One of Purbeck’s most famous landmarks sits just under the cliffs near the villages of Langton Matravers and Worth Matravers.
Dancing Ledge is a natural shelf of flat rock jutting out into the sea, which once made it a prime site for the quarrying of Purbeck stone – as well as an easy target for smugglers coming from the sea. Now, sea ledge and its surrounding area is a beauty spot popular with walkers, climbers and wildlife enthusiasts.
It has also become known as an unusual wild swimming location due to the tidal pool that was blasted out of the ledge by quarrymen in the early 1900s for local school children to learn to swim.
There is no consensus on how Dancing Ledge came to get its name, but there are two favoured stories: Some say Dancing Ledge is so named because of the way the water seems to ‘dance’ over the flat rock at certain tides; others say it’s because the area is just the right size for a ballroom.
Note that the walk to the quarry area is accessible via steps, but there is a bit of a scramble down to Dancing Ledge itself, so may not be suitable for young children.
*Swimming in the sea off Dancing Ledge is not advisable. There is no shoreline and the currents can be extremely dangerous*
Walking routes to Dancing Ledge
Spyway – easy
The most family-friendly route to Dancing Ledge is from the Spyway car park in Langton Matravers. (For your SatNav: BH19 3HG)
The walk is mostly flat, although the descent to Dancing Ledge itself involves a fairly steep hill to walk down.
The path is signposted and takes you through grazing fields and past Spyway Barn – stop at the National Trust information area where you can learn all about the history of this part of the Jurassic Coast, as well as what wildlife you can expect to see.
The area is named Spyway after the days of smuggling along the coast here – once quarrying at Dancing Ledge ceased, the caves around it were perfect for hiding contraband, and the easy landing point made this a natural route for transporting goods from the sea and up over the hill.
A tree with a dark past
Look out for this large sycamore tree as you walk from the car park.
Like many spots in Purbeck, it has an intriguing history attached to it – it’s believed it was once used as a hangman’s tree.
And the name of the area itself – Spyway – comes from this being a path once used by smugglers.
Worth Matravers circular walk – moderate
A slightly more challenging walk that starts at the village of Worth Matravers (for your SatvNav: BH19 3LE)
The walk encompasses the South West Coast Path and takes you along the cliff via Seacombe.
From Durlston – more challenging
Dancing Ledge is about two miles along the coast path beyond the park. You can return the way you came, or head toward Priest’s Way to make the walk circular.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to explore Dancing Ledge in a more adrenalin-inducing way, there are various local coasteering companies that can take you out:
Scramble across rocks, jump off cliffs and explore caves with outdoor activities organiser Cumulus Outdoors.
Fully-qualified instructors offer morning or afternoon sessions, and provide wetsuits and protective gear including buoyancy aids.
Here’s a taste of what to expect:
Cumulus also has dedicated toilet and changing facilities.
Participants must be aged 10+.
Other actives with Cumulus include
- Tag archery – paintball meets archery and dodgeball at Burnbake (near Corfe Castle)
- National Citizen Service (NCS) camping
- Bushcraft skills
- Ropes course
- Abseiling and climbing
- Urban orienteering
- Stag and hen parties, as well as business team days
- Duke of Edinburgh award
Find out more and book: www.cumulusoutdoors.com/adventure/coasteering/
Land & Wave
Land & Wave offers coasteering sessions for young people (aged 8+), as well as private and group sessions.
Protective equipment and wetsuits are provided. Land & Wave advise bringing your own swimwear, towel and an old pair of trainers.
The team also offers stag and hen packages, as well as a range of other outdoor activities
- Paddle boarding and kayaking in Swanage and at Sandbanks
- Survival skills courses at Norden
- Raft-building on Swanage Beach
- Duke of Edinburgh award
Book onto a course: www.landandwave.co.uk/coasteering-dorset
Dancing Ledge is a popular climbing spot and has over 100 climbs ranging from beginners’ to challenging ‘E6’ climbs.
Note that some climbs at Dancing Ledge are subject to seasonal restrictions, as depicted in the below map:
- Safety precautions must be taken at all times and climbers should be aware that there may occasionally be large waves off Dancing Ledge, which itself may have loose rocks
- Phone signal can be poor here – the nearest public phone is in Langton Matravers. There is an emergency telephone at Durlston Country Park (at Anvil Point lighthouse) and at St Aldhelm’s head.
The coastal landscape and cliffs around Dancing Ledge are rich with wildlife. Keep an eye out for:
Horseshoe vetch – The pretty bursts of this yellow wildflower are common from May through to July
Early spider-orchid – This rare flowering gem can be found in the fields around Dancing Ledge and Winspit. The best time to to view these unique orchids is April – May
Cowslips – The Isle of Purbeck is lucky to be rich in areas with cowslips. You’ll spot this special little flower on the walk down to Dancing Ledge in early Spring
Adonis Blue – Lured by a landscape rich in wildflowers like the horseshoe vetch, the striking Adonis Blue is a common sight here
Lulworth Skipper – Named after the nearby Jurassic Coast beauty spot Lulworth Cove, where it was first discovered in 1832 , the Lulworth Skipper can only be found here on the Dorset coast. It is the smallest butterfly in the area, but if you look closely amongst the vetch and cowslips adorning the summer fields around Dancing Ledge you’re likely to spot one
Puffins – Very near to Dancing Ledge are puffin ‘burrows’ where these most-loved sea birds return to Purbeck each year. You may be lucky enough to see one, but they are now sadly in decline. Find out more about local initiatives to track and protect their habitats here in Dorset: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/spyway/features/purbeck-puffins
Guillemots – You may also spot guillemots around Dancing Ledge, but perhaps the best place to see these characterful sea birds is at Durlston Country Park – home to the South Coast’s second largest guillemot colony.
Location on the Jurassic Coast
Dancing Ledge is just over a ten minute drive from Swanage and is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
The easiest way to get there is to park at the National Trust Spyway car park in Langton Matravers (SatNav BH19 3HG)
Other must-visit areas of the Jurassic Coast
If the rugged beauty of Dancing Ledge has inspired you to explore similar places in Purbeck, these are some of the most famous spots to visit.
- Durdle Door – Perhaps the most famous natural landmark on the Jurassic Coast, Durdle Door and its surrounding landscape make for some unforgettable scenery
- Lulworth Cove – Just a stone’s throw from Durdle Door is the picturesque Lulworth Cove and its pretty village. There’s also an outdoor activity centre in West Lulworth to help you explore the area
- Old Harry Rocks – Synonymous with the Isle of Purbeck, the white chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks are a pleasant walk from Studland and offer breathtaking views
- Winspit – Also popular with rock-climbers, Winspit is a pleasant walk to disused quarry caves from the village of Worth Matravers