Old Harry: a Purbeck landmark
Standing tall at the southern end of Studland Bay is one of the most famous landmarks on the South Coast – Old Harry.
What is Old Harry?
The towering chalk formations at Handfast Point are popularly know as Old Harry Rocks, but the name actually refers only to the single stack of chalk which stands furthest out to sea.
Among his modern claims to fame is that he stands on the eastern extremity of the Jurassic Coast world heritage site, as well as being the first major landmark for walkers tackling the South West Coast Path from east to west.
Until 1896 there was another stack beside him known as Old Harry’s Wife, but erosion caused her to tumble into the sea, leaving just a stump.
The legend of Old Harry
How Old Harry got his name is hotly debated. Some say it is linked to the Devil who, legend had it, once took a nap on the summit.
Others claim he is named after the notorious Poole pirate Harry Paye who terrorised the English Channel in the 14th century. It is said Harry’s ship used to lurk behind the rocks ready to pounce on passing merchantmen.
Whatever the truth, the bridleway from Studland village to Old Harry and Ballard Down beyond is today of the best loved walks in Dorset, and is also popular with mountain bikers and horse riders.
Hang gliders and parascenders can be seen overhead when conditions are right and kayakers can follow a special inshore trail to Old Harry from nearby Middle Beach.
Spectacular views from the bridleway extend as far as The Needles on the Isle of Wight. Thousands of years ago Old Harry and The Needles were linked by a line of chalk hills that eroded away as sea levels rose following the last ice age.
The green slopes of Ballard Down rising inland are survivors of that ancient range and form the southern end of the Purbeck Hills, which offer great walking and unforgettable views.
Ballard Down offers some of the best downland habitat in southern England and is home to many butterfly species, including Adonis blue and chalkhill blue.