Old Harry Rocks

Old Harry Rocks

Located at the Eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, the Old Harry Rocks are a feast for the eyes as they glimmer bright white contrasting with the green fields above and the blue of the sea below. This area can be enjoyed from atop the cliffs, with amazing views of the sea or from below aboard a boat or Kayak. From below, the dramatic shapes of the rocks and cliffs above are really something to marvel at. Those are just a few of the amazing things one can see along the Jurassic Coast. You can find more information about other sites and places of interest, the best way to arrive and activities that you can embark upon when vising this unique piece of coast that has survived millions of years.

Where Are They Located?

Old Harry Rocks is located at Handfast Point on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. It is made up of three rock formations that are made out of chalk, the three rocks include a stack and a stump. It has been classified as the most eastern point of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jurassic Coast. The rocks lie directly east of Studland and are about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) northeast of Swanage and about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of large towns such as Poole and Bournemouth.

How Do I Get There?

If you plan on taking a trip down to the rocks, you’ll need to travel by foot or cycle to the location, which is at Handfast Point on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, with the nearest train station being Wareham. There is also the option to visit by boat, as a Jurrasic Coast Cruise can be booked with City Cruises Poole in the ballpark of £15 for one adult. The Jurrasic Coast Trust also runs an annual fundraising cruise in May of each year, so this could be another great opportunity to get a better coastal view of the location with commentary. The rocks are situated between Studland and Pool Bay and mark the start of the Jurrasic Coast World Heritage Site. Studland Village is about 1.5 miles away from Old Harry, there are busses running from Bournemouth, Sandbanks, and Swanage all year round that will take you to Studland Village. The nearest car park is at South Beach which is run by the National Trust, it is a pay and display car park but is free for National Trust members.

Things to Do at Old Harry Rocks

There are a lot of open grass areas around Old Harry Rock which offer fantastic places to have a picnic, here are also places nearby that you can grab something to eat or drink. The routes leading to and from the rocks form part of the South West Coast Path, perfect for those that like to walk or cycle. Dogs are welcome at the rocks, but due to the dangers and the heights, they must be kept on a lead.

If you would prefer to see the rocks from the sea, City Cruide Poole runs boat trips that pass by the rock formation as they travel down the Jurassic Coast. There are also guided tours and Kayak rental available.

While Old Harry may or may not provide enough entertainment for a full day, it is located close to several other popular spots, like the Studland Tracking Centre, the Studland beach and Nature Reserve, the Studland to Swanage trail, Swanage Railway, Shell Bay, and multiple other points of interest. If you’re in the area already or looking to visit a natural scenic location with some history behind it, then you’ll definitely want to stop by Old Harry Rocks for a breathtaking view of one of nature’s natural wonders. 

How Were they Formed?

The rocks used to be part of a long stretch of chalk that ran between Purbeck and the Isle of Wight, however, large parts were eroded away. The process of hydraulic action took place, this is where the air and water are forced into small cracks by the sea which can result in large cracks. First caves began to form, and then arches. Heavy rainfall and strong winds then caused the arches to collapse, leaving the disconnected rocks as we see them today. There used to be an additional stack called “Old Harry’s Wife” but due to erosion and abrasion, in 1896 the base of the stack became too weak and the top part fell away leaving just a stump.

Old Harry Rocks Legend & Lore

There are a few legends can come with the rocks, one legend suggests that the Devil (known traditionally as Old Harry) slept on the rocks. Another local legend states that the rocks were named after Harry Paye, who was an infamous pirate from Poole, his ship hid behind the rocks awaiting passing ships. A third legend states that a ninth-century Viking raid was stopped by a storm and that Earl Harold, who drowned, was turned into a pillar of chalk.

Old Harry Rocks includes three scenic chalk formations that were formed by the sea approximately 66 years ago. The geology behind the creation of the rocks is as interesting as the legends behind what happened to Old Harry. Originally, the chalk ridge was located under a shallow sea. Over millions of years, calcium deposits from dying sea creatures built up to create the chalk ridge. Plate tectonics then helped the ridge rise before the Ice Age occurred, and we can thank erosion and the rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age for the final version of the Old Harry Rocks that we see today. The rocks have become the subject of several local legends, in fact, “What happened to Old Harry” has become a popular Google search. The first legend claims that Harry was an infamous pirate who hid his ship behind the rocks to await passing merchants to rob.

The second legend pins Harry as a Viking. When a raid was caught by a storm at the location, a drowned man was supposedly turned into a pillar of chalk. One of the stacks is even said to be Harry’s wife, who fell into the sea in 1896. If you visit the site, be sure to tell others about your favorite legend, or see if you can come up with yet another explanation of what happened to Old Harry. There’s also no need to pack lunch ahead of time, as the Knoll Beach Café and shop overlooks the location. The shop sells anything you could need for a day out at the beach, along with home items and souvenirs. In the colder months, hot chocolate and a hot stove provide a cozy environment for visitors.