Swanage; the gem of the Dorset coast

Guest author Steve Thompson describes his love of Swanage, a traditional English seaside resort in Dorset.

Swanage is a delightful coastal town in the south east of Dorset, situated at the eastern end of the Isle of Purbeck and at the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, a coast that stretches from Orcombe Point near Exmouth to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage. Its entire length can be walked on the fabulous South West Coast Path. Originally a small port and fishing village, Swanage flourished in the Victorian era when it became a significant quarrying port and later a seaside resort for the rich of the day.

Swanage Beach
Swanage Beach

I could go on to describe how, although fishing is the town’s oldest industry, locally quarried Purbeck stone was extensively used for paving following the Great Fire of London in 1666, with the stone being loaded onto ships directly from the Swanage seafront. Or how during the Second World War gun emplacements and pillboxes were built at spots along the shoreline to fend off Hitler’s pending invasion.

But enough of the past, what is Swanage today and what does it have to offer? Yes it is still a very popular holiday destination, nestled between the ‘finger and thumb’ of Ballard Down and Peveril Point. Many thousands visit and return each year to enjoy the bay’s safe sandy beach, varied water based activities (by the way, have you tried Coasteering? Great fun, take a look at www.cumulusoutdoors.com) and other attractions such as the fascinating Swanage Steam Railway.

Swanage Carnival
Swanage Carnival

Swanage Carnival has established itself as one of the biggest summer carnival celebrations on the south coast and the town also hosts successful festivals, which attract more than a purely local audience. These include a Jazz Festival, a Folk Festival, a Blues Festival, a Comedy Festival and there are also plans for a Food Festival.

The surrounding larger resorts of Bournemouth and Poole are close by but it’s what Swanage has ‘naturally’ to offer that sets it apart from its more commercial neighbours. It remains one of the few remaining natural seaside resorts surrounded by stunning coastal walks and views, a haven for all ages where you can still enjoy fish and chips, ice cream and candy floss on the seafront and also take advantage of some of the fine restaurants in the area, such as ‘Chilled Red’, a small friendly restaurant tucked away but offering a delicious menu.

Swanage remains one of the few remaining natural seaside resorts surrounded by stunning coastal walks and views
Swanage remains one of the few remaining natural seaside resorts surrounded by stunning coastal walks and views

BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show presenter Chris Evans was moved to say following a visit to the town this year (Mail on Sunday Live magazine April 2012) I can’t begin to tell you how good a time I had on my birthday this year. It was last weekend and it was magical. Close family and friends, my mum, my daughter, Tash, Noah and Bump and three days tucked away in the New Forest. Best of all was the joyous afternoon we spent in Swanage. Have you ever been? The locals don’t want their well-kept secret getting out but, with apologies to the Swanagonians, I have to tell the world about this modest but perfectly formed cove on the south  coast, with fish and chips to die for and a stretch of open water that could give the Cote D’Azur a run for its money. En famille we played on the beach on Monday to our hearts’ content, Noah leading the charge with intense and precise sandcastle construction, while I attempted sand car design. With the golden spring sun in a cloudless blue sky, I can honestly say I don’t remember ever being more content in my whole life”

If you fancy a break from the beach, walk along Nine Barrow Down to the charming Dorset village of Corfe Castle, enjoy a pint of what makes you happy and then hop aboard the steam train for the return journey to Swanage through spectacular countryside. Alternatively, walk over Ballard Down with breathtaking views of Poole Harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world, to arrive in the village of Studland and enjoy a something to eat and drink in the lovely garden of the Manor House Hotel.

At the southern end of the town Durlston Country Park, National Nature Reserve and Castle is a fabulous 280 acre countryside paradise with stunning views and walking trails and a short distance west of Swanage brings you to the picturesque village of Worth Matravers where the cliffs were the site of a Chain Home radar station during World War 2 which was instrumental in the development of radar. In the village you’ll find the endearing and ever-popular Square and Compass pub, an old haunt for smugglers and now home of award winning beers and ciders including home pressed traditional cider made by the owner, the perfect accompaniment to a traditional hot pasty or pie.

The Square & Compass, Worth Matravers
The Square & Compass, Worth Matravers

Where to stay? You have a choice. There are a range of B&B establishments in the area, The Grand Hotel provides comfortable hotel accommodation in a fabulous cliff top position. If you’re looking for the flexibility of self-catering, Gables Court includes three fully self-contained apartments ideally situated just 200 yards from the beach. For wider information of what’s available in the area, visit http://www.swanage.gov.uk/Tourist_Information.aspx

In short, when it comes to natural, traditional and enchanting seaside resorts with a range of attractions and activities set amongst glorious Dorset countryside, nothing comes close to the gem that is Swanage – just ask Chris!

Swanage Bay
Swanage Bay