Located about four miles west of Swanage in Dorset, Dancing Ledge is a flat area of rock at the base of a cliff. It gets its name from the patterns the waves sometimes make when they wash over its flat surface. It takes a bit of effort to get there, as you have to climb down and then back up a steep hill, and to reach some of the best spots involves a bit of scrambling, but it’s more than worth it.
To get to the nearest parking spot (about a mile from Dancing Ledge), drive to the village of Langton Matravers just off the A351 west of Swanage. Coming from Swanage, go past the post office and turn left down Durnford Drove. Continue to the end of the single-track road and you will find a small car park.
Walk through the gate at the end of the car park onto the footpath and continue past Spyway Farm. Head for the gate at the far end of the second field and follow the path down the steep hill. Climb over the stile at the bottom and walk down to Dancing Ledge. There are good views both east and west from the small cliff above it. From the western end you can shoot along the whole of the ledge, and if you’re feeling agile you can get down onto it. The best access is from the eastern side of the cliff, where the drop is smallest. You’ll need to climb down about 5ft [1.5m], but don’t jump as the surface is very slippery.
Time to visit
Winter is definitely the best time for shooting at Dancing Ledge. From early October through to the end of February the sun rises over the sea, and from mid-November until the end of January it also sets over the sea. Daytime shots are possible all-year round, but the most atmospheric images are definitely to be had at the end of the day – especially in low light with long exposures turning the waves misty as they wash up over the ledge.
There is a small tidal swimming pool in the ledge, which was blasted out of the rock in Victorian times. It makes excellent foreground interest for both sunrise and sunset shots, especially at high tide. There are also lots of fossils in the ledge, some of which are quite large. They make interesting studies in themselves, or can be used in the foreground of a wider view and provide a real reminder of why this stretch of coastline is known as the Jurassic Coast.
Food and lodging
Dancing Ledge is just around the corner from Swanage, a popular seaside resort which has a number of good B&Bs. Finding somewhere to stay out of season, when Dancing Ledge looks its best, shouldn’t be a problem. Visit www.virtual-swanage.co.uk for some suggestions. There is also no shortage of places to eat and drink in Swanage. If you’ve worked up an appetite after a dawn shoot, the High Street Café does an excellent fry-up. Conversely, if you’re looking for somewhere at the other end of the day, The Black Swan Inn has a good range of ales and serves excellent food.
It’s often tempting to wear wellies on coastal shoots, but good grip is essential on the slippery surface of the ledge. With quality boots you’ll also appreciate the ankle support on the walk down.
With so much excellent foreground interest, wideangle lenses are the order of the day. Get in close to foreground interest, making it loom large in the frame and creating a sense of depth in your composition.
With waves washing over the ledge and crashing on the rocks below, neutral density filters allow you to extend your shutter speeds to record the water movement as an ethereal mist.
Mark Bauer has been a full-time landscape photographer for more than ten years. Based in Dorset, he takes his inspiration from the beauty of the landscapes in South-West England. www.markbauerphotography.com