Length of route:
Approx 5 miles, allow 2 hours.
SZ 38825 (car parking charge applies at certain times of the year).
OS Explorer Map (1:25 000) – OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset
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This walk offers some truly spectacular views across Dorset’s coast and countryside. Much of the area is owned and managed by the National Trust, including the car park available at the starting grid reference. The car park is also next to a lovely little pub, The Bankes Arms, with great views from the beer garden across the water – save this as a treat at the end of the walk!
If you came by car, as you come out of the car park turn right down the road, and head past the pub and after a short while, the toilets on the left hand side. Continue along the road, around the bend, past the stone cross and thatched hut. Follow the road round the bend, turning left at the footpath signed ‘Woodhouse/Main Swanage Road’. When the path forks, head left and continue until you reach a gate.
Go through the gate and head towards another gate at the bottom right of the field. The ground can be very boggy at the bottom of the field near the gate and you may be safer veering to the right and skirting the boggy patch to reach the gate. Go through the gate, following the line of the path straight up the field towards the downs until you reach a stile. After crossing this, be prepared for a steep climb across the gorse scrub.
When you need to take a break (and there is a small wooden perch part-way up), do look behind you at the views over Poole Bay, Brownsea Island, Studland, Sandbanks and right around the coast of Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight. At the top, when you reach Ballard Down, you’ll also be able to see Swanage on the other side of the land.
Head left along the top of the downs following the bridleway towards the sea at Ballard Point, passing through the gate and continuing towards a trig pillar. Pass to the right of the trig pillar and through the gate taking you to part of the South West Coast Path. You will be walking fairly close to the cliff now until near the end of the walk – and be prepared for strong winds buffetting you on even the finest day!
Once you have passed Old Harry, follow the path through the Studland Wood, and you should get a break from the wind too! When you see a wooden sign directing you right to South Beach, follow this downhill to enjoy a short walk across the beach past some lovely beach huts. There’s a also a small cafe on the beach if you need a refreshment (although you’re also close to the end of the walk and The Bankes Arms). Turn left between the beach huts and the cafe to follow the path back up to the road. Turn right at the road and you’ll return to The Bankes Arms and the car park.