Best Spots for Dolphin Watching in the West Country

Encountering dolphins swimming in open water is an experience guaranteed to fill you with wonder.

Every year these enchanting sea creatures are spotted from clifftops, beaches, harbours and boats all around the spectacular South West peninsula, returning to our shores during the warmer months to take full advantage of the burgeoning fish stocks.

Here are some of the West Country’s best dolphin watching spots…

‘The happiness of the dolphin is to exist.
For man it is to know that and to wonder at it.’  – 
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, naturalist and explorer

Durlston Head

With spectacular views across Durlston Bay, Durlston Head is a renowned lookout for not only dolphins, but also whales, seals and basking sharks. This beautiful stretch of Dorset coastline, renowned for its fossils, remains a regular haunt for dolphin pods. If you’re really keen, you can sign up for the Durlston Dolphin Alert Service and receive texts about sea creatures swimming in the local waters.

Portland Bill

Portland Bill is Dorset’s most southerly point; a jut of headland (or bill) found at the tip of the Isle of Portland and home to Portland Bill Lighthouse. The shallow reefs off Portland Bill are notoriously dangerous and have been responsible for many shipwrecks over the centuries. Dolphins are frequently spotted swimming off this rocky outcrop, their familiar flukes and fins seen breaching the sparkling Portland swells.

Old Harry Rocks

The colossal sea stacks known as Old Harry Rocks stand defiantly at Handfast Point on the Isle of Purbeck, and mark the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast. Walkers along these rugged old cliff paths regularly report seeing pods of dolphins swimming off the iconic chalk rocks.

Kimmeridge Cliffs

Set on the dramatic Jurassic Coast, the Kimmeridge Cliffs provide a breath-taking vantage point with sweeping views across Kimmeridge bay. Make sure you’ve got a pair of binoculars to hand as the cliffs remain one of the county’s most celebrated dolphin watching spots as they hunt for mackerel during the sunnier months.

Burton Cliffs, Burton Bradstock

The towering cliffs at Burton Bradstock once played an important role in preparation for the Normandy landings and uphold a magnificent stretch along the South West Coast Path. With far-reaching views across Lyme Bay, they provide a stunning outlook for watching the visiting marine life, which include white-beaked dolphins, porpoises, minke whales and basking sharks, along with a variety of seabirds.

‘We looked through high pines at the blue moving tides, then his finger caught a snag in the water and another and we saw — glinting fins wheeling the sheen, thousands playing in pods coming closer like the souls slippering into our bodies, attaching to matter as flippers angle into a ferrying strand. We too are a species, I realized. We too could know that as joy’      – Rachel Jamison Webster, Dolphins at Seven Weeks

Valley of Rocks, Lynton

The undulations level out on the cliff walk between Lynton and the captivating Valley of Rocks on the North Devon coastline; a stretch which looks particularly lovely during the autumnal months when it becomes covered in russet-coloured bracken, banks of purple heather and vibrant gorse. Keep your eyes peeled when you cast your gaze towards the glinting channel swells and you might be treated to the playful breaches and lobtails of dolphins.

Prawle Point

Follow the South West Coast Path to Prawle Point on the South Devon peninsula. Surrounded by rolling farmer’s fields and gorgeous beachy coastline, this iconic jut is well-known for dolphins swimming in its sparkling waters. This stretch of the peninsula is cragged by rocks and coves, from the famous Pig’s Nose to old Meg Rock.

Bolt Head, Salcombe

Not far from the pretty seaside town of Salcombe are the dramatic jagged rocks of Bolt Head where you can enjoy stunning and sweeping views all the way from Dodman Point (to the west) to Prawle Point (to the east). Every year we hear reports of dolphins swimming in these gleaming waters, often coasting in the wake of local fishing boats.

Plymouth Sound

Plymouth Sound is where the rivers Plym and Tamar meet, its shores and cliffs stretching across the borderlands between Devon and Cornwall. This stunning stretch of coastline weaves a path from Andurn Point northwards to Mount Batten Point and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Dolphins are regular visitors to these sheltered waters much to the delight of boat trippers.

Lundy Island

The waters around Lundy Island attract many species of marine life. The most widely seen species of dolphin on Lundy are the bottlenose and common dolphin, however, there have also been sightings of beakless Risso’s, as well as minke whales and long-finned pilot whales. The best viewing points can be found on the island’s magnificent south east cliffs, but you stand an equally good chance of spotting dolphins and other cetaceans during the island ferry crossing.

Baggy Point, Croyde

Baggy Point is a rugged stretch of headland with far-reaching views towards the Lundy Heritage Coast and Croyde Bay. Surrounded by stunning coastal walks, this popular gazing post has been used by dolphin watchers for many a good blackberry season and continues to confirm sightings of these highly intuitive ocean creatures.

‘Not always speeding at ease under sprawling falls of prows,
They hunt the seaways.
They swerve to use
The pulled foam and lifting rollers that follow keels
Beyond the arms of harbours to deepening seagrounds.
Swirled by waves to the winds
They rise on the wake of the eastward vessel […]
They stand over water, slim, with their flippers of balance
Spread like arms or wings’    – 
Brewster Ghiselin, Dolphins

Porthgwarra & Gwennap

Porthgwarra beach and Gwennap Head are considered two of the very best sites in Cornwall for dolphin watching. The Sea Watch Foundation relies on a hardy bunch of dolphin-loving volunteers to scan the local waters and help record not only visiting dolphin numbers, but also porpoises, basking sharks, grey seals, seabirds and even the occasional whale.

Sennen Cove

The turquoise waters and soft sandy beach of Sennen Cove continue to captivate all those who visit, and it’s not just the surfers who enjoy Sennen’s fabled Atlantic rollers, dolphins too are regularly seen swimming in the bay waters, along with seals and even the odd basking shark – which are gigantic but extremely gentle and feed on tiny plankton.

The Rumps & Pentire

On a clear day in Cornwall there’s no finer stretch of headland than the Pentire Way; a rugged and winding cliff path running from Pentire Point and on to the twin-headed jut known locally as The Rumps. Here, you can enjoy spellbinding views of Stepper Point to the south and Tintagel Castle to the north. Peregrine falcons are known to hunt the coastal verges and grey seals are often spotted fishing in the coves, and if you’re really lucky, you might catch more than a glimpse of dolphins hunting for mackerel in the sparkling sea waters.

Lizard Point

The magnificent sea views from Lizard Point continue to wow all those who visit this impressive leg of the South Cornwall peninsula. It’s well-known as one of the region’s best locations for spotting marine wildlife, with regular dolphin sightings between late spring and early autumn. You should also keep your eyes peeled for the legendry Cornish choughs; the red-legged, red-billed member of the crow family that has enjoyed a fond association with the Duchy for several hundred years.

Land’s End

On a clear day the views from Land’s End, Britain’s most southerly point, stretch as far as the Isles of Scilly. The surrounding South West Coast Path is full of well- placed perches, including the cliffside RSPB Wildlife Discovery Centre hide which is equipped with high-powered optics. Dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks, seals and seabirds are all spotted regularly from this dramatic vantage point, and there have even been sightings of orcas.

“Dolphins speak to us of the rhythm of our emotions: breathing in joy before plunging into the depths – and rushing to the surface to do it all over again.” – unknown author