- From the steps down to the road from the National Trust South Beach car park in Studland turn right, towards the coast, and walk past the Bankes Arms to take the lane on the left at the bottom of Manor Road.
The Bankes Arms was named after the Bankes family, who owned vast tracts of Dorset for more than 400 years, making a major contribution to the county's history during that time. Their family seat at Corfe Castle was destroyed by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War, but the house built to replace it by Corfe MP Sir Ralph Bankes still stands in nearby Kingston Lacy. At the end of the nineteenth century the family built a summer beach house in Studland, now the Manor House Hotel. In 1981, Henry John Ralph Bankes bequeathed both Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle to the National Trust, the largest donation it has ever received.
- Carry on ahead when the Coast Path joins from the left and follow the path through the trees and out onto the chalk grasslands beyond. From here walk about a mile, to The Foreland, or Handfast Point as it is also known.
The chalk grasslands are home to a host of unusual wildflowers, and in the summer this field is alight with their colours, as well as those of the moths and butterflies they attract. Look out for the delicate chalk blue butterfly on the vivid carpet of yellow kidney vetch flowers. Cowslips grow in abundance here, as well as red poppies and scarlet pimpernels, and blue chalk milkwort, sheep's bit and harebells. Several species of orchid flourish in these grasslands, too, including heath spotted orchids and the rare early spider orchid, adopted for the logo of the Dorset Wildlife Trust.
The Old Harry rocks mark the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site running between here and Orcombe Point, near Exmouth. Over the course of its 95 miles of coastline, something like 185 million years of the Earth's history are displayed in a continuous sequence of rocks spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The headland consists of chalk banded with flint and it was formed about 65 million years ago.
Across the water to the east, visible on the Isle of Wight, the Needles are part of the same band of rock and just a few thousand years ago were connected to this headland, before sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age. The same coastal erosion that wore away the rock on the Isle of Wight to form the Needles was also responsible for carving out Old Harry and the stacks around him. Over time the pounding of the waves on the cliffs enlarged the joints and cracks in the chalk cliffs, turning them into caves. As the water washed around these caves it further eroded the walls and turned them into arches. As the sea carried on pounding the arches, so they too disintegrated, becoming the stacks you see today. Old Harry's original wife fell into the sea in 1896, but new ones are being formed all the time as the sea's destructive progress continues.
According to local legend, the rocks were named after notorious pirate Harry Paye, who attacked many merchant ships as they left Poole Harour, storing his spoils nearby.
In the sixteenth century Studland Castle stood on the headland, built on the site of an earlier castle mentioned in records of 1381. A blockhouse was added in the eighteenth century, but today there is no trace of any part of the castle, the sea having reclaimed it all.
- Turning abruptly right at the point, follow the Coast Path as it climbs gently uphill, eventually flattening out to head southwestwards, with Swanage and Swanage Bay spread out below.
The pointed stacks off the coast here are known as The Pinnacles. Like the Old Harry rocks these provide a good nesting site for large numbers of seabirds. In the cliffs opposite them there was once a smuggler's cave known as Parson's Barn, but this too has been claimed by the sea.
- As you start to climb again, a path leaves on the right to ascend to the trig point on Ballard Down, while the Coast Path continues around Ballard Cliff. Take either path, taking the bridleway to the right after rounding Ballard Point if you choose to stay on the Coast Path around the cliff, and ascending steeply to join the high path at 5.
The high path travels along the Purbeck Way, a 27¾-mile walking route through the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The trail crosses heathland rich in wildlife (see the Gore Heath Walk) and links the Saxon town of Wareham (see the Wareham Walls Walk) with Swanage and Corfe Castle. For the coastal part of its journey it joins the South West Coast Path, while inland it meets the Frome Valley Trail, where colourful dragonflies and kingfishers hunt over the flowing water.
Ballard Down, with its fine views over both Poole Harbour and Swanage Bay, has been an important vantage point since the earliest prehistoric times. A stone axe has been found here from Palaeolithic (Early Stone Age) times, more than 12,000 years ago, and there are many Bronze Age bowl barrows and Celtic field systems. There are remnants of medieval strip lynchets, where terraces were cut into the hillside for agricultural use, and a number of eighteenth century boundary stones, as well as a Napoleonic signal post. During the First World War five army camps were built below the chalk ridge, and in the Second World War it was used as a firing range for training fighter pilots.
- Going through the gate on Ballard Down, carry on along the path, climbing towards the top of the hill, to where another path crosses yours diagonally.
The limestone seat at the top of the hill dates from 1852, and the weathered inscription once read 'Rest and be Thankful'.
- Turn right at the waymarker and follow the path steeply downhill, to the lane around the Glebeland Estate. Follow the lane past the Glebeland Estate and the Childhay Manor and the Manor Farm Tea Rooms, to the cross at the road junction.
The land where the Glebeland estate was built in the 1930s was bought by developers after the agent sent by the Bankes family to buy it missed both his train and the sale.
- At the cross turn left and walk up the road to the church, returning from here to the car park at the start of the walk.
The cross was erected in 1976 on the historic site of an ancient Saxon cross marking the way to the church. Dedicated to St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors and fishermen, the church was built in the eleventh or twelfth century on the site of a much earlier Saxon church, and part of the original building was incorporated into its construction, making it Dorset's earliest complete building.