The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Treasures of Dorset: Old Harry Rocks

Paul Chambers captures a new view of one of Dorset's most iconic locations

Once or twice a year, when the tides are exceptionally low, it is possible to walk from Studland’s South Beach, splashing through rock-pools, all the way to the base of Old Harry Rocks. It is an unforgettable experience to look up at the stacks which are more often seen from the neighbouring cliff-top or in aerial photographs.
Twenty thousand years ago, what is now the Isle of Wight was joined to the mainland, the River Solent forming its northern boundary. As sea-levels rose, the Solent broke through the chalk ridge to the west, cutting the island off but leaving the Needles behind at its western tip. On the mainland, the same process created Old Harry Rocks which, having once been part of the same ridge, align exactly with the Needles.
Old Harry itself is the most seaward of the stacks, a slender column which is being steadily eroded by the action of the waves. One day it will collapse, a fate that befell the stack next to it, known as Old Harry’s Wife, in 1896. Local fishermen painted a band of black round Old Harry in mourning.
Some Poole folk claim that the rock is named after the 15th-century pirate, Harry Paye, but it is more likely to be after one of the many names for the Devil; the top of the cliff nearby is known as Old Nick’s Ground. ◗

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