The South West Coast is full of surprises. As a northerner, I hadn’t even heard of most of its landmarks until recently, and incorrectly assumed those I had heard of were too far away to be day trip-able—but as with the White Cliffs of Dover, I recently realised you can get from London to Old Harry Rocks and back in a day. And I had to visit ASAP.
So I took a sunny Wednesday off work, got up early, and headed to Dorset for the first time. While this is a do-able day trip, next time I’d stay over as there is a fair bit of travel involved. Our train arrived into Bournemouth at 11.30am, then we spent the next hour on the (open-top!) bus to the Studland Peninsula. It’s the weirdest route ever—the bus goes on a ferry.
After alighting the bus at Studland Beach Road, we headed first to The Pig. This perfectly-situated hotel and restaurant has an utterly dreamy garden and amazing views—including of Old Harry Rocks, off in the distance.
The restaurant was unsurprisingly fully-booked but you can sit outside (which, in my opinion, is infinitely better anyway) and munch on flatbreads. We opted to share one, followed by a frozen yoghurt. If fro-yo is available, I’m getting fro-yo.
All food is either grown in The Pig’s kitchen garden or sourced locally.
Back on the road, we followed the National Trust’s walking route towards Old Harry Rocks.
From the walk’s official starting point at the South Beach car park, it’s around 15 minutes until you get your first glimpse of Old Harry Rocks.
It’s advised that the trail will take 1-2 hours to complete but it actually took us over 3—this stretch of coastline is so beautiful, I couldn’t stop pausing to admire the panorama or take photos (I came home with 303!).
Old Harry Rocks is a collection of chalk stacks marking the eastern edge of the Jurassic Coast. Old Harry himself is the furthermost point, separated from his neighbour by a gap known as St. Lucas Leap (apparently named after a dog that fell over the edge while chasing a rabbit). Harry had a wife until 1896, when she collapsed into the sea, leaving just a stump.
Many years ago these rocks were actually connected to the Isle of Wight, which has its own chalk stacks, the Needles, as the last remaining sign of this shared history, now eroded away into the sea.
Around the corner from Old Harry and the Natural Arch are a couple of other chalk stumps, the Pinnacles, which were also connected to the English mainland until a few thousand years ago.
If you’re lucky you’ll spot rare British butterflies along this stretch of the Jurassic Coast—and if you don’t, there’s still an amazing view back to Old Harry Rocks.
Next you reach Ballard Down, which is managed by the National Trust.
Over 40% of Dorset is recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This means this collection of landscapes is officially protected, helping to conserve and enhance it.
Besides keeping an eye out for butterflies, birds and other wildlife, you can also spot lots of beautiful wild flowers growing right up to the cliff edge.
Continuing on up the Down, watch out for the cows as you walk through their fields.
We accidentally came between a cow and her calves, which was a bit hairy. We tried to show her that we weren’t a threat and got out of there as quickly but calmly as we could.
That seems to have been the correct way of handling the situation—if you’d like to educate yourself, here’s some advice on walking near livestock when using a public right-of-way footpath.
At the crossroads, turn right and walk out of the field and through the Glebeland estate.
Follow the signs for the church—St. Nicholas’ Church to be precise. This simple building actually (mostly) dates from the 12th century.
Once you’ve cut through the churchyard, you’re back at your starting point—the South Beach car park. Luckily there’s also a pub here, the Bankes Arms. Treat yo’self. You’ve earned it.
We only intended to get a nice cold pint in the beer garden, but when we saw that Dorset Apple Pie was on the menu—complete with ice cream—we had to get a slice. And it was good.
After hopping back on the bus towards Bournemouth, we got off in the area of Westbourne to sample fish and chips from Chez Fred. It’s the best in the city (or so they say).
Following dinner we speedily walked to Bournemouth Pier, before realising we’d run out of time. We hotfooted it to the train station to make our 8.22pm train, which was actually delayed—such is life in the UK.
Travelling from London to Old Harry Rocks and back might take a while, but it’s absolutely worth the effort and I can’t wait to revisit the Jurassic Coast soon!
Getting from London to Old Harry Rocks
There are regular trains from London to Bournemouth. They take around 1 hour 45 minutes from Waterloo, and my Super Off-Peak Day Return cost £26.00.
Once you arrive at Bournemouth station, head outside and to the coach bay opposite. From here you can catch the Purbeck Breezer bus, route number 50, to the Studland Peninsula. This takes another hour or so and costs £7.30 (to Studland Beach Road) or just a few pennies more for a day ticket.
If you’re lucky, your bus will be open-top! Be warned: get there well before the bus is due if you want to sit outside on the top deck. While we didn’t witness any unsavoury behaviour, it apparently happens.
Where to stay
Having briefly visited The Pig, an overnight stay is now firmly on my wishlist.