This walk alongside white chalk stacks believed to be named after a local notorious pirate, Harry Paye, is one of the best ways to take in the Jurassic Coast. Alongside the magnificent geological formations, those who visit in spring and summer can expect to see scarlet pimpernels, poppies, sheep’s bit and harebells, alongside distinctive pink pyramidal orchids. Chalkhill Blue butterflies can also often be found feeding from yellow kidney vetch flowers, while it is not uncommon to see peregrine falcons hunting for food for their young.
Paul Bradley East Purbeck lead ranger, said that his favourite part of this walk is the climb up to Ballard Down: “A well-placed stone seat with the inscription ‘Rest and be Thankful’ provides an opportunity to sit and take in the far-reaching views.
He explained that such panoramas make it easy to see why the area has been used as an important vantage point since the early pre-historic times. “A stone axe from the Palaeolithic era, Bronze-age burial barrows and Celtic field systems are just a few of the archaeological finds that have been found in the area, and in more recent history the Down was used as a firing range for trainee fighter pilots during World War II. These days, however, it happens to be a great spot for a picnic.”
The view of Studland beach from Ballard Down. Photo: Alamy
Aemelia Roe, an East Purbeck ranger, said she once met a member of the public on the route who was from the Midlands and had never seen the UK coast before: “He simply said –’Wow! I never knew we had views like this in Britain!’ This is also a place of reflection and building memories: many people revisit over and over often with friends and relatives. I’ve worked here for nearly 6 years now, and I don’t think I will ever tire of the views from this stretch of coastline.”
Distance: 3.5 miles (5.5km)
Time: 1 hour to 2 hours
OS Map: Explorer OL15; Landranger 195
Terrain: This is a fairly gentle walk, normally with good conditions underfoot. One steady climb up Ballard Down. Beware of sheer cliff edges on and approaching Old Harry. Dogs welcome under close control.
How to get here
By foot: From the crossroads in Studland village, take lane by post office and follow it round to Bankes Arms pub
By bike: Leave National Cycle Network Route 2 where it joins the Ferry Road, then head south into Studland, 1 mile (1.6km), and follow foot directions
By bus: Wilts & Dorset 50 from Bournemouth and Swanage, or 40 from Poole. Then follow foot directions
By car: Follow B3351 from Corfe Castle, 5 miles (8km), or from Poole to Studland via chain ferry. Car park is at BH19 3AU
Start: South Beach car park, grid ref: SZ038824
1. From the car park walk down the road past the Bankes Arms pub and turn left by the public toilets on to the path signed for Old Harry. Look out for rectangular earthworks in the wood near Old Harry – the remains of fields used by Celtic farmers.
The rocks of Old Harry, and the remains of Old Harry’s wife, have been carved by the action of the waves. Photo: Alamy
2. From Old Harry follow the coast path up a gentle rise, keeping well back from the sheer cliff edge.
Point of interest: Old Harry, and the remains of Old Harry’s wife, have been carved by the action of the waves. Together they form one of Dorset’s most famous landmarks. Savour the fine views across Poole Bay to Bournemouth, Hengistbury Head and the Isle of Wight.
3. At the first gate, keep to the cliff top path. There’s a good variety of chalk grassland flowers in the short turf, but you’ll need to go down on hands and knees to best enjoy them. Look back to enjoy a fine view of the Pinnacle stack.
Point of interest: Look out for peregrine falcons circling high above. This stocky falcon can fold back its wings and stoop on its prey with incredible speed. Listen out for its wild, piercing cry.
Walkers may see peregrine falcons circling for prey. Photo: Alamy
4. Go through a farm gate and head straight on past earthworks and along Ballard Down.
Point of interest: With its bulky body and massive bill, the greater black-backed gull is our largest gull species. Look for them roosting on the stacks or flying on up-draughts of wind along the cliff tops.
5. Just before the stone bench marked ‘Rest and be thankful’, where the main paths cross, turn right down the hill towards Studland.
6. Follow the road down through the Glebeland estate.
7. Go straight on at the crossroads, following the sign for the church. On your right is the village cross, which was erected in 1976. The carvings depict a range of images both ancient and modern.
8. At the end of the lane, go through the gate into the churchyard. Pass the church on your right then turn immediately right and follow the footpath back to your starting point.
End: South Beach car park, grid ref: SZ038824