Old Harry Rocks: origin of the formation
Old Harry Rocks are three chalk formations, that can be found at the most easterly point along the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage site, located on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.
The rocks formed millions of years ago from the buildup of plankton and microorganisms. They’re made completely of chalk, and the white rocks were named some time during the 18th century, before some of the other stacks fell away to erosion.
The stacks were used in World War 2 by British Spitfire and Hurricane pilots for target practice and scuba divers exploring near the formations will on occasion find .303 shell cases on the sea bed. The chalk formations are destined to be fall away into the sea, but new ones emerge as the sea forms them over the ages.
There are a lot of tales that surround the origin of the name of the rock. Some more reasonable, in comparison, such as the local legend saying they were named after Harry Paye, the Poole Pirate, who used the rocks as cover to await the unsuspecting merchant ship; or there are those folk tales telling of how the Devil himself (who was sometimes known as ‘Old Harry’) used the rocks as his bed. A third tale, takes a biblical turn, recounting the drowning of a ninth-century Viking Earl Harold, who was planning a raid when his ship was smashed by a storm, and he was turned into a pillar of chalk.
Old Harry Rocks are located east of Studland, and about 3 miles south of the towns of Poole and Bournemouth. The majority of the area is owned by the National Trust, and to the south is the Ballard Down, cliffs made of chalk. The rocks can be best viewed from the Dorset area of the South West Coast Path.
Old Harry Rocks: The chalk wonder of Dorset
The chalk of Old Harry Rocks was preserved as a headland after large portion of this area was eroded away, and was once part of a long length of chalk between Purbeck and the Isle of Wight. Over time, the headland was chipped away after wind and water forced their way into small cracks along with the strenght of the sea, thus creating larger cracks; this is a process called hydraulic action. At first caves, then arches were formed. The tops of the arches fell into the sea after being beaten by storms, leaving these disconnected stumps and stacks that we now see today. Old Harry is one of these, who lost its counterpart, Old Harry's Wife, another stack which was so eroded through corrosion and abrasion, that it weakened the bottom until the top part fell, leaving only a stump.
The downlands of Ballard Down are made of chalk with several layers of flint, and is estimated to be approximately 66 million years old. The bands of rock have been eroded over the centuries, some of the earlier stacks having fallen (Old Harry's original wife fell in 1509), while new ones have been formed by the breaching of narrow isthmuses. Once connected to the Ballard Down a few thousand years ago are The Needles that can usually be seen across the water to the east on the Isle of Wight.
The stacks were formed as the sea eroded away the joints and bedding planes where the softer chalk meets harder bedrock of the rock to carve a cave. This eroded away with time right through to make an arch, which eventually collapsed to leave the stacks of Old Harry and his wife, No Man's Land and the gap of St Lucas' Leap. The large outcrop of rock on the edge the cliffs is the one referred to as "No Man's Land".
Old Harry will eventually fall victim to the ages as well due to the nature of it’s creative through erosion, which will eat away at the stack, until it can stand no more, and new stacks will develop in the process. Some people wish to preserve the rocks and protect them from the erosion that originally formed them. The National Trust, who own the stacks, and are experienced in looking after the Jurassic coast, believe that "working with natural processes is the most sustainable approach".
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