Circular Walk to Old Harry Rocks from Swanage

Cumulus Outdoors Office Manager, Jackie describes her favourite walk – a circular route to Old Harry Rock from Swanage. Hopefully you’ll soon be able to enjoy it too, once the time is right to travel.

One of my favourite walks around Swanage is a circular route to Old Harry Rocks. I’m fortunate that I can still do this during the lockdown as my one exercise outing of the day.

Circular walk from Swanage

You used to be able to walk along Swanage beach towards North beach and then join the South West Coast Path via Shep’s Hollow, however this is now out of bounds due to the cliff falls, which occurred during the very wet start of the year. So now, everyone needs to walk through the town to the Ballard Estate and join the path on Ballard Green. Keeping to the path across the green, follow the steps down over the bridge and then up to the left and walk gradually uphill through the leafy shade towards Ballard Down.

swanage bay changing coast board purbeck stone marker to ballard down at ulwell

This is Whitecliff and owned by the National Trust.

At the foot of Ballard Down you will reach a gate indicating the direction of the coastal path. Climb the steps and walk uphill onto the Down, enjoying the views out to sea and back over Swanage. A stunning view and one I will never tire of.

steps to the south west coast path

Along the way there are many Purbeck Stone markers providing direction and mileage details for various points along the SW Coast Path and the Purbeck Way, which both criss-cross Ballard Down. This is a very popular walk with tourists, SW Coast Path enthusiasts and locals, especially dog walkers. It can get very busy during the height of the season and it can also get extremely muddy during the Winter, but it is always somewhere you can immerse yourself in nature and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings.

purbeck stone sign to old harry rock

Beautiful views over Swanage and Studland

Towards the top of Ballard Down are two paths you can follow to Old Harry Rocks; one takes you directly there and the other takes you via Ballard Point. Both are very picturesque, and you gain views either side of Ballard of Swanage and Studland.

view towards swanage bay view over studland

Old Harry Rocks

Following either branch of the SW Coast Path will take you downhill towards Old Harry Rocks and here you will see the clear blue waters and stunning white cliffs stretching out in front of you. This part of the walk is known as Old Nick’s Ground and here you walk past the Pinnacles with many cormorants and seagulls nesting on the tops.

Continue downhill and you will reach Old Harry Rocks at Handfast Point, a truly beautiful location which shows the power of nature and the sea eroding the coastline into a series of archways and stacks and stumps which eventually disappear into the waters. On a clear day you can see the Needles on the Isle of Wight – thousands of years ago Old Harry and the Needles were linked by a line of chalk hills that eroded during the last ice age.

old harry rock old harry rock

You may ask how did Old Harry get its name and there are various theories, one being after a famous local pirate Harry Paye and another being after the devil and hence the link to Old Nick’s Ground. Whichever you like to believe, neither detract from the peacefulness of the location.

From here, you can walk into Studland through the woodland walk and take refreshment at the Bankes Arms Pub or the National Trust Café at Knoll Beach and then catch a bus back to Swanage.

My preferred route is to turn tail and head back up Old Nick’s Ground, across the top of Ballard Down and then down the middle path skirting Whitecliffe Farm and dropping back into North Swanage. The views from on top of Ballard Down and at Handfast Point are ones not to be missed at any time of day.

My favourite walk.

old harry rock at sunset