5 Reasons Old Harry Rocks Will Make Your Day!
Old Harry Rocks Is A Breathtaking Sight Near The End Of The South West Coast Path
But I Forgot Poor Old Harry Was Even There!
Although I’m sure any other hiker worth their salt could tell you that
Why Did I Forget This Magnificent Geological Wonder?
The simple explanation is that I’m an idiot with the memory of a goldfish! My excuse however is that I’d walked a long way and seen just about every breathtaking sight I thought there ever was. And that included Durdle Door, which is probably the most iconic and most photographed natural wonder in Dorset. I hiked through Durdle Door at sunrise that very morning, because this was my final day hiking the South West Coast Path. (You can read about my first day on the trail too!)
Standing on the cliff top looking down at the ethereal mist unfurling across the landscape was about as good as I thought the day could get.
It was sublime, an unforgettable experience that lingered in my mind with every step towards the finish. But I was wrong: this was just the start, and the end of the day would be equally as good.
Swanage And Ballard Cliff
By mid morning I was in Swanage, a typical seaside town full of bright cafes and souvenir shops, about 5 miles from the end of the trail. I dragged my heels and filled my face with ice-cream, because I knew those last 5 miles hiking the South West Coast Path would feel like 5 minutes and I didn’t want this incredible hike to end.
I wasn’t sure what was ahead other than another sweeping bay, the ferry to Poole and the train home, but there was no putting it off. I climbed up Ballard Cliff, a great chalk slab at the eastern end of Swanage Bay and took one last look back before the final few miles.
At the top of the cliff I emerged onto an expanse of flat, grassy downland called Ballard Downs, and there it was in front of me: Old Harry Rocks. And I was beaming from ear to ear.
And Here’s Why Old Harry Rocks Will Make Your Day Too
1. You Can Celebrate Reaching The End Of The Jurassic Coast
Old Harry Rocks isn’t just at the end of The South West Coast Path, it’s also the end of The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which is a fabulous 95 mile section hike in itself (check out Becky The Traveller’s Top Tips For Walking The Jurassic Coast). The Jurassic Coast begins in Exmouth in Devon where the red rocks of the Triassic period are 252 million years old. It’s unfathomable. But as you walk east along the Jurassic Coast the rocks are getting younger:
Old Harry Rocks was formed during the Cretacious period: a mere 66 million years old!
The geology of Old Harry Rocks is fascinating. They were formed by wave erosion: caves were eroded into the base of the cliffs, eventually becoming arches that collapsed to leave the stacks as they are now. Old Harry is actually the farthest stack out to sea and once upon a time Harry had a wife – until she collapsed In 1896 to leave the stump that’s there today (He actually had a first wife that collapsed in the early 16th century!). These recent collapses (geologically speaking) show how active the erosion is (you can see caves and arches forming today) and make you wonder what the landscape will look like in the not too distant future.
2. The Panoramic Views From Old Harry Rocks Will Take Your Breath Away
On the walk to Old Harry Rocks I instantly thought of the Needles on The Isle of Wight, but what I didn’t realise at the time was that before the last ice age Old Harry and The Needles were part of the same stretch of rock and it was the subsequent erosion that separated them.
What’s amazing is that you can still see The Needles and the Isle of Wight on the horizon across the bay
The sweeping views across Poole Bay also take in Poole and Bournemouth and you can easily lose time watching the sailing boats and cruise ships out on the water, in an area famous for its nautical history. That ‘history’ includes local folklore that suggests Old Harry got its name from one Harry Paye, a villainous pirate that used to hide his ship behind the rocks. Or maybe they got their name from the devil. Let’s not forget him.
3. Enjoy The Wildlife
It’s definitely worth carrying your (small and lightweight!) binoculars for views of nesting sea birds on Old Harry Rocks and The Pinnacles (the pointed stacks you can see from the cliffs), as well as on an autumn hike for watching the annual migration. If you’re lucky you might also see peregrine falcons.
In the spring the heathland is full of wildflowers, including carpets of yellow cowslips, and the butterflies and moths that feast on them.
Check out Dorset Wildlife Trust for local reserves and other wildlife that can be seen along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.
4. Take Advantage Of The Last Facilities Before The End Of The Trail!
If you’ve walked the whole of the Path or the 95 mile Jurassic Coast, and you’re like me, you’ll want to dawdle around a bit to prolong the experience. Lucky for you
The National Trust own Old Harry Rocks and a lot of the land around them, so as usual you can expect some good loos, a decent café and accessible paths!
The facilities (including a large car park) and spectacular views make it a popular walk to Old Harry Rocks for day-trippers and walkers of all abilities, so expect it to be busy on a fine summer’s day. There’s a pub in Studland too, where you can get a meal and rent a room. (Check out the Useful Links section below, too.)
5. Go For A Swim In Studland Bay Before You Say “I Did It!”
The last few miles around the sandy beaches of Studland Bay are the perfect place to take a dip or a paddle, and one final look back at Old Harry Rocks before catching the ferry. (Don’t worry if you forgot your swimming costume because there’s also a kilometre of beach for naturists. And no, I didn’t give the naturist beach a go (I had a ferry to catch, which, as it happened, wasn’t even running that day!), but I really enjoyed walking in the surf all the way to the famous blue sign at the end of The South West Coast Path.
I Did It!
Will you do it too? I hope I’ve tempted you because Old Harry Rocks will undoubtedly make your day!
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Thanks for reading my lovely, and as ever, if you’ve got a question just leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!
Useful Info For Hikers And Walkers
(Updated August 2020)
Facilities And Travel To Old Harry Rocks
- Studland South Beach Car Park and Toilets SZ038824
- 3.5 Mile National Trust walk
- Bankes Arms Pub, Studland (a place to stay as well as eat and drink)
- Campsites in the area: Cool Camping. If camp sites aren’t for you read my Guide To Wild Camping In The UK
- YHA Swanage – a 93 bed Victorian Villa that’s recently undergone a £1.5 million refurbishment
- Bus route between Swanage and Bournemouth
- Sandbanks to Poole Harbour Ferry
Maps And Guide Books For Old Harry Rocks
- OS Map: OL15 1:25000 Explorer Purbeck and South Dorset
- National Trail Official Map: A-Z for Walkers, South West Coast Path, Dorset
- Trailblazer Dorset And South Devon Coast Path
- Cicerone South West Coast Path
Looking for more inspiration in the South West of England?
Have you thought about Exmoor National Park on the north Devon Coast? (It’s pretty spectacular!) Check this out: