Walk - Tom's Field to Dancing Ledge

4.5 miles (7.2 km)

Tom's Field Camp Site - BH19 3HN Tom's Field Camp Site

Challenging - There is some steep ascent and descent, and the paths can be slippery, so good footwear is essential

A moderately strenuous walk around some breathtaking coastal scenery, with fascinating glimpses of the caves and quarries of Purbeck's limestone formations, and an insight into their importance to stonemasons, geologists and fossil-hunters. Once upon a time dinosaurs roamed freely here, leaving fossilised footprints as large as a metre in diameter, and in the different beds of limestone the fossils of small mammals and other living creatures have enabled scientists to piece together the story of early life on earth. There is some steep ascent and descent, and the paths can be slippery, so good footwear is essential.

There are a range of wonderful places to lay your head near the Coast Path for a well-earned sleep. From large and luxurious hotels, to small and personable B&B's, as well as self-catering options and campsites. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Tom's Field Campsite & Shop

Traditional. rural camping in beautiful Isle of Purbeck. Just 20 mins walk from South West Coast Path and Dancing Ledge.

Chiltern Lodge

Chiltern Lodge is a detached house in Dorset's Worth Matravers, ideal for coast walks or lazing in the garden. Relax, rejuvenate and re-capture life in the slow lane. Wifi offered.

Swanage Footsteps

Bright, airy, self-contained accommodation on the edge of town. Twin or double room with kitchenette & shower room. Continental Breakfast.

Wyke Dorset Cottages

Based in Swanage, with over 80 cottages throughout Dorset in popular locations including Swanage, Beaminster, Studland and Arne. Book online today!

Allnatt Stop and Stay

Swanage Seaside House a stone’s throw from Swanage Bay, offers Hostel style accommodation for individuals, group accommodation or Self Catering family breaks. Perfect for a Coast Path adventure

Alford House B&B

Very friendly B&B situated in a beautiful village. We can pick up/drop off to the path.

Knoll House Hotel - LFH

Established 1931, a traditional Dorset hotel with sea views that stretch out over Studland Beach. A family & dog-friendly hotel steeped in history, set in 4 acres. The perfect place to stop for a bite of lunch or relaxing overnight stay.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. From Tom's Field Campsite take the footpath heading east from just outside the campsite (almost opposite the shop, on the right-hand side on the campsite exit) and follow it to the field beyond. Turn right here and walk through the fields to the track beyond.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Public transport

The Wilts & Dorset No 40 bus runs regularly between Swanage and Poole, stopping at Durnford Drove in Langton Matravers. For details visit www.travelinesw.com or phone 0871 200 22 33

 

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