It’s small wonder that Studland Bay is visited by millions each year. This sandy peninsula is perfect for walks, watersports and sea swimming, and has space for everyone, including the naturists. But this rare dune heath system is a surprisingly young natural phenomenon that measures its years in hundreds rather than thousands.


Created by the depositing of sand against the clay and sandstone of Poole Harbour, Studland heath isn’t the only shifting landscape in this corner of Dorset. The grassy headland of Ballard Down rises high above the southern end of Poole Bay, and is punctuated by the chalk stacks of the iconic Old Harry Rocks. Formed over millions of years but now in a state of constant sea erosion, this chalk ridge is a wonderful place to be whatever the season.

On a clear day, the views from Ballard Down can be breathtaking. Don’t be put off though if the weather is wet; this close to the sea, you’ll be able to taste the salt in every misty droplet. After your walk, rest and refuel at the National Trust’s wonderful Knoll Beach Café.

It’s not just the sea views that will capture your imagination on this seaside wander. With sika deer on the heath, seahorses in the seagrass, and overwintering migratory birds such as Brent geese and sanderling, Studland is an important wildlife habitat. However, bird numbers here have been drastically declining. Please keep your dog under control and follow directions.

This 5.6-mile circular walk takes in the Studland shoreline, Old Harry Rocks and Ballard Down. It includes hills and unfenced clifftop areas. Your starting point is the National Trust Knoll Beach car park. Parking is free for National Trust members.

Beautiful Old Harry Rocks in Dorset
Old Harry Rocks forms part of the Jurassic Coast/Credit: Getty

Studland Bay and Old Harry Rocks walk

5.6 miles/9.1km | 209m accent | 3.5 hours | moderate

1. Along the beach

Head south along Knoll Beach. Admire the high white cliffs and glimpses of the Old Harry Rocks in front of you.

At Middle Beach, turn right to head up past the Old Coastguard’s Hut. Cross the car park then turn left at the Grooms’ Cottage.

Just past the bend, don’t miss Fort Henry. This concrete bunker was built in 1943 to allow for the safe observation of D-Day training exercises. Continue along the path.

Beach at Studland Bay in Dorset
Beach at Studland Bay in Dorset/Credit: Getty

2. Bankes brew

At the junction turn right towards the road. Turn left and walk downhill past the Bankes Arms, which is also home to the Isle of Purbeck Brewery.

3. Cliff climb

Continue downhill to the toilets then turn left along the path to the Old Harry Rocks. As the track starts to climb, be aware there are sheer cliffs on the seaward side.

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Fossils on Charmouth beach on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset

4. Old Harry views

Explore carefully at Old Harry Rocks. Don’t forget to admire the views to Bournemouth, Hengistbury Head and the Isle of Wight across Poole Bay.

Head up the meadow known as Old Nick’s Ground. Perhaps the fierce-looking Pinnacle rocks here had something to do with this alarmingly devilish epithet.

The landmark Old Harry Rocks coastline in Dorset
Take care as you walk along the unfenced clifftops/ Credit: Getty

5. Ballard Down

Pass through the gate at the top to follow the grass path across the field to the trig pillar.

The Ballard Down trig pillar isn’t at the top of its hill. There’s more climbing yet but the views south to the groyned beaches of Swanage Bay and north across Poole Harbour are stunning.

As you climb, notice the boundary stones. If you look carefully, you can still see the line of the Studland and Swanage parish boundary along the ridge.

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Summer coastline and sea

6. Seat to Studland

Take a rest at Stone Seat then follow the stony track downhill towards Studland.

7. Lane to the farm

Follow the lane until you reach Manor Farm. Notice the lovely thatched shelter and cross on the village green.

Turn right here and follow the lane back to the toilets. Retrace your route to Knoll Beach.

Studland Bay and Old Harry Rocks map

Studland Bay and Old Harry Rocks walking route and map

Studland Bay and Old Harry Rocks walking route and map

Studland hotel, cafe and car park

The Purbeck Breezer 50 service runs between Bournemouth train station and Swanage, and includes a ride on the Sandbanks Ferry. Disembark at Knoll House Hotel. The Knoll Beach shop and café are next to the car park.


Toilets are available at Knoll Beach and the start of the Old Harry Rocks track.


Fi Darby
Fi DarbyOutdoor writer and navigation specialist

Fi is an outdoor instructor and writer. She teaches navigation and expedition skills, and specialises in route finding and location story telling.