Comprised of four miles of sandy beaches and with acres of heathland and sand dunes to explore, Studland Bay and Nature Reserve has something for everyone.
A short drive from Swanage, Studland Bay lies just over the headland of Ballard Down at the northern end of Swanage Beach.
Studland Bay is home to a thriving watersports scene as well as important heathland and wetlands habitats, which support an array of wildlife – including all six British reptiles.
Its four beaches offer something different for everyone – from family-friendly sections with café and toilet facilities to rugged and unspoilt areas perfect for escaping it all.
A unique part of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, with easy access to Old Harry Rocks and the start of the South West Coast Path (England’s longest national walking trail), Studland Bay can be easily reached from Swanage and Wareham, as well as from Poole and Bournemouth via the Sandbanks Ferry.
There’s something different to discover each time you visit Studland Bay: explore the ancient woodland, scamper among the dunes, sit quietly at the edge of the freshwater lake Little Sea and look out for wildlife, or spend a lazy day at the beach.
The beaches of Studland Bay
Knoll Beach is Studland Bay’s largest and most popular beach. Backed by sand dunes to explore and woodland paths to wander, Knoll Beach provides a full and varied day out.
Studland Watersports is based at Knoll Beach, offering kayak, pedalo and paddle board hire; or for the adrenalin-junkies, wakeboarding, waterskiing and banana rides.
There is also a National Trust shop and café, along with a discovery centre, which hosts regular activities and is available for hire.
Postcode for Knoll Beach: BH19 3AQ
Shell Bay marks the start of South West Coast Path – the longest National Trail in England.
It is also where the Sandbanks Ferry docks, which brings passengers to and from Poole and Bournemouth several times a day.
Shell Bay boasts a wide, sandy beach and there is also a dedicated kitesurfing area between Shell Bay and Knoll Beach.
A short walk from the beach is the Shell Bay bistro – a seafood restaurant mentioned in the Michelin guide, with unrivalled views across Poole Harbour. Read the Michelin review on the guide’s website: guide.michelin.com/gb/en/dorset/studland/restaurant/shell-bay
Postcode for Shell Bay: BH19 3BA
Its safe, shallow water is popular with paddle boarders and kayakers.
South Beach also makes for an interesting walk with its red and yellow-coloured sandstone cliffs and, at the end of the beach, a pill box left over from World War II.
Postcode for South Beach: BH19 3AU
Middle Beach is fairly sheltered due to the cliffs that rise behind it and it shares the calm, shallow waters and rugged nature of South Beach.
With a café overlooking the beach, as well as kayak hire, paddle boarding tuition, snorkel tours and foraging expeditions with outdoor adventure company Fore/Adventure there is plenty for the whole family to enjoy.
Call in advance to check availability with Fore/Adventure or to book a session with a qualified instructor: 01929 761515
Postcode for Middle Beach: BH19 3AX
A 900m stretch of Knoll Beach has been officially allocated for the use of naturists. It is one of the most well-known naturist beaches in Britain.
Users must adhere to the British Naturism beach code and is regularly patrolled by rangers.
The dedicated naturist area is a half-hour walk from the main beach, so naturists and non-naturist visitors are unlikely to cross paths.
Studland Bay dog rules
Dogs are allowed on the beaches of Studland Bay all year, however they must be on a short lead between 1 May and 30 September.
Dogs are welcome inside the National Trust shop on Knoll Beach, and well-behaved dogs are also welcome in the outside seating area of the café.
Dog bins and bags are situated at various points along the beach.
Adders and ticks live in the heathland, so keeping your dog close to you on a short lead and sticking to the paths is essential.
Beach rangers can be contacted in an emergency: 07970 595963.
Parking at Studland Bay
There are various options for parking in and around Studland Bay, depending on where you want to go.
- All four beach car parks are open between 9am – 4.30pm
- Parking is free for National Trust members – simply scan your membership card at the machine
- Overnight parking and camping is not allowed
- Barbecues are currently not allowed at Studland Bay due to the high risk of wildfires in the area, which can be devastating to vegetation and wildlife
- To find out more about the National Trust’s policy on BBQs at Studland visit their website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/our-policy-on-bbqs
- Lifeguards are not on duty in Studland Bay, however during the summer certain beaches may have safe-swimming areas marked out
The wealth of wildlife at Studland is internationally-renowned. It is home to the UK’s six native reptiles, and its diverse range of heathland, wetland and sand dune habitats support an array of rare birds and insects.
Depending on the time of year, you’ll also be able to spot sika or roe deer, birds such as the Dartford warbler, and rare butterflies.
Britain’s six native reptiles have made Studland their home
- Smooth snake – The smooth snake is a rarity in Britain and only found in a few places in the country. They like Studland’s sandy heathland areas and can be identified by their grey or brown colour, round pupils and less well-defined markings and can grow up to 70cm long. They live for around 20 years and are non-venomous
- Sand lizard – Enjoying the same habitat as the smooth snake and equally rare, sand lizards have found a haven in Studland’s heathland, where they can dig their burrows and laze in the sun on warmer days. They grow to around 15cm, and the males turn a bright green colour during the Spring mating season
- Adder – The UK’s only venomous snake (whose bite can be painful but is rarely fatal) can be easily identified by his red eyes and distinctive zigzag pattern. Common throughout Britain, adders enjoy both woodland and heathland. They can grow up to 80cm long and live for about 15 years
- Common lizard – Widely found throughout most parts of both Britain and Ireland, the common lizard has an unusual characteristic – it gives birth to live young by incubating its eggs inside its body
- Slow worm – This legless lizard is a familiar friendly face in Dorset’s heath, woodland and sometimes gardens. Resembling a small snake, slow worms can grow to up to 50cm long
- Grass snake – Growing up to 150cm long, the grass snake is the UK’s biggest snake and enjoys grassy and wetland habitats
Little Sea – an important wetland habitat
Little Sea is a stunning place to do a bit of wildlife-spotting and is dotted with bird hides so you can watch quietly without disturbing nature.
Part of Studland’s wider wetland system, Little Sea was once part of the ocean, but became cut off from the sea when Studland’s sand dunes were formed around 500 years ago.
It has since become a freshwater lake and is home to an array of wetland birds and is a haven for a multitude of other wildlife including sika deer, water voles and otters.
Much of the area around Little Sea is inaccessible, meaning that wildlife can thrive undisturbed by human activity, however you can access Little Sea via Ferry Road or through a short woodland walk from Knoll Beach.
Information on some of the birds you might see around Little Sea, including the little grebe, egret, grey heron and kingfisher, is displayed inside the hides:
You’ll find a variety of walking paths leading from the car park and near to the Discovery Centre at Knoll Beach, each offering a different perspective on Studland Bay’s diverse landscape.
The woodland walk is perfect for wildlife-spotting – from woodpeckers to warblers, and from fungi to frogs.
Little Sea is also a short walk through the woods, where you can sit quietly in a hide to see what wildlife might venture past.
Depending on the time of year wildflowers, ferns, moss and bracken line the paths, and in spring the area is a haven for butterflies.
Note that dogs should be kept on a short lead so as not to disturb wildlife.
Education and ecology at Studland’s Discovery Centre
The National Trust runs a variety of events throughout the year based around exploring the reserve – a good place to find out what’s on when you’re visiting is either at the information point near the café or at the Discovery Centre at Knoll Beach.
The Discovery Centre also provides information packs and a wealth of online information about the sand dune system and coastal management processes at Studland, both for individual interest as well as resources for teachers: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/studland-bay/features/education-at-studland-bay
Look out for informative signs and children’s quizzes in and around the discovery centre aimed at getting you closer to nature:
Inspiring creatives for generations – Studland Bay as a filming location
It’s not surprising that Studland Bay and its surrounding area has become a popular filming location and an inspiration for authors over the years.
Here’s a snapshot of Studland’s famous connections, and where the bay has played a starring role on stage and screen over the years:
- Only Fools and Horses – The 1982 episode It Never Rains was filmed on the beach in Studland. Set in Spain, Del and Rodney take Grandad on holiday…
- Coldplay – The band filmed their hit single Yellow in Studland Bay, which appears on their 2000 album Parachute. It features frontman Chris Martin walking in slow motion along Knoll Beach. Watch the YouTube video
- The Two Ronnies – The 1982 feature-length classic By the Sea heavily features Swanage, with the bay, pier, seafront, railway and town all making an appearance, but Studland Bay is also utilised for filming, such as the donkey-ride scene shot on the beach, with Old Harry Rocks clearly visible in the background. You can watch the whole film on YouTube
- Hardy’s Return of the Native – The setting of Egdon Heath that renowned writer Thomas Hardy conjures in his Wessex is inspired by various heathland areas in Dorset including near Bovington, Wareham, Dorchester and Puddletown, as well as the immediate area of his birth place, Rushy Pond, but it is the heath at Studland Bay which is today regarded as the closest to Hardy’s imagining as it remains largely untouched – it is in fact the largest surviving area of lowland heath in the county, whereas much of the other original areas have been altered, built on or planted over with trees
- Monty Python’s Flying Circus – The first episode of the zany comedy sketch show was filmed on the beach at Studland Bay
- Loverboy – The music video to this Billy Ocean song is filmed at Knoll Beach amongst other Dorset locations. Watch on YouTube
- Dunkirk – Although most Dorset filming locations centre around Weymouth and Swanage Railway, there is a scene at the end of the 2017 blockbuster movie that features Studland’s iconic white cliffs. The beach has also been used to portray a Dunkirk beach in the 1981 TV series Private Schultz
- Wilde – The Oscar Wilde biopic starring Stephen Fry was filmed in various local locations, including Studland Bay, Swanage Pier, Lulworth and Durdle Door
Set locations in the wider Purbeck and Dorset area
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles – The 2008 BBC adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess was filmed at various locations in Dorset, including Dancing Ledge and Corfe Castle
- Nanny McPhee – There is a scene in the 2005 film, which stars Emma Thompson and Colin Firth, shot at Durdle Door. Due to the extensive steps to access the beach here, the crew’s six tonnes of equipment had to be delivered to the shore by helicopter. You can catch a glimpse of Durdle Door beach in the film’s trailer
- Saviour’s Day – The Christmas single by Cliff Richard is also filmed at Durdle Door. You can watch the music video on YouTube – note that the opening scenes showing Richard near the top of the arch are now out-of-bounds and there are warning signs in place to allow members of the public to explore this unique part of the Jurassic Coast safely
- Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – A famous scene in the popular 1970s sitcom was filmed at Seacombe Cliffs, adjacent to Dancing Ledge. The episode sees a bumbling Frank Spencer attempting to take his wife on a picnic, before losing control of his car, which ends up teetering on the edge of the cliff. The episode also stars members of the Swanage & Wareham Rugby club, who come to Frank’s rescue. You can catch a glimpse of Purbeck’s quarrying past within the cliffs in this short clip
- The Festival – Starring The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas, the Festival was partially filmed at Bestival, which is held in the grounds of Lulworth Castle. Watch the trailer for The Festival
- Comrades – The 1986 film tells the story of West Dorset’s Tolpuddle Matryrs – the founding fathers of the Trade Union. Some scenes were set in Tyneham and the movie also features Dorchester, Maiden Castle and Cerne Abbas
- Far From The Madding Crowd – Various Purbeck and Dorset locations are used in both the 1967 and the 2015 film adaptations of one of Thomas Hardy’s best-known novels, including the cliffs and coastline by Durdle Door, Encombe (near Swyre Head), West Lulworth, Bere Regis, the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Mapperton and West Bay
- Famous Five adventures – It’s said that children’s author Enid Blyton was heavily inspired by the Isle of Purbeck after holidays in Swanage and Studland. Many of the landmarks in her children’s books, and their subsequent adaptations, can be easily identified, despite being renamed and reimagined by Blyton. Corfe Castle becomes ‘Kirrin Castle’, and the ruin is used as a filming location for Five on a Treasure Island, as well as a TV adaptation of the Famous Five adventure series. She also references the Blue Pool and Kimmeridge Bay, and Mr Plod from Blyton’s Noddy series is said to be inspired by Studland village’s own policeman at the time
- The Boat That Rocked – Whilst mostly shot in and around Portland Harbour and Weymouth in West Dorset, the Richard Curtis-directed film also uses areas around Kimmeridge Bay and Lyme Regis for filming
- Doctor Who – Various episodes have featured parts of Dorset over the years – perhaps most famously the quarry caves at Winspit, which were also used for sci-fi series Blake’s 7
- Spider-Man: Far From Home – Old Harry Rocks is featured filmed from the air in a scene from the blockbuster movie
- World War Z – The Brad Pitt zombie pandemic movie uses Lulworth Cove for beach and speedboat action scenes
- The Black Tower – The PD James novel The Black Tower is said to be inspired by Clavell Tower in Kimmeridge
- The Imitation Game – Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing as he attempts to crack the Enigma Code and is partly filmed at Sherborne, where Turing himself went to school
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – A short sequence was filmed at Abbotsbury Swannery as the reed beds there were deemed perfect for the setting for the Weasley’s house
- Broadchurch – The popular ITV detective drama starring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman uses the iconic backdrop of West Bay as its setting. Season Three also focuses on ‘Axehampton House’, which is in fact Bridehead House in Littlebredy
- On Chesil Beach – The novel by Ian McEwan was dramatised in 2017 in a movie of the same name. Scenes were shot on Chesil Beach itself – an 18-mile shingle barrier that stretches from Portland to West Bay in West Dorset
Where is Studland Bay – location & how to get there
From Swanage, simply leave town via Ulwell Road until you reach the B3351. Turn a sharp right here onto Swanage Road, which will take you into Studland village.
Just past Studland Stores, on your right, as you head down Ferry Road you’ll see signs for both South Beach and Middle Beach. Continuing along Ferry Road, passing Studland Stables and then Knoll House Hotel on your left you’ll soon come to Knoll Beach to your right. Toward the end of Ferry Road, near the ferry, you’ll find Shell Bay.