Walk - Swanage Coastal Park - Dancing Ledge
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
By car make your way to Spyway Car Park. Take the A351 out of Swanage. Fork left on to the B3609 to Langton Matravers. As you go through Langton Matravers turn left into Durnford Drove. The car park is on the left after Langton House.
- From Spyway Car Park, head up Durnford Drive towards the main road for a short distance until you come to a turning circle with a path leading off to the left. Follow this path and at the end of the field, before you reach Tom's Field Camp Site, turn left and walk through the fields to the track at the end.
- Crossing the track, go through the gate almost opposite, slightly to the right, to pick up the track which continues in the original direction (southwards) towards the coast. Bear left at the track to Seaspray and, ignoring the quarry on your left a short while later, continue to where the path forks again, a little way beyond.
- Take the middle path here and with it head diagonally downhill in a southeasterly direction, through the bushes and then over the open heathland to drop directly down to Dancing Ledge. Going over the stile immediately ahead of you at the bottom will take you to Dancing Ledge itself.
Dancing Ledge is one of the many quarries in the region worked for the Purbeck limestone, which was used for building work here as well as much further afield. Stone from Dancing Ledge was transported by ship direct from the quarry, the water here being deep enough to permit the ships to approach the ledge, and it is so named because the platform remaining from the quarrying is roughly the size of a ballroom floor. Ramsgate Harbour, in Kent, was built using limestone from this quarry.
The stone in this part of the Dorset coast was laid down in layers, or beds, over the course of many millions of years. Kimmeridge Clay was the first layer to form, during the late Jurassic geological period (see the Kimmeridge Walk), and the Portland Sands were laid down on top of this, with the Portland Beds on top again.
After this, in the early Cretaceous period – approximately 155 million years ago – the Lower Purbeck Beds were deposited in shallow seas, brackish lagoons and freshwater. From fossils found in these rocks, geologists and palaeontologists have been able to work out that shellfish, shrimps and insects lived around the swampy marshlands at that time. Later, there were fish, amphibians and reptiles; and after them came the Purbeck Mammals. Over 100 different species of small vertebrates have been found in fossils in the Purbeck Beds, most of them the size of a shrew or a rat.
The limestone quarries around Purbeck are important to geologists, because many of them show how the layers of limestone were laid down. The Swanworth Quarries, just to the north of Worth Matravers, show the most complete section of the different rocks on the Isle of Purbeck, from the Portland Sand on the quarry floor, to the Lower Purbeck Beds at the top (see the Corfe Castle Walk).
- From Dancing Ledge facing inland, turn left onto the South West Coast Path and follow it around the coast. At Seacombe the Coast Path heads inland, around an inlet that is almost completely cut off from the sea, and starts up the combe (a dry valley) known as Seacombe Bottom.
- When the Coast Path heads off to the left a little way up the valley, leave it and carry on along the path up Seacombe Bottom. (The small path to your left a short way beyond will drop you back down onto the path).
- A little way up the valley the path forks. The right-hand fork will give you a short-cut back to Tom's Field Campsite (turn right on the track at the top and then follow the directions from 9, below), but for this walk fork left and carry on uphill, bearing left through the hedge and going straight on ahead here, crossing the combe and then climbing steeply to follow the path between the bushes to the field beyond.
Continue in roughly the same direction, along the edge of the field, to go over the stile in the wall beyond. Crossing the track and heading slightly to your right, pick up the path which continues in your original direction (roughly westwards) across the open ground to the houses on the far side. Go along the lane beyond, to come out on the road through Worth Matravers.
- In Worth Matravers turn right and carry on up through the village, forking right and uphill past the Square and Compass, until you come to the footpath leading into the fields on your right just after you leave the village.
- Go over the stile to pick up this footpath and carry on to the far right-hand corner of each of the two fields, to come out on the track beside Eastington Farm.
- Ignoring the tracks and paths leading away to right and left just after the farm, carry on in the same direction (eastwards) along the Priest's Way, ahead, for about half a mile, going on past the tracks which cross yours between two quarries and the one beyond to the left which leads past Blacklands.
The Priest's Way follows an old track, winding its way to Swanage, which was the route taken by the local priest as he trudged back and forth between his church here and the other church in his care in Swanage.
As a part of its role as land owner, the National Trust is also involved in the future of the quarries around Acton. Some of these are nearing the end of their useful lives, but there is still plenty of the valuable Purbeck limestone around them, so the Trust plans to infill the old quarries and reseed them with grass as it opens new ones, preserving the landscape while continuing to provide stone for building projects. It is also paying attention to the preservation of wildlife. The small pond near the Priest's Way is home to a population of rare great-crested newts, and there are equally rare greater horseshoe bats in the old quarries.
Also being preserved in the local area are another famous and fascinating feature revealed as a result of quarrying: fossilised dinosaur footprints! Most of these are of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon (both small fry at around 10 metres long), but at nearby Keat's Quarry, footprints were found which were a metre in diameter themselves, belonging to a 30-metre, 30-ton Diplodocus.
- At the end of the field after Blacklands, when you come to where the track runs through the hedge, take the footpath to the left, and follow it northwards, along the hedge, to the lane ahead. Carry on up here, to the end of the buildings.
- Pick up the footpath heading east, on your right. Taking this across the field will bring you out at the top of the Tom's Field Campsite. Head for durnford Drive turning right to reach the car park.
The Square & Compass in Worth Matravers; the Ship Inn or the King's Arms in Langton Matravers; or there are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Swanage