Old Harry Rocks...
Old Harry Rocks. Not an endorsement of an elderly gentleman, but a spectacular viewpoint on the Jurassic Coast between Studland and Swanage on the Isle of Purbeck.
Carved by the sea out of gleaming white chalk, “Old Harry” is what geologists call a stack – an isolated pillar of rock sticking up from the sea after erosion has left it “stranded” and cut-off from the mainland. Such features invariably fall over or down eventually to become “stumps” before disappearing altogether. This fate befell Old Harry’s apparently nameless “wife” who still accompanies him, in stump form, since falling over back in the 1890s .
“Why Old Harry?” you ask. Well, extensive research over, quite literally, seconds on the webbledygog suggests that either the rocks were dubbed after the once popular nickname for the devil or after an infamous local pirate Harry Pay. In short nobody knows for sure, but the former seems more plausible given that “playing Old Harry” is still in reasonably common use among older folk as a phrase meaning to mess someone about, and Old Harry Rocks would certainly do that to seafaring types – and on occasion, still does. It might also explain why the land immediately behind Old Harry is called Old Nick's Ground - Old Nick being another name for the devil!
However they got their name, Old Harry Rocks are, according to the Royal Geological Society, “the first major point of interest” on the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast, which, while technically true, is a bit mean to Studland which immediately precedes it on the coast but is not part of the UNESCO site and also to the Needles on the Isle of Wight, which are part of the same seam of Chalk as Old Harry, but again not part of the “Jurassic Coast” proper. Sorry guys!
On a clear day, the Isle of Wight is a big feature on the eastward horizon from Old Harry Rocks as is the sweep of the beaches and towns of Bournemouth and Poole. This conurbation ends sharply at Poole Harbour and the Chain Ferry and the vista then opens out over Studland Heath and the curve of Studland Bay, whose waters lap at the base of Old Harry and the cliffs around. There is no beach here to speak of and the cliffs are sheer. Care is needed by clifftop wanderers, and there are many, as the views are distracting, the cliff line meandering and the drop almost certainly deadly. The shortest tumble you're likely to have is 25 metres straight down, but further West from Old Harry the cliffs rise to more than twice this.
Quite rightly, there are no handrails and no safety ropes – this is, after all, despite its popularity, a natural environment and coastal feature. The National Trust, upon whose Studland estates Old Harry is situated, have put up warning signs, especially to those with dogs. The gist of the advice is simple. Put your dog on a lead as several have gone over the edge. You can’t really do that with people, but all are best advised to mind their step and keep an eye on the kids!
In good weather, many people come here either on a through route to other parts of the Jurassic Coast or just for Old Harry himself. As well as marking the beginning of the World Heritage site, these cliffs are also the first on the South West Coast Path, which starts at the other end of Studland Beach by the Chain Ferry. For casual walkers there’s no need to start from there to get to Old Harry Rocks as there’s a car park in Studland itself (pay and display but National Trust Members go free). From here there is an easy and pleasant walk of just over a mile to Old Harry and his wife.
For many that’s all they’ll want to do. Pop out to the rocks, see the view and maybe have a picnic. Others, whether on foot or cycle, will want to go on farther either on the South West Coast Path to Swanage and beyond or the Purbeck Way from Ballard Point through to Corfe Castle…But, those who choose to cycle should note that there are sections of the pathways in the vicinity of Old Harry Rocks which are designated as “No Cycles”. Most heed this, but some do not. It is also important to remember that whilst some sections of the Coast Path here are designated bridleways. Most of the South West Coast Path in Dorset is a footpath only…meaning cycles may not be used (the clue’s in the name).
However you choose to see it, Old Harry Rocks and the surrounding area is a wonderful place to exercise and take in some fantastic clifftop and sea views. As well as the major walking routes there are also circular walks to be had both here and nearby Studland Heath, with opportunities aplenty to refresh and feed yourself in picturesque Studland on your return.
In addition to the Bankes Arms in Studland itself, there is also a great tea and bacon butty type chalet down on the shore called Joe’s Café. Doubtless this is busy during the peak season, but it’s a great spot when it is not heaving to sit, after a walk and a wander, and to enjoy a fine mug of tea and a bite to eat whilst the waves lap lazily on the shore just a few metres away. This café cabin has alfresco seating only, but benefits from an unobstructed view, apart from the odd yacht, of Studland Bay and the cliffs leading up to Old Harry Rocks. And sometimes, that’s all you need to make a perfect day.
However they got their name, Old Harry Rocks are, according to the Royal Geological Society, “the first major point of interest” on the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast,"