Swanage Coastguard dismay as girl risks life at Old Harry

A teenage girl had to crawl to safety, coaxed back by Swanage Coastguard, after venturing out along the top of Old Harry Rocks on Ballard Down near Swanage.

With the chalk rock slippery following the rain, Swanage Coastguard station officer Ian Brown said he could hardly bear to watch the girl, as she slowly made her way back along the narrow ledge on her hands and knees, only inches away from tragedy. The drop either side is about 60 foot or 18 metres down.

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Old Harry Rocks

A new sign warns of the dangers

“Struggling on her hands and knees”

The incident happened on Sunday 1st May 2022 as the Swanage Coastguard team arrived as part of a regular patrol over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Ian Brown said:

“We suddenly saw the head of a girl appear along the narrow ‘bridge’ – she was struggling on her hands and knees. We asked her to stop, so she could calm herself and then we encouraged her to make her way slowly back.

“She was just a young teenager, maybe 13 or 14 years old. Once she got back safely she apologised and ran off.”

Old Harry Rocks with girl
Swanage Coastguard

The teenager pictured crawling back along the slippery rock

More people want to get close to the edge

Over the last few years, Old Harry Rocks have attracted more daytrippers keen to see the rare chalk stack formations and to take photos and selfies.

This has caused a safety issue as more people want to get close to the edge, thus further eroding the already unstable cliff. A new sign has been positioned more prominently warning of the danger.

20 minutes later, the team saw a man also heading out along the top of the Old Harry Rocks, and were able to call him back before he got out too far.

Old Harry Rocks cliff rescue of woman
Swanage Fire Station

In 2020 a woman fell from the cliff at Old Harry Rocks but miraculously survived due to the rapid response of the coastguard, RNLI, fire crew, ambulance, coastguard rescue helicopter and air ambulance

“I fear there will be a tragedy here before too long”

Ian Brown said people need to stay at least several metres back from the edge of a cliff:

“I fear there will be a tragedy here before too long. People see what they think is a path but somehow don’t see the sheer drop either side down to the rocks below.

“This is an accident just waiting to happen. It’s very dangerous. It only takes a small slip and they’ll be gone. Is it really worth it for a photo?”

In 2020 and 2021 there were two separate incidents when people accidently slipped at Old Harry Rocks and fell over the cliff.

They were both lucky to survive the fall but others may not be so fortunate.

Visitors at OldHarry Rocks
Library image / Caroline ABBOTT

In 2020, a group of young people were seemingly unaware of the sheer drop below them at Old Harry Rocks

Tourist following sat nav to Old Harry Rocks

On the same day, Swanage Coastguard team had to stop a car that was trying to drive to Old Harry Rocks.

The driver said he was following his sat nav and it had to be explained that there was no road route and that he had to walk to the site.

Further along the Purbeck coast at Lulworth, daytrippers travel from across the UK to vist Durdle Door, another photogenic rock formation. Two people accidently died in 2021 having fallen from the rock and cliff areas.

“It feels like we could be the next Durdle Door”

Ian Brown added:

“The problem is getting worse, with people who aren’t local to the area not understanding that you can’t drive to Old Harry Rocks and you can’t walk out on them, when you get there.

“It feels like we could be the next Durdle Door and we will have a tragedy here too before too long.”

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