The disused quarry at Winspit is a fantastic place to explore, with its craggy rocks, echoing cave tunnels, and wide, expansive sea views.
Once famously used as a Doctor Who filming location, the area has retained its almost other-worldly atmosphere, with its sense of the past in the abandoned caves of this relatively remote place.
A pleasant walk down from the village of Worth Matravers, Winspit makes for a good family day out, but take water and snacks (the walk back up the hill may be more challenging for little legs). Or stop at the quaint village tea room or cosy pub, The Square and Compass, on your way back up to refuel.
The curious lines in the hills you’ll spot on the way down are medieval ‘strip lynchets’ – earth terraces which were part of an ancient agricultural system. It’s thought the ‘terraces’ were a way of maximising farming and the cultivation of the land.
Safety at Winspit
Visitors to Winspit explore at their own risk and common sense should be applied at all times.
There are sheer, unfenced cliff edges above the sea, so children should be closely supervised and dogs kept on a short lead. Keep well away from cliff edges at all times.
There may be loose or falling rocks or stones, so climbing isn’t advised. (Note, however, that experienced rock climbers do use the area with relevant safety equipment).
Winspit is best-explored on a fine day when the weather has been dry. Paths may become slippery after wet weather and phone signal may be poor.
There is a rocky cove to the left, which is accessible down a short path, and which draws picnickers and sunbathers in summer months.
Swimming is not recommended here due to the lack of shoreline and potentially strong currents against unseen rocks.
You may in fact notice a nearby carved stone memorial to an 18-year-old man who died here in 1935. The memorial was recently restored as the wording had become illegible, as a reminder to swimmers to take care around the sea here.
The touching memorial reads:
‘In memory of Alastair Ian Campbell Johnstone, drowned at Winspit August 19th 1935.
‘He loved birds and green places and the wind on the heath & saw the brightness of the skirts of God.
‘Born 1917, Died 1935’
Dramatic land and seascapes
A sense of history is all around you at Winspit and the disused quarry and its unique setting make for some dramatic views.
Quarry caves and tunnels
You can carefully and quietly poke your head into the old quarry caves to get a sense of what life was like for quarrymen – it would have been hard, physically strenuous, and sometimes dangerous work in the mine-like caves and tunnels, and often at the mercy of the elements.
Greater Horseshoe Bats
On your way down the path to Winspit you’ll notice caves on your right, which are cordoned off to the public – this is because they are home to the Greater Horseshoe bat (so-named due to its horseshoe-shaped snout).
They are becoming increasingly rare in Britain. It is estimated that their population here has declined to a mere 1%.
The Greater Horseshoe bat is a protected species and as such must not be disturbed.
There are only a few populations remaining in England – here, in the South West, and in parts of South Wales.
Wildflowers, berries and birds
Depending on the time of year you visit, the walk down the path to Winspit, and around the quarry itself, can be rich with wildflowers, blackberries and sloes.
Look out for bird’s foot trefoil and sea thrift thriving in this coastal location, as well as a variety of birds and sea birds, which have made this haven their home, such as the peregrine falcon.
The extraction of Purbeck stone was a prime industry on the coast of Isle of Purbeck throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Stone extracted from the extensive quarry at Winspit, as with other sites along the coast – such as Seacombe, Dancing Ledge and Tilly Whim – would have been lowered onto sea-level platforms and transported to larger offshore vessels by barge.
It was often dangerous work and quarrymen faced the very real threat of collapsing tunnels, which claimed many lives. However the extraction of Purbeck stone produced less dust than other forms of quarrying, so quarry workers’ lungs were not as affected as some other kinds of quarrying and mining.
Quarrying was an important form of employment and sons would often follow in their father’s footsteps to take up work as both quarrymen and as stonemasons, often interchanging between the two roles.
Smugglers and shipwrecks
The many quarry caves and tunnels across the Purbeck coastline served as excellent hiding places for both smugglers and their contraband and there are tales of smuggling activity at various famous spots, such as Dancing Ledge, Peveril Point, the Tilly Whim caves at Durlston Country Park, and Winspit itself.
The coastline around here was also notorious for shipwrecks, one of the most famous being off Winspit in 1786.
A ship called Halsewell, of the India Trading Company, succumbed to the rocks beneath the then active quarry. Quarry workers were able to help rescue some of the Halsewell’s crew and passengers after one of them managed to scramble up the cliff from the stricken vessel for help.
Of the 242 on board, 88 were saved, but only 74 survived the ordeal.
The Halsewell disaster was such a tragedy that King George III visited the scene, and the famous wreck also inspired Charles Dickens to write about it in his 1853 short story The Long Voyage.
The Haleswell has also appeared in numerous poems and inspired orchestral arrangements over the years.
In the 1960s, local divers from Swanage salvaged various items from the Haleswell, including a canon, the captain’s cabinet, and a mirror that is now on display in St Nicholas’ Church in Worth Matravers.
World War II defence base
Quarrying ceased at Winspit in 1940, when it had a second lease of life as both an air and naval base during World War II.
Some of the leftover stone that had been quarried was also transported away and used in building airfields.
When the war was over, the area was opened to the public.
Winspit has been used by several filming companies – the location deemed perfect for sci-fi and mystery:
- Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace, 1967. The fifth BBC TV serial of season four of Doctor Who sees the Tardis land on the rocky ledge at Winspit (depicted as an extinct volcanic island). The Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) explores the area before discovering the entrance to underwater city ‘Atlantis’. Only two of the four episodes have survived
- Doctor Who – Destiny of the Daleks, 1979. Winspit stars as the planet Skaro, and the old quarry buildings are reimagined with futuristic-looking pipes and cylinders to represent the abandoned Dalek city and Kaled bunkers. Binnegar Heath in Wareham was also used as a filming location for the series
- Blake’s 7 – A 1981 episode of the TV sci-fi series Blake’s 7 called Games was shot here for the futuristic planet ‘Mecron II’
- John Carter – The 2012 Disney movie sees Winspit reincarnated in a scene of the ‘Orkney Dig’
- Star Wars Andor – Filming took place in Winspit for the new Star Wars Disney+ series in spring 2021
An annual sci-fi themed water-fight takes place at Winspit to commemorate its popularity as a sci-fi TV filming location.
Enthusiasts come from all over the UK to take part in the event typically held in August.
Climbing at Winspit
Winspit is on privately-owned land and climbing may be dangerous. Visitors explore at their own risk.
However, whilst climbing is not strictly allowed, Winspit has still become a very popular climbing spot for experienced climbers and groups who come with safety ropes and equipment, with a section of ‘Quarryman’s wall’ being relatively sheltered and well-bolted and regarded as permissible climbing.
There are various other climbing sites around the coast here, such as at Dancing Ledge, and some are subject to seasonal restrictions for the protection of nesting birds.
How to get to Winspit
Winspit can only be reached on foot.
For your SatNav: BH19 3LE (For parking in Worth Matravers‘ village car park)
Walk down the hill through the village past The Square and Compass pub.
Continue on by the village green and duck pond, and past the row of houses down London Row.
Walk down through the grazing field till you reach a gate, which will take you on to the track that leads to Winpsit.