What is Dorset's Dancing Ledge - and where is it?
- Credit: Joana Kruse / Alamy Stock Photo
Situated on the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this magical sounding location is one of those ‘must see’ places in Dorset. Not far from the pretty village of Langton Matravers on the Isle of Purbeck, Dancing Ledge is part of an abandoned cliff quarry where quarried stone was lowered onto flat-bottomed barges via a crane or whim. This was the easiest way of getting stone from this remote area to where it was needed. From the 17th century onwards, Purbeck stone was in great demand, especially after the Great Fire of London when this was Christopher Wren’s chosen building material for rebuilding landmarks such as St Paul’s.
Dancing Ledge is a flat rock platform at the base of a small cliff. Its fanciful name comes from the way the waves appear to dance over the pitted surface as the tide comes in, making it look like the waves are dancing.
One of the reasons this place is so popular is because of the natural swimming pool that was blasted out of the rock ledge around the start of the 20th century, for use by pupils from nearby Durnford School. Perhaps this prep school’s most famous pupil was Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, who attended the school from 1915 at the age of seven along with his brother Peter. The headmaster at the time, Thomas Pellatt, had local quarrymen blast out the pool so his pupils could have a daily dip, whatever the weather! The school was notoriously spartan in its ethos, and although Fleming did not particularly enjoy his time here, it provided some interesting material for creating his legendary spy.
Next to the school was an estate owned by the Bonds, an old Dorset family who counted the Elizabethan spy John Bond (1555 – 1633) as one of their ancestors. The family motto ‘non sufficit orbis’ which can be seen on the family’s house Creech Grange, at East Holme, translates as ‘the world is not enough’. Fleming first used the motto in his 1963 book On Her Majesty's Secret Service and it was also the title for the 1999 Bond film.
How to get there: Dancing Ledge is accessed via the South West Coast Path. Park at Spyway Car Park (BH19 3HG). The walk to Dancing Ledge is about a mile and a half and is especially lovely in spring with all the wildflowers. When you reach the cliff quarry, you can look down on Dancing Ledge, but to actually access it is a bit of a scramble down. Taking a dip in the pool itself is best done at low tide, the water is refreshed with every high tide, but swimming off Dancing Ledge into the sea is not recommended as the currents here can be very dangerous.
In a recent episode of the ITV series For the Love of Britain, the actress Sheila Hancock recalls a memorable trip to Dancing Ledge as a young girl. She had been evacuated to Somerset during the Second World War and was visiting a school friend one summer who had been evacuated to the nearby village of Langton Matravers. The two had visited Dancing Ledge at night, and she recalls lying back in the water of the rock pool with her friend Brenda and looking at the starry skies above. A treasured childhood memory from Dorset.
If you visit on a summer evening you may spot one of the small colony of puffins that are at Dancing Ledge, they can often be seen bobbing about on the water. Find the South West Coast Path walk route here
Visit nearby Langton Matravers
The village of Langton Matravers is well worth exploring, look for the ‘Purbeck Stonemason’ sculpture by Mary Spencer Watson in St George’s churchyard. The local museum tells you all about the history of quarrying in the area, and is usually open from April to September. The village pub, The King’s Arms is a friendly local free house with real ales and ciders, homemade specials and is dog, walker, cyclist and biker friendly.
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