I have been wanting to hike up Colmers Hill ever since I saw it from a distance when I hiked from West Bay to Golden Cap last year, when I ran into a fellow hiker who told me the hill is so iconic that it has its own calendar, produced by photographer Doug Chalk!
Since then, lots of people have told me about Colmers Hill, but none of them mentioned the Symondsbury Estate – so I was in for a very pleasant surprise when I pulled into the car park. There isn’t just a free car park, there are various shops, a deli, a charming cafe, picnic areas and much more. You can also stay here and even get married here! And it is SO beautiful!
St John the Baptist’s church
As a more or less lifelong church chorister (from age 11 – and with a looong break when I was a student – does that count as lifelong?), I love exploring churches almost as much as the great outdoors, so curiosity got the better of me. I headed straight for the beautiful little church, St John the Baptist, which turned out to be open for visitors.
Once I had explored the Symondsbury Estate and the church, I retraced my steps to the car park, where the footpath to Colmers Hill starts.
The hill itself is only 127 metres high (417 feet), but it is very prominent in the landscape. The little knot of trees on top give it a very characteristic look, which unsurprisingly has inspired artists for a very long time. Legend has it that Colmers Hill is also sacred to the fairies – you can hear all about that here!
Sigismund was here
Fun fact: Colmers Hill was originally called ‘Aeschere’, but after the Viking invasion of Dorset it became known as ‘Sigismunds Berg’, which is Norwegian for Sigismund’s Hill. Sigismund was a Viking Chief who landed near Bridport, saw the burning beacon on Colmers Hill, and according to legend announced that from then on it should be called Sigismunds Berg. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sigismund was an ancestor of mine – I do keep running into them on my hikes and explorations! With only a first name to go on, it’s hard to say, though. Anyway, over time, Sigismunds Berg morphed into Symondsbury, which the village is still called. The name of the hill changed to Colmer’s Tenement in the 1600s, when the Colmer family were tenants there. Then in the 1800s Reverend John Colmer moved there, which changed the name ever so slightly to Colmer’s Hill.
The iconic trees on top of Colmers Hill were planted during WW1 and are Caledonian pines. In 2006 some Monterey pines were planted there by Sir John Colfox, The Colfox family have owned the Symondsbury Estate for over 100 years now.
Well worth the climb
The hike up the hill is a little steep, and most estimates say it takes about 40 minutes, but I was back down the hill after 30 minutes, despite constantly stopping to take photographs. In other words, it is not a particularly strenuous walk and you are never far from the car park. Unless, of course, you spot a beacon on the opposite hill and decide to check that one out as well. And then the ridge just behind the beacon. And then the ridge behind the ridge… You catch my drift.
As far as I can tell – because no one I spoke to knew and there were no signposts and no names in my map apps – the beacon is on Quarry Hill. It is 163 metres high, covered with nettles and sheep and has a wonderful view of Colmers Hill.
I was a bit worried about going through the gate up to Quarry Hill, because the lack of signposts also meant I had no idea whether there was a permissive footpath or not. Fortunately I ran into a lovely local lady with perfect timing who told me it was absolutely fine.
Hang on, is that… Seatown? And Golden Cap?
Quarry Hill and the view from the beacon is stunning in itself, but if you climb the ridge just behind the beacon, and then the little ridge just behind that ridge… Well, then you will be rewarded with the most spectacular views of the West Dorset coast!
I somehow managed to get lost on my way back to the car park and ended up on the outskirts of Symondsbury village instead. Quite impressive, considering how well signposted this part of the hike was! Anyway, this was no hardship as it led me past the stunning house below and back to the Symondsbury Estate via the deli. There I treated myself to some edible souvenirs in the form of baked goods, which I enjoyed in the picnic area before heading back home to Devon.