £11 per adult. Free for National Trust Members. Opening hours are 10-4 for the castle (the centre closes at 3:30). You can find more information and up to date details here.
Read about day 1 Wareham to Corfe Castle here.
Route Description: Corfe Castle to Swanage via Ballard Down
Walk to the centre of Corfe Village, and outside the sweet shop, you should see a big black signpost. Follow the direction to Ballard Down. This will take you along a residential street with quaint stone houses.
Just past the bend, there is a trail signpost on the left. Follow the arrows through a narrow passage to reach the green with a children’s playground.
Follow the sign to Old Harry and Ballard Down along the path, and then through another passageway to reach the road.
Here you will find a useless sign. It points back, into the house. What you want to actually do, is turn right to follow the road.
When you reach the Castle Inn, walk on the road to the left of it and through the big car park to reach the field on the other side.
That hill you can see ahead is the Purbeck Ridgeway, where you are heading next.
The fields and trains
Walk straight across the field, and onto the grassy trail between the short bushes.
At the next junction, the Purbeck Way sign is missing. You want to stay straight to go through the gate, to reach the parked trains.
Now make sure there are no trains coming, then cross over the railway, and through another gate. Follow the trail which will take you over a bridge to reach a crop field, where you turn left.
Follow the potentially muddy trail straight, and then to the right at the end of the field.
When you reach the other end, turn left to reach the road.
Continue straight along the road for a short while, but keep an eye out of a path leading off it to the right. If you miss it, down worry, as further along is some trail signage directing you back to it.
It’s an odd place to put the sign.
Walk up to the ridge with views to Corfe Castle
Through a couple of gates, you will be on a path that soon starts to take you on a gradual uphill.
Stay on this path all the way to the top. As you are walking up, make sure to look back for a wonderful view to Corfe Castle, and the surrounding countryside.
As you reach the top, walk through the gate to the right of the big mast.
Walk along the ridge
You now have a long stretch along the ridge. It’s straight the whole way, mostly on grass, with views all around. It’s pretty level up here, and you will go through the occasional gate.
Someway along, you will start to get a view to the sea in the distance.
After roughly a couple of miles, the wide grass trail will curve to the right, and then left. You are now just over halfway on the walk between Corfe Castle and Ballard Down. (Not quite halfway to Swanage yet though).
Walk down off the ridge with a view to Swanage
Though a gate you will be on a gravel trail which will start to take you down hill with a wonderful view ahead to the bumpy type hills, the sea, and Swanage.
At the junction near the bottom at the headstone type sign, turn left.
Follow the gravel track down further, then look out for another headstone type sign on the left. This one is important. You want to follow the yellow arrow pointing straight ahead for the Purbeck Way. So at the track bend, don’t bend with it, but instead, stay straight to walk straight ahead on the grass, towards the gate on the other side. This will lead you onto the road.
At the road, face left and look for the grass trail a few meters ahead on the other side. See photo above.
This is also the halfway point on the walk between Corfe Castle and Swanage.
Walk up towards Ballard down
On the grass trail across the road, walk through the gate following the arrows, then at the next trail sign, walk to the right, this side of the wire.
This next bit is though trees, and can be quite muddy. Then you will be on narrow trail which is a bit more open.
Through another gate, then at the next headstone sign, stay straight.
You will then reach a potentially confusing junction. Stay straight to walk between the bushes.
The grass will turn to narrow dirt trail, leading between bushes, along the side of the hill.
The slippy bit
There is a section coming up which is quite precious. It’s in a section of bush and woods. It’s a big hillside slanting mud patch. If it hasn’t been raining for a while, then it should be ok. For me, it was not.
I paused for a moment, trying to figure out how best to do this without slipping down the hill. I ended up reaching out to hold onto a bit of tree for safety. It probably helped stop me dying, but I still slipped and fell. Luckily it was at the end of the patch, so I was able to fall forwards into the safe zone.
Continue walking along the side of the hill
After this, you are back in the open, on a narrow trail cutting across the side of the hill. I really enjoyed this bit, the way the trail curved in and out, with gorgeous views across the fields down to Swanage, and ahead along the curvy hillside.
At the next wooden stump sign, stay on the trail to the left. Then at the next headstone sign, stay straight.
A short way past here, there is a fork without a sign. Take the left fork.
Now continue on this narrow trail through a mix of trees, scratchy bushes, and openness. Ignore any offshoot trails, and stay on this main one.
You will then be taken up to reach a cross junction with a trail stump sign. When you get there, turn right.
It’s a little bit more narrow trail, before you reach the grassy bit. In the grass you should reach a point where you can see a trail split. Right will take you down to Swanage. This is where you will be walking later. For now, turn left. This will lead you to a gate which seems to have no purpose.
Continue past the gate to reach the hill top, with a view down to the sea on the other side.
Walk across Ballard Down
At the top, turn right, following the sign to Old Harry Rocks.
You will now be walking across a big open grassy area, probably with some sheep about.
When you reach the trig point, follow the trail to the left of it through the bushes.
Continue walking straight across the big grass field, with the sea straight ahead. You will start to get a view to the famous Old Harry Rocks from here.
At the other side of the field, there is a gate to the left. Go through it.
At this point, you can add in a detour to see Old Harry Rocks by continuing straight (with the sea to your right). I instead stopped here to eat my lunch.
If you would like to see what it’s like over there, you can read my Old Harry Rocks walking guide.
Walk to the start of the Purbeck Way sign
Through the gate, turn right (the sea will now be on your left). Further ahead, stick to the main trail where it forks with a grass trail. At the next headstone sign, you will be at the end or (as the sign says) start of the Purbeck Way.
This did confuse me a little, as I thought the end was where I stopped for lunch. Unless it’s pointing you in the direction to walk to the start?
Either way, it doesn’t matter, as you will now walk along the coast path to reach Swanange. Sort of.
I missed the turn, and ended up walking back along the Purbeck way to reach the useless gate. It’s ok if you do that. Just make sure to continue straight down the hill pat that gate, and you will be on the coast path again.
The correct way would be to turn left after the next gate.
The final stretch of the walk between Corfe Castle and Swanage
Which ever way you go, you will end up on a dirt trail with a view to Swanage along the coastline ahead.
Stay on this trail all the way down. There is a section down here through the bushes and trees where If the timing is right, there will be some blueberries. The time wasn’t right for me today. It can also get a little muddy along here.
At the bottom, you will go down a few steps, then you will have a decision to make. Down the steps, you should see a trail leading towards the sea. This is Shep’s Hollow, and how you get onto the beach to walk into Swanage. This is the way I recommend.
The alternate way (with I did today) is across the bridge, and up some steps to reach the green.
As this is the route I followed today, this is what I will describe.
Walk into Swanage
On the green, follow the trail, past the headstone sign pointing to Swanage. This will lead you to a housing estate. I got a little lost in the housing area, but I will describe what I think is the correct way. If it’s not, I’m sorry….
At the road, turn left, then take the next right. If you follow this, it should lead you to the main road. At the main road, turn left, and this should lead you all the way to the beach.
It is a lot of road walking. And goes on for longer than is desirable. This is why I recommend the beach route.
At the beach, turn right, and this will lead you into the centre of Swanage.
I now have one more stretch to finish the Purbeck Way. I was supposed to complete it the next day, however, the weather had other plans. Storm Ciaran was arriving. I didn’t want to be by the coast for that, so will be back when things calm down…..