These mark the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, although the rocks are composed entirely of younger Cretaceous sediments.
The series of rocks that jut out into the sea from the end of Ballard Down are sea stacks that are entirely due to coastal erosion. There is local controversy over which of the rocks is actually Old Harry, but the consensus is that this honour belongs to the cylindrical stack that is furthest out to sea. However, within historical times there were other stacks further out than this one, which were given various names including “Old Harry’s Wife and Children”.
At low tide it is possible to walk along the shore from the north side, but walkers should beware of rock falls from above, given the process of erosion that is always taking place.
From the cliff top one can look across to the Isle of Wight and The Needles, which are also sea stacks carved out of chalk. At one time there was a continuous band of chalk between Old Harry and The Needles, before this was breached and the large expanse of Poole Bay was formed.
So who was Old Harry? One candidate for giving his name to the Rocks was the famous pirate Harry Paye, who was based in Poole Harbour and created havoc to Spanish and French shipping in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Another possibility is that the name simply refers to the Devil, one of whose nicknames has long been Old Harry.
I used to know this area very well, having been brought up not far away. However, this photo is not mine, but was taken from a copyright-free source.
Which explanation of the name do you think is more likely?
Harry Paye the pirate