Dancing Ledge is part of the Isle of Purbeck’s rich and proud quarrying history. It also has more than a toe dipped in Dorset’s murkier past of smuggling!
Believed to have been named after the effect that the rocky ledge has on the sea at certain times and tides, which makes the water seem to “dance”, Dancing Ledge is one of several quarries struck out of the limestone cliffs of this stretch of the Jurassic Coast from Swanage to St Aldhelm’s Head.
Now popular with walkers and climbers, Dancing Ledge was once part of the stone industry on which many in the area once relied. Like other quarries on the Purbeck coast, and others on Portland, the stone struck from Dancing Ledge was transported to its onward destinations by sea. The close proximity of the quarry to the relatively deep waters by the cliffs ensured that the distance travelled from rock-face to ship was as short as possible.
Meanwhile, the frequent traffic of ships to the cliff side meant that vessels carrying smuggled goods could also slip in and out unnoticed and the quarry workings provided good storage space and a ready work force.
Smuggling was something of a way of life for many in this part of Dorset in the 17th and 18thCentury as the classic smuggling novel “Moonfleet” recalls. The book is based mainly around the village of Fleet, but also includes action seemingly set along the Purbeck coast around Dancing Ledge.
In the novel “Moonfleet” barrels are stored in vaults beneath Fleet Church. And it seems this kind of arrangement also happened in real life. There are reports that at one time so much contraband was stored in the roof of the Church at Langton Matravers to the North of Dancing Ledge that the ceiling collapsed!
Just as in the days of the smugglers, there are only two ways to get to Dancing Ledge today, by sea or by foot. The former is possible by canoe or other vessel, but you’d need to know what you’re doing and what the weather and sea conditions will be. For those on foot, the choices are plentiful.
Dancing ledge can be reached from Langton Matravers, Worth Matravers or via the South West Coast Path from either direction (from the East via Durlston or from the West via Chapman’s Pool).
The walking is steep in places, but the seascapes, scenery and the views of the Jurassic Coast are ample compensation for that.
As well as the cliffs and the quarries, this part of the coast, from Durlston Head back as far as the valley at Seacombe Bottom, which runs up to Worth Matravers, is National Trust and Countryside Access Land. This means there’s lots of walking and exploring to be had and little gems to discover -including a rare Allan Williams steel machine-gun turret overlooking Seacombe Bottom and dating from WW II.
But don’t forget, just because this is access land and owned by the NT, it doesn’t mean you can do just as you please. Dogs need to be under close control and, given the number of grazing animals around, usually on a lead. No one wants to lose their family pet or worse. Fans of Dorset Author Thomas Hardy‘s much-wronged hero Gabriel Oak will know that the problem of dogs chasing farm animals over cliffs is nothing new and can be very costly! In contrast, sticking to a few simple rules seems a small price to pay to get to see such great scenery for free.
And for most visitors, that’s probably all that Dancing Ledge has to offer. It is simply a wonderful place to walk and enjoy the view. There’s nothing to buy, not much else to do and if you’re after “seaside with sand” then Swanage or Weymouth will suit you better. But if you fancy something more rough and rugged, then this is great place to explore.
Dancing Ledge is part of the Isle of Purbeck’s rich and proud quarrying history. It also has more than a toe dipped in Dorset’s murkier past of smuggling! "