A Dorset Wanderland has been hugely inspired and received great support from Durlston Country Park. Particularly by Alistair Tuckey, Ranger and Project Manager for the Durlston Pleasure Grounds, who has provided social, geological and historical contexts to work from whilst educating and encouraging the participating artists to connect with Durlston's diverse environments.


The following page offers an insight into Durlston Country Park's timeline and its key developments:


“Look Round and Read Great Nature’s Open Book” - George Burt



Image: Roy Egglestone

Layers in the Landscape












Image: Zachary Eastwood-Bloom


Oliver Rackham described the English landscape as a ‘palimpsest’ - a manuscript on which writing has been superimposed on partially erased earlier text. Each generation on our small island re-writes our landscape but leaves traces behind.

Within the Durlston Pleasure Grounds the layers built up over time have created a unique place – neither ancient woodland, a formal garden, a housing development, a place for recreation and play, a spectacular coastal walking route, a WWII secret radar base, but all these things and none!

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Jurassic Geology

Image: Durlston Country Park

Durlston Bay provides the best record through the early Cretaceous period in Britain. Portland Limestone, which forms the Head, formed in a shallow sea. Above are the Purbeck Beds, formed in lagoons, swamps and salt flats. Dinosaurs walked this ancient landscape, leaving behind their footprints.

Durlston Bay is the best source of reptile and mammal fossils of this age anywhere in the world, including turtles, crocodiles, lizards and flying reptiles.

These rocks have been quarried since Roman times. The Purbeck stone industry peaked around 1800, leaving 'humps and hollows' produced by mine shafts and spoil heaps (or ‘scarbanks’), with Portland Stone quarried at Tilly Whim.

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George Burt’s Grand Plans










 Durlston Park 1880

Image: Durlston Country Park

In the second half of the 19th Century, entrepreneur George Burt developed grand plans for Durlston. Burt added architectural features including seats, benches and stones inscribed with poetry and facts, exploring the universe, the stars, earth, time, tides, weather and natural history and conservation messages. He planted the Pleasure Grounds with plants from all over the world, encouraging visitors to ‘Look Round and Read Great Nature’s Open Book’.

Thomas Hardy called George Burt ‘the King of Swanage’ and wrote at least six poems inspired by Durlston. He described in his journal an evening visit to Durlston: ‘On the left, Durlston Head roaring high and low like a giant asleep. On the right, a thrush. Above the bird hangs a new moon and a steady planet’.

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A Victorian Legacy


Image: Durlston Country Park

After Burt’s death, the estate was broken up, and its history through the next 80 years is a curious one. From a ‘Menagerie’ (featuring a gibbon, guinea pigs and a camel), to secret WWII radar base, throughout this time, Burt’s plantings continued to grow and evolve, with the Country Park created in 1973 as a response to the growing numbers of visitors, who were starting to take their toll on the landscape.


A Place for Wildlife

Image: Catherine Carter

Native species of plants, flowers and butterflies mingle with species introduced from around the world. Hazel and Ash mingle with Tamarisk from North Africa, Bamboo from Asia and Mediterranean Holm Oak to create a unique tapestry of species, supporting a variety of wildlife. Cupressus macrocarpa has become the home of the rare Cypress Carpet Moth, and the Holm Oak is used by the caterpillars of Sombre Brocade and Oak Rustic moths.

Throughout the year, a never-ending procession of species makes each visit unique, from banks of Primroses and whirling butterflies in the spring, to the roaring sea, rattling branches and fungal gardens in the winter.


Pleasure Grounds Project

Image: Catherine Carter

The Pleasure Grounds project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and others will enhance this special landscape for nature, history and people. Volunteers are working with Rangers, artists and specialists to create a landscape which is welcoming, accessible, inspiring, educational, surprising, playable and sustainable.

The Victorian landscape and features will be enhanced to realise George Burt’s vision for people to ‘Look round and read great nature’s open book’. Habitats will be managed for wildlife and the tranquillity of the area will be maintained. Opportunities for play, discovery and creativity will be enhanced, along with a base for training, volunteering and community events.

The project will help Durlston become the best place in Dorset for people with disabilities and reduced mobility to enjoy wildlife and the countryside. The legacy will include a skilled and expanded staff and volunteer group supporting the management of the area, creating a landscape which can evolve to meet the needs of visitors and local people.


Art in the Landscape
















Image: Anita Reynolds

Over the years, artists and writers drawing inspiration from Durlston have included Turner, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Gary Breeze, with writers including Thomas Hardy, Paul Hyland and Carol Ann Duffy among many others.

To my mind, art is a uniquely powerful tool to understand, explore and celebrate our relationship with landscapes.  It invites us to look in new ways, take fresh perspectives on familiar places and strengthen emotional connections with the places around us, which in turn make us who we are. Unlike interpretation, the best creative work leaves space for us to develop and examine our own relationship with places.

It’s been a pleasure to work with the Dorset Wanderland Team. Their passion and enthusiasm for a place I love has been inspiring and I hope will inspire others to come up with their own creative responses to this very special place.


Ali Tuckey, April 2020