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View of The Pinnacles stacks off the chalk cliffs near Studland, Dorset

5 Reasons Old Harry Rocks Will Make Your Day!

Updated 2023

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A row of chalk stums and stacks stretching into the bay.

My Final Day On The South West Coast Path

It was my last day hiking the South West Coast Path and I thought I’d seen just about every geological wonder there was on this magnificent 630 mile trail, but how wrong I was – I’d forgotten Old Harry Rocks was even there, yet there couldn’t be a more fitting end to the hike.

I began hiking before sunrise that day, after a windy night’s wild camp on the cliffs, and reached the famous Durdle Door as an ethereal mist unfurled across the landscape. Durdle Door is probably the most iconic and most photographed natural wonder in Dorset, with its limestone arch at the end of an ‘arm’ that seems to stretch round the beach for a hug. As I stood on the cliff top looking down I thought this was about as good as the day could get. It was sublime, an unforgettable experience that lingered in my mind with every step towards the finish – and any anticipation I’d had for seeing Old Harry Rocks was forgotten.

Durdle Door

The coast path rises and falls over the cliffs towards it like a roller coaster and when it comes into sight through a misty sunrise, it’s utterly captivating.

Durdle Door rocks in silhouette against a golden sunrise

Swanage And Ballard Cliff

There were a good few miles to hike that day and Old Harry didn’t even enter my head. Next in my sights was Swanage.

I reached Swanage by mid-morning, 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 would feel like 5 minutes and I didn’t want this incredible hike to end.

Swanage beach, sandy and with folded deckchairs

Ballard Cliff seen from Swanage Beach

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.

Swanage Bay - a curving sandy beach seen from the cliffs above

A final look back at Swanage Bay from the top of Ballard Cliff

I have a cheesy grin and Old Harry Rocks are behind me

First Glimpse Of Old Harry Rocks

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: the end of the South West Coast Path just got spectacular!

I took my time here, as you can imagine. There’s so much to absorb, from the mammoth hike you’ve almost completed (just 3 miles to go) to the mindblowing geology and wildlife.

It’s a place I recommend you don’t forget! Here’s why.

5 Reasons Old Harry Rocks MAde My Day – And Why It’ll 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 an incredible 95 mile hike in itself.

This is the Geoneedle at Orcombe Point that marks the start of The Jurassic Coast in Exmouth (Devon) where the red cliffs 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 66 million years ago.

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 Are Second To None

On the walk over to see Old Harry I instantly thought of The Needles on The Isle of Wight, but what I didn’t realise 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 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

White chalk cliffs near Old Harry Rocks on Dorset
The Pinnacles sharp pointed stack close to the white chalk cliff

3. Enjoy The Wildlife

There’s something to enjoy all year round, but if birds are your thing don’t forget your (small and lightweight!) binoculars for views of nesting sea birds on the stacks, as well as for the annual migration in autumn. If you’re lucky you might even see peregrine falcons; I was… unlucky!

In the spring the heathland is carpeted with wildflowers including delicate cowslips and the butterflies and moths that feast on them.

A view along one of the stumps mof Old Harry Rocks

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 surrounding land so, as usual, you can expect some good loos, a decent cafe and accessible paths!

The facilities (including a large car park) and spectacular views make it a popular spot 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)

5. Go For A Swim In Studland Bay Before You Say “I Did It!”

A vast sandy beach under a brooding sky

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 sculpture at the end of The South West Coast Path.

South West Coast PAth sculpture - blu cut-out metal sheet resembling a sail

I Did It – South West Coast Path Finisher!

Smiling beside the blue metal sculpture at the end of the South West Coast PAth

Will you do it too? I hope so because the South West Coast Path really is a spectacular trail and the final few miles are the cherry on the cake!

Thanks for reading, and as ever, if you’ve got a question just leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!

Happy hiking

Stephie x

Useful Info For Hikers And Walkers

(Updated November 2023)

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 campsites 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

More Bus Breezer 50 for services 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?

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