A circular, often steep coastal walk via Old Harry's Rocks, Fort Henry and Studland Village plus wildlife havens such as Ballard Down and Godlingston Heath.
6.9 miles (11.1 km)
Walking time:
03h 27m

Start location

National Trust Information Centre, Knoll Beach

lat: 50.6515405

lon: -1.955177




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Getting there

Wilts & Dorset bus 50 runs hourly (half hourly in summer) through Studland from Bournemouth en route to Swanage via the Sandbanks chain ferry; alight at the Knoll House Hotel for the National Trust Information Centre, where our walk starts: 01202 673555, The nearest train station is at Poole; take Wilts & Dorset bus 52 from Poole to Sandbanks (not Sundays in winter) to connect with service 50 – though note that the 50 service starts from Bournemouth train station.



From the Information Centre, turn your back on the sea and walk past the car park kiosks to the main road (keeping to the grass verge where possible). Turn left and walk up the grass verge (passing the Knoll House Hotel) for 370m/400yds, then cross (with care) to pick up the signposted bridleway on the right. On reaching open ground, turn left at a waypost to diagonally cross a grassy area to a lane at the junction of bridleways. Turn right here and follow the winding, waymarked track into a wooded area as far as a footbridge, which you should cross. Bear left from its far side along a narrower path through woods. Pass the first waypost you come to, and when you arrive at the second way post with a yellow (footpath) and a blue (bridleway) arrow, bear left in the direction of the Agglestone, now visible ahead across the heath.


Follow the path through boggy furze and a series of hollows to the Agglestone Rock (take the steps rather than the steep gravel track where provided), from where you continue southwest along a clear, drier track that rises steadily. (A) The Agglestone Rock is a giant wedge of sandstone said to have been catapulted here by Satan. It rises from the centre of an amphitheatre of bog dotted with clumps of asphodel and cotton grass, and crisscrossed by trickling streams. Its name probably derives from the Saxon “halig”, meaning “holy”, suggesting cult rather than demonic status in the distant Christian past. At a junction of paths, continue straight ahead through a double set of gates to the ridge and golf-course. At a red golf course warning sign, take the right fork. On reaching the main road, cross over (take extreme care here, as visibility of oncoming traffic is poor) and turn left; look for the stile and footpath sign on your right. This leads across a golf fairway (keep to the yellow peg markers) to drop sharply downhill through a sycamore coppice. From the stile at the bottom of this, bear right down the hill towards the bottom corner of the field to a stile on the Studland–Swanage road. Turn left up the broad grassy verge to a bridleway signpost near the top of the hill. From the opposite side of the road, a short track leads to a gate onto National Trust land and the start of a clear track striking steeply uphill towards the granite obelisk on the ridge of Ballard Down. To your right there is a spectacular view over Swanage Bay. (B) Ballard Down is littered with evidence of pre-Christian settlement and  the gently curved spine of this great chalk ridge, which overshadows Godlingston Heath, yields this area’s finest view of Poole Harbour and the surrounding coast. The obelisk crowning its ridge-top, originally a London lamp standard, was erected in 1892 to mark the opening of nearby Ulwell reservoir. While walking the upland path beyond it, keep an eye out for rare Adonis Blue and Marble White butterflies, attracted by the vetches, wild marjoram and carline thistles growing in the close cropped turf.


At the obelisk and adjacent tumulus, continue east, and follow the high ground for a little over a mile, past the trig point and downhill to cliff tops leading to Handfast Point (or Old Harry’s Rocks). There’s a choice of paths as you descend, with spectacular cliff edge tracks for those with a head for heights. (C) Before plunging into the sea to resurface 24km/15miles away on the Isle of Wight, Purbeck’s cretaceous chalk seam reaches a spectacular cadence at Handfast Point (aka “the Foreland”), a major landmark on the South West Coast Path. Towers, pointed needles and arched stacks stand in an impressive phalanx off the headland’s cliffs, like a group of frozen giants, their grassy tops mobbed by swarms of seabirds. The most distinctive member of the family is a round pillar known locally as “Old Harry”, a medieval name for the Devil, who allegedly used to sleep on its summit. The stump of Old Harry’s wife, who collapsed into the surf during a storm in 1896, stands alongside.


Having rounded the headland, veer left (west), keeping to the well-worn path (South West Coast Path) running towards Studland Village. Follow acorn waymarkers through a small coppice and across open pasture to the Village. (D) Studland was deceptively remote before the ferry placed it on the Bournemouth to Swanage bus route in the 1920s,  – visible from across the harbour, but a sufficiently long haul by land to deter daytrippers. Well-heeled literati and painters from London spotted its potential as a retreat between the wars, among them Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw, who introduced the village to the Bloomsbury group. It’s worth making a short detour from the trail to the Romanesque church of St Nicholas.  Turn left onto a path that leads from the coast path towards the village.  When you reach the road, to the left of the public conveniences, turn right onto Watery Lane and follow the road up to where it bends right around a cross on a small green, before turning right onto Church Lane.  The Church is ahead at the end of the lane. (E) Appropriately enough for a stretch of shoreline that’s seen more than its fair share of shipwrecks, the Church of St Nicholas, the oldest in Dorset, is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, and stands on a site whose ritual significance long predates the building’s Saxon foundations. (More information under 'Additional Points of Interest). Retrace your steps to rejoin the main route where you left off. Just before arriving at the lane through the village, you’ll see a fingerpost indicating the alternative coast path route via South Beach. Follow this down through the trees and along the line of beach huts to Joe’s Café. A short way past the café on your left, the coast path cuts up the low cliffs (between beach huts 59 & 60B) behind South Beach, past the footpath turning for the Bankes Arms, and skirts fields en-route to Fort Henry. (F) The enormous concrete bunker huddling in a stand of sycamores, known as Fort Henry, was built by Canadian engineers in 1943 as part of the preparations for the D-Day landings. A massive rehearsal for the amphibious invasion, dubbed Operation Smash, was staged in the bay in front of it on April 18, 1944, watched through the long observation slit by Churchill, Montgomery, Eisenhower and King George VI. A memorial plaque recently installed beside the structure recalls the casualties incurred during the exercise.


Follow the path beyond the bunker and thatched police post to the bottom of the lane, and turn right down to Middle Beach. From here, you should turn left, past the café and toilets, and walk back along the beach to the visitor information centre. (G) Fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus may recognize Studland Beach as the setting for the sketch series’ opening sequence, when Michael Palin staggers out of the waves and collapses into the sand, uttering the immortal phrase “It’s... ”.


Terrain: Waymarked paths through pine forest, over heathland, chalk downs and clifftops, with two moderate ascents.

WhenEarly spring, for the clifftop flora, and gorse and heather on the heath. 

Downside:  Oppressive crowds on the beach in high summer.

Map: OS Explorer OL15.

Visitor Information: National Trust Information Centre, Knoll Beach (01929 450259,

Eating & Drinking: Pubs in Studland and Cafes on the beaches.

Sleeping: Nearby campsites, B&B and inns available.

Problem with this route?

If you encounter a problem on this walk, please let us know by emailing If the issue is with a public path or access please also contact the local highways authority directly, or find out more about solving problems on public paths on our website.

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Join the Ramblers and enjoy

  • unlimited free access to 50,000 Ramblers group walks
  • a library jam-packed with thousands of tried-and-tested routes
  • a welcome pack teeming with top tips plus our quarterly Walk magazine
  • exclusive discounts from our partners
  • knowing your support is opening up more places to walk and helping more people discover the joy of walking