The short walk to Old Harry Rocks, Dorset

by Jan

In this post we’ll take you on the short walk to Old Harry Rocks, one of the most famous landmarks in Dorset, England.  It follows a section of the South West Coast Path, one of the prettiest long-distance trails on the South Coast of England.

This is a short and leisurely walk and ideal if you want to see one of the most iconic spots on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast without a big hike.  The length and ease of this walk makes it suitable for all ages, and perfect as a family walk.

We completed the short walk from Studland Bay to Old Harry Rocks on our recent visit to Dorset.  In this post we’ll share all the information you need to plan your own Old Harry Rocks walk.  We’ll explain where to park, the directions, and best places to eat nearby.

It’s a short, beautiful walk to one of the must-visit destinations in Dorset.

  • Distance: 3.2 km (1 mile each way)
  • Time:  1 hour (with stopping time)
  • Difficulty: Easy (mostly level, dirt track)
  • Facilities:  Pubs and cafés (see below)
  • Parking: Studland Bay

Studland Bay to Old Harry Rocks Walk

Studland Bay, Dorset, UK

The short walk to Old Harry Rocks starts at Studland, on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.  This is on the south coast of England, between Wareham and Swanage.

Studland Bay is a popular area for visitors to Dorset, as it has four miles of golden, sandy beach and clear sea water.  If it’s a sunny day, you could return to the beach after your walk to Old Harry Rocks.

But, before we talk about the walk, let’s have a look at some facts about Old Harry Rocks…

What is Old Harry Rocks?

Old Harry Rocks is a unique rock formation located at Handfast Point, near Studland Bay in Dorset.  It is a series of white sea stacks, created over millions of years by sea erosion.

The famous sea stacks have become one of the many unique geological landmarks that make up Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.  This is a 95-mile stretch of coastline in southern England, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When you visit Dorset, allow time to see Dorset’s other natural attractions, such as Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, and the Golden Cap.

View of Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, UK

The rocks at Old Harry Rocks are a brilliant white, as they are made of chalk, made over time from the compressed shells of sea creatures.  Originally, the rocks were part of a long chalk ridge, which joined with the Needles on the Isle of Wight.  Many years ago, it was possible to walk from the Handfast Point headland to Old Harry.

Old Harry is the pinnacle at the end of the rocks and his wife is now just a stump.  Other geological features are No Man’s Land (the stack at the end of the cliffs) and St Lucas’ Leap (the gap between the mainland at Handfast Point and first offshore rock).

Initially,  Old Harry was a cave, then a sea arch like Durdle Door.  When the arch collapsed, Old Harry and his wife were created.  Over time Old Harry’s wife has gradually eroded, until she collapsed into the sea in 1896.

Nowadays, Old Harry Rocks measures 49 metres (160 feet).

Why is it called Old Harry?

Group of White rocks in sea, Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, UK

There are several tales regarding how Old Harry acquired his name.  Some believe that Harry was named after the Devil (Old Harry) who used to sleep on the rocks.

Other local accounts claim that Old Harry took his name from Harry Paye, a notorious local pirate.  Apparently, Pirate Harry used to hide his ship behind the rocks in wait for unsuspecting merchant sailors.

Where should you park for the walk to Old Harry Rocks?

The best place to park for the short walk to Old Harry Rocks in the South Beach Car Park at Studland Bay.  The National Trust own the car park, so parking is free for NT  members.  Alternatively, you can pay £3 for 2 hours.  The postcode for the car park is BH19 3AU.

We started our visit with lunch in the Bankes Arms Inn, a 16th century pub next to the car park.  It is a traditional country pub with oak beams and a fire.  It also has an enormous beer garden at the front, with views overlooking the sea.  Of course, you could skip this part and go straight to the walk to Old Harry Rocks.

So now you have all the information you need about Old Harry Rocks, let’s get on with the walk.

The short walk to Old Harry Rocks

Coastal path signs showing walk from Studland-Bay

From the car park, turn right and walk downhill past the Bankes Arms pub.  As you arrive at the public toilets on your left, you’ll see a signpost on the corner of the road.  At the signpost turn left and follow the path.  There’s also a stone marker, so you can’t go wrong.

Flat path leading into distance on walk to Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, UK

From the signpost follow the wide dirt trail as far as the headland.  It’s a pretty route with trees and fields on each side.  Look out for the viewpoints on the left, where you can stop to enjoy the coastal views.

The Pinnacle and Turfrick Rock

Once you reach the headland, have a rest and enjoy the panoramic views of the fantastic cliff formation.  Old Harry Rocks is on the left, but you can also see the coastline over Studland.  On the other side, you’ll see more white sea stacks.  The pointed stack in this photo is called the Pinnacle and the other is Turf Rickrock.

Old Harry Rocks National Trust sign warning of unstable cliff edge, Dorset, UK

Don’t get too close to the edge, as the cliffs are still eroding and could break off.

Now, whilst you’re at Old Harry Rocks, keep an eye out for wildlife, as you may spot a seal.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any, but we did spot a rabbit.

When you’ve had your fill of the views, you can retrace your steps back to Studland.

How long does it take to walk to Old Harry Rocks?

The Harry Rocks walk is one mile each way and takes about 20 minutes.  Allow about an hour in total, so that you have time to enjoy the views.

A long walk to Old Harry Rocks

As you’d imagine there are plenty of longer walks to Old Harry Rocks.  You could do a circular walk, which would take you to Swanage, or just start further along the coastal path.

If you are really looking for a challenge, you could do the whole of the South West Coast Path, from Minehead to Poole!

How to get to Old Harry Rocks

By car

The easiest way to get to Old Harry Rocks is by car.  Studland Bay is on the southern coast of England.  If you’re coming from London, take the M3/M27 and you can take a scenic drive through the New Forest National Park.

Alternatively, you could take the Sandbanks Chain Ferry from Sandbanks (near Poole/Bournemouth) to Studland.  The postcode for the sat nav is BH13 7QN.

By public transport

The quickest way to get from London to Studland on public transport is by train.

Direct trains run regularly from London Waterloo to Wareham and take 2 hrs 20 mins.  From here you can get a taxi or the number 40 bus to Swanage.

Places to eat near Old Harry Rocks

Old Bankes Inn, Studland Bay, Dorset, UK

You’ll find several places to eat near Old Harry Rocks.  We ate in the Bankes Arms pub before setting off on our walk.  However, if you fancy something less formal, you’ll find several cafés on the beach.  The closest to Old Harry Rocks, Joe’s Café, serves hot and cold food and drinks from 10am – 4pm.

Alternatively, if you are looking for something more upmarket, the Pig-on-the-Beach is just a short walk down Manor Road.  As well as their à la carte menu, they serve flatbreads in the garden, with amazing views over the sea.

Other things to do near Old Harry Rocks

Corfe Castle, Dorset, UK

There are plenty of things to do and see in Dorset, including beautiful beaches, pretty villages and family attractions.  One of the best things to do near Old Harry Rocks is Corfe Castle, a magnificent castle overlooking the village by the same name.

Or you could head to RSPB Arne Nature Reserve, near Wareham, where you’ll have a choice of nature trails.

We'd love to hear from you!

Have you done any walks to Old Harry Rocks?  We’d love to hear your comments in the box below.

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