Old Harry Rocks are three geographical chalk formations at Handfast Point on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Britain’s coastline is in a state of constant change and nowhere is this better shown than with Old Harry Rocks. The formations can be found just three miles from the popular holiday towns of Bournemouth and Poole and were formed within the past 20,000 years, which in geological time is hardly anytime at all. The chalk of Old Harry Rocks used to be part of a long stretch of cliff face between Purbeck and the Isle of Wight but due to erosion the rock has been worn away over time. This erosion takes place when the harder section of the rock remains whilst softer rock around it gets worn away. It is a process called ‘hydraulic action’ in which very small cracks get filled with water and air. They then widen so that over time caves and stacks are formed. The process is ongoing and eventually the stack will weaken and fall.
At one time ‘Old Harry’ had a wife but he was ‘widowed’ 500 years ago when the top of her stack broke off and fell into the sea leaving just a stump. In due course the same fate will befall Old Harry, although there has been some suggestion that action could be taken to prevent this. However, the National Trust that owns the site is inclined to let nature take its course.
This area marks the most easterly point of the Jurassic coast and its importance has been recognised by its designation as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
The bridleway from Studland Village to Old Harry and Ballard Down is one of the best loved walks in Dorset and popular with mountain bikers and horse riders. Hang gliders and para gliders fly in the location when conditions are right and kayakers can follow a special inshore trail to ‘Old Harry’ from nearby Middle Beach.
There are two legends that surround the mystery of how ‘Old Harry’ got its name. One tale says that the devil, known as ‘Old Harry,’ used to sleep on the rocks.
A second story centres around Henry Paye, the smuggler and raider from Poole who, in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, would have stored his swag nearby and most likely slept on the rocks. It is said his ship used to lurk behind the rocks ready to pounce on passing merchants. Whilst the story about Henry cannot be substantiated it has the more believable meaning behind the name.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Dorset, England, BH20 5PQ
+44 (0)1929 480 280
- Address: Manor Road, Studland, Dorset, England, United Kingdom, BH19 3AU
- GPS: 50.64234444,-1.923355556
- Phone: 0044 (0) 1929 450 002
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: BH19 3AU
- Entrance Fees: Free access to the headland
- Visibility from Road: None
- Image Credits: Header Image: Helen Hotson