Old Harry Rocks are one of England’s iconic images. Towering limestone stacks stranded out at sea as a result of the forces of nature. Here are the best ways to see them.

Standing guard off the coast, Old Harry Rocks has been keeping a watchful eye on England for around 65 million years. The dazzling outcrop of limestone marks the start of the Jurassic Coast – a 95 mile stretch of windswept coastline with dramatic viewpoints and invigorating walks.

A simple walk along the flower strewn cliff edge provides a great vantage point to view Old Harry Rocks. But there are a few other ways to experience these icons of English scenery.

Cycle along bumpy bridleways, allowing time for a memorable pint in a country pub. Kayak up close to explore the caves and crevasses that formed them in the first place, or relax on a cruise in comfort and style.

By land, sea and air, here are the best ways to visit Old Harry Rocks.


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OLD HARRY ROCKS FACTS

Old Harry Rocks are three chalk formations, located on the most southern tip of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. They were originally part of a long stretch of chalk that extended from England to the Isle of Wight, until large sections eroded away.

They were formed when plankton and other microorganisms drifted to the bottom of the sea. Over the course of 35 million years, the skeletons of these organisms formed a thick layer of chalk, which is a type of white limestone.

Over time air and seawater forced into small cracks in the rock formed caves and then arches until finally the tops of these arches collapsed leaving disconnected stacks stranded out at sea. One of these stacks is called Old Harry Rocks, another is Old Harry’s Wife and the third is referred to as No Man’s Land. Sadly Old Harry’s Wife collapsed in 1896, leaving just a stump.

Continued erosion puts the remaining stacks under threat and the National Trust are actively trying to preserve the landmark.

HOW TO VISIT OLD HARRY ROCKS

Old Harry Rocks is a spectacular cliff formation and one of the best places to visit in south-west England. Although very accessible from the nearby Studland Bay carpark, there are several interesting ways to visit.

1 – WALK TO OLD HARRY ROCKS

The walk from Studland Village to Old Harry Rocks is a great way to take in the splendour of this beautiful stretch of coastline. In spring and summer, the grasslands near the rocks are awash with unusual wildflowers and an abundance of butterflies.

The best place to start is from the South Beach Car Park next to the Bankes Arms pub. Follow the signed footpaths to Old Harry Rocks which will take around 25 minutes each way. It’s a very easy walk that positions you directly on top of the jagged section of coastline off Old Harry Rocks. Spend some time exploring the area to find the best vantage point of the stacks.

Finish the walk with a pint at the Bankes Arms which sells a selection of local craft beers. Although short, this is one of our favourite walks in Dorset.

2 – OFF-ROAD BIKE AROUND OLD HARRY ROCKS

The area around Old Harry Rocks is great terrain for mountain trail biking. Quiet country roads combined with brilliant trails across the Purbeck Hills make it a day to remember. You’ll need an off-road bike, a decent pair of lungs and a sense of adventure.

There’s a 9-mile circuit which leaves from the Victoria Avenue Car Park in Swanage. It has 280 metres of ascent and travels along the Purbeck Hills past Old Harry Rocks, then returns via Studland Heath with views across Poole Harbour. This map provides a good outline of the route.

For a longer and more challenging ride, follow this 16-mile circuit from Swanage, around Old Harry Rocks, across the Purbeck Hills and into Rempstone Forest. If you add one more mile you can also make a stop at the remarkable ruins of Corfe Castle. The nearby village of Corfe has bikes for hire.

3 – KAYAK UNDER OLD HARRY STACK

One of the best ways to visit Old Harry Rocks is on a kayaking tour of Studland Bay. Explore caves etched into the coastline, get up close to the famous stacks and paddle under limestone arches.

The two-hour tour from Fore Adventures starts with a quick paddle from their base at Middle Beach at Studland Bay out to the stacks. It’s a fun day out and perfect for beginner kayakers and families.

If you have more time, they also offer half-day trips allowing you to explore further along the coastline. If the weather is good, or you are particularly brave, you can also go snorkelling, or try your hand at foraging in the nearby forests.  

4 – CRUISE FROM POOLE TO OLD HARRY ROCKS

If you would still like to be on the water, but without the associated muscle power, another great option is to see Old Harry Rocks on a cruise.

City Cruises offer a two-hour 15-minute circular trip where you can enjoy panoramic views of the coastline from either the open deck or comfortable lounges with wide bay windows. It’s all rather relaxing and being a faster form of transport you get to see more of the coast including Poole Harbour, Sandbanks, Studland Bay and Old Harry Rocks.

It departs from Poole Quay at 10:30am, 1pm and 3:45pm or from Swanage at 11.45am and 2.30pm. There’s a live commentary which provides information about the geology of the area and legends behind how the rocks got their name. They also have a fully licensed bar on board.

5 – FLY A DRONE FOR THE BEST VIEW

Walking Old Harry Rocks or seeing them up close from a kayak is a great way to experience this geological wonder. But there is a complete view that can only be captured with a drone.

From high above and out at sea, capture the full effect of the coastline eaten away by the sea. Like a jigsaw puzzle yet to be assembled, the jagged white cliffs topped with green grass and towering stacks in front, are a visual treat.

The drone laws in the UK are updated regularly, so make sure you are up to date with the latest requirements, including having your drone registered and your licence valid.

WHERE TO STAY AT OLD HARRY ROCKS

The best place to stay to visit Old Harry Rocks is on the Purbeck Peninsula, the sixty square mile patch of coastline jutting out to the English Channel. This part of the Jurassic Coastline not only includes Old Harry Rocks, but also Lulworth Cove, from where you can hike to the beautiful Durdle Door.  

It’s also nearby to Corfe Castle, one of the most photogenic places in England.

Here are some suggestions from us for places to stay to visit Old Harry Rocks. For more ideas, see our guide to the best places to stay on the Jurassic Coast.


OSMINGTON MILLS

SMUGGLER’S INN

The Smuggler’s Inn is a remote, traditional pub in a dramatic location surrounded by rugged seaside views and excellent coastal trails. The friendly service, rustic charm and award-winning ales, make it a great choice near Old Harry Rocks.


WAREHAM

PRIORY HOTEL

Set in 4 acres of beautiful Dorset gardens, the Priory is a grand hotel providing beautiful luxury accommodation. Tucked away in the market town of Wareham, it also features an excellent restaurant and a wine cellar with over 200 vintages.


STUDLAND

PIG ON THE BEACH

This 16th century manor house on Studland Bay oozes shabby chic style and whimsical features. Almost all the food served in the Victorian-style greenhouse restaurant has been sourced locally to the property. High above a sandy beach with views of Old Harry Rocks, the location couldn’t be better.

HOW TO GET TO OLD HARRY ROCKS

Old Harry Rocks is located in Studland Bay on the south England coast in Dorset. Apart from the coastal scenery, there are several beaches nearby, making it a popular spot with good transport links.

OLD HARRY ROCKS PARKING

The closest car park to Old Harry Rocks is the National Trust run South Beach Car Park. Right next door is the Bankes Arms Pub. The pub is a perfect place for a drink after the 25-minute (one way) walk out to Old Harry Rocks and back.

OLD HARRY ROCKS PUBLIC TRANSPORT

There are two decent ways to get to Old Harry Rocks by public transport.

Firstly, take the train to Wareham Station, which is on the mainline from London Waterloo. Then take the number 40 bus to Swanage Station, from where it’s a 1-hour 15-minute walk to the rocks.

Alternatively, take the train to Bournemouth Railway Station and catch bus number 50 to Studland. Get off at the intersection of Beach Road and Ferry Road, from where it’s a 35-minute walk to the rocks.

WHEN TO VISIT OLD HARRY ROCKS

The best time to visit Old Harry Rocks is from May to early July, when the days are long and dry, the flowers are out, and the school holidays have not yet begun. September and October are also good.

From mid-July to end of August the weather is great, but the area could be very busy. Book your accommodation well in advance and try to visit early in the day or late in the afternoon. At both these times the light will be better anyway.

Winter months can be cold and wet, but if you can book late and wait for a window of sunny weather, then it is a truly beautiful place to explore in the winter light.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH OLD HARRY ROCKS

In the afternoon the sun sets behind the land, so you will be shooting into the sun if you are using a drone, which can create some lovely atmosphere. If you are shooting on land the light down the coastline can be great as the sun sets.

The best time for photography at Old Harry Rocks is sunrise. The sun rises over the sea illuminating the cliffs, so drone shots should be beautifully lit in good conditions. Keep in mind that colours start to appear in the sky long before the sun peaks over the horizon. So, get there early.

MORE READING FOR YOUR DORSET TRIP

With dramatic coastal scenery, windswept walking paths and a formidable craft beer scene, the South Coast of England is a great part of the country to explore. Here are more of our guides for Dorset and the Jurassic Coast.

Where to stay on the Jurassic Coast – Hotels, huts & B&Bs

See the best of Seven Sisters Cliffs on this stunning walk

Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door – A stunning short walk

How to spend a few days visiting Dorset’s Jurassic Coast

See the best of the Jurassic Coast on these Dorset Coastal walks


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