This circular walk around Scratch Arse Ware and Dancing Ledge is a lovely, short coastal walk with incredible views.
Scratch Arse Ware is one of the funnier place names in Dorset, an ancient name for a sloping field of valuable limestone grassland cliffs above Dancing Ledge.
Funny names aside, this is a stunning area of the Purbeck coast, dotted with the traces of the once-booming Purbeck limestone quarries. A darker side to the area’s history is that of the smugglers who once landed contraband on the nearby coast – likely using the rocky shelf at Dancing Ledge to do so – and stored their goods in Spyway Barn, which you’ll pass on this walk.
The area is known for its wildlife-rich grasslands like the one at Scratch Arse Ware, filled with colourful wildflowers, butterflies, and gorse. Fields are marked out by traditional dry stone walls, built from local limestone, many of which have been maintained for centuries.
This short circular walk takes you across these grasslands, through Scratch Arse Ware, and down to Dancing Ledge for an up-close look at the striking rocky shelf and the historic quarry. For a longer walk, I also have a 5.5 mile circular from Durlston to Dancing Ledge. Whichever you choose, I hope you enjoy visiting the Ledge…
Dancing Ledge Walk – Details And Map
- Distance: 5.5km / 3.4 miles
- Time: 1 – 2 hours
- Elevation Gain: 142m
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Accessibility: A few sets of stairs, 3 stiles, and a few kissing gates. A few ascents and descents. Some fairly uneven ground and rocky sections.
- Terrain: Gravel paths, grass, packed earth, stones and rocks.
- Parking: Paid parking at Spyway Barn Carpark (BH19 3HG) – from £1 for 2 hours to £4 for 8 hours, free for National Trust members, card and cash accepted.
- Facilities: No facilities on route or at Dancing Ledge. The nearest toilets are a 2 minute drive away at the entrance to Putlake Farm, BH19 3EU.
NOTE: Take your swimming stuff if you’re walking this route on a nice day. There’s a small, manmade tidal pool on the ledge which is a great way to cool off!
To make following this walk easier, feel free to use my GPS trail route on Wikiloc. It’s a free app where people can share hiking routes! You’ll probably still find my instructions below helpful, though.
What are Dancing Ledge and Scratch Arse Ware?
Dancing Ledge is a natural shelf of flat rock jutting out into the sea near the base of some cliffs on the Isle of Purbeck. It was once home to one of the many Purbeck limestone quarries dotted along this coastline, and a particularly useful one, as ships could come right up to the ledge to collect the stone.
No one is sure where the unusual name comes from. Many think it’s because of the way the waves seem to “dance” over the ledge at certain tides. Others suggest it’s because the ledge is just the right size for a ballroom dancefloor. Although sadly, I don’t think any dances have ever been held there!
So – on to Scratch Arse Ware. It’s a sloping section of limestone grassland on the cliffs above Dancing Ledge, filled with gorse, long grass, and, in summer, wildflowers.
Again, no one can seem to agree where the name comes from! According to the National Trust, a “ware” is a local name for land used as rough grazing. Some collections of Dorset dialects suggest it means “pond”, but there’s no water here.
As for the “scratch arse” part, some locals will tell you it comes from the large amounts of gorse found in the area – but this seems to just be a popular local rumour!
Scratch Arse Ware and Dancing Ledge Walk
Step 1 – Spyway to Scratch Arse Ware
Starting Point: Spyway Barn Car Park
From the carpark, take the gravel path leading to Spyway Barn. There is a crossroad of paths just before the barn; keep straight on the path following the wooden fingerpost for Dancing Ledge.
The gravel path veers left, then turns right through a gate to pass between a large barn and Spyway Cottage. The smaller barn behind these is Spyway Barn, once used by smugglers to store contraband landed on the nearby coast. It’s now owned by the National Trust and features an exhibition about the local area and its wildlife.
Follow the path through the kissing gate to the left of Spyway Barn and across a field with the sea ahead of you. You’ll pass through a gap in a stone wall to cross a second field, then come to a wooden kissing gate. On the wall just to the right of this gate is a stone sculpture of a cow’s head by local artist Sarah Moore.
Step 2 – Scratch Arse Ware
Go through the kissing gate and turn right to follow the grassy footpath. Ignore the downhill path on your left, and continue following the grassy track along the top of the ridge, keeping the stone wall on your right. You’ll pass through a gap in a stone wall, then come to a wooden kissing gate leading into a field (photo below).
The area of grassy scrubland running downhill to your left here is Scratch Arse Ware.
Go through the kissing gate and turn left to follow the fence line of the field, until you reach a wide wooden gate with a stile next to it (photo below). Go over the stile and turn right to follow the main path along the stone wall (keeping the wall on your right).
You will come to a stone bench next to a stone waymarker opposite a stile in the wall. Stay on the path you were already following, leading towards a wooden gate.
Just before this gate, turn left (and almost back on yourself) to follow the diagonal path down the hill (photo below).
Step 3 – Dancing Ledge
At the bottom, you will reach a fence running along the cliff edge. Turn left onto the South West Coast Path and head slightly uphill to take two stone steps through a wooden gate. Below you are the traces of one of the many quarries that once dotted this stretch of the coastline.
Continue following the SW Coast Path with the sea on your right, until you reach the set of stiles at the entrance to Dancing Ledge on your right.
It’s worth detouring down the stone steps to explore Dancing Ledge and the traces of its old quarry. You can also take a dip in the tidal pool on the rocky shelf if tides (and the British weather) allow!
Step 4 – Climb Back Up
Back on the SW Coast Path, ignore the steep uphill climb signposted for Spyway Car Park and instead continue along the path at the bottom of the cliffs with the sea on your right.
When you pass through a small wooden gate at the end of a stone wall, look for a stone marker on your left pointing out the “Upper Path to Durlston”. This path breaks away from the coast path to veer diagonally upwards across the field.
Follow this up and through a gap in a stone wall, then as it bears right across the next field towards the top right-hand corner, where you can turn right to go through another gap in a stone wall. Turn left immediately after this gap and head uphill, keeping the stone wall on your left. Cross over the public footpath and continue straight along the grassy path with the stone wall on your left and the sea behind you.
The above is how I did the climb, and what’s shown on my route map. An alternative and slightly easier-to-follow way up is to go through the gap in the stone wall and bear left slightly acoss the second field, go through the gap in the hedgerow, then bear right across the third field to find a gap in a stone wall with a public footpath marker, then turn left immediately after going through the gap to follow the stone wall.
Step 5 – Priest’s Way
Heading uphill now with the sea behind you, you will pass through a gap in a hedgerow, then a metal gate marked with a yellow public footpath arrow leading into another field. From here there are excellent views down towards the sea at Swanage.
Halfway along this field, follow the footpath left through another metal gate also marked with the yellow footpath sign, to continue along the other side of the wall.
Keep following the path with the wall on your right now, and at the far end of this last field, you will reach a wooden gate and a stile. Climb over this and turn left onto Priest’s Way. This road follows an ancient track taken by a local priest as he travelled back and forth between the churches in his care at Swanage and Worth Matravers. It’s a narrow country lane with no pavement, so take care.
Continue along the lane until you can see Spyway Barn on your left. Keep right at the fork, then turn right at the crossroads to follow the path back to the car park where you started.
If you enjoyed this walk around Scratch Arse Ware and Dancing Ledge, or have any feedback for me, please leave a comment below! Especially if any info needs updating.