South Purbeck - cliffs, quarries and orchids

The south coast of the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset is a place built on stone foundations - in every sense.

The Purbeck stone forms a distinctive landscape of towering sea cliffs topped by grassland rich in nature. This also provided the economic foundations of the area for centuries. South Purbeck is easily explored via a network of rights of way including the South West Coast Path and the Priest’s Way, both of which offer spectacular sea views. A once thriving quarrying industry continues at a reduced scale today, while older workings have become cherished parts of the landscape.

Dancing Ledge

One of the best loved of these is Dancing Ledge, a flat expanse of rock which is covered at high tide, and which includes a swimming pool blasted into the rock for the use of local children. A bit of scrambling is needed to explore it fully. The coast was a haunt of 18th and 19th-century smugglers who hid their contraband in the tunnels created by quarrying. Traditional grazing methods have preserved a landscape of typical limestone grassland criss-crossed by dry stone walls. The hillside terraces called strip lynchets near Winspit date from medieval times and were used to provide more farmland.


The area is rich in plantlife, including the rare early spider orchid. The field to the west of Dancing Ledge is the best site in Britain to spot this tiny jewel when it flowers in late April or early May. Wildflowers including horseshoe vetch and cowslips provide splashes of colour in spring and summer, as well as attracting rare butterflies like the Adonis blue and Lulworth skipper. Puffins, guillemots and razorbills make their nests on the cliffs below.

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