Buckets of fun and adventure in Swanage
Nestled at the south-eastern tip of the Isle of Purbeck, Swanage is a traditional seaside town: a delightful bay, higgledy-piggledy streets where you’ll find everything from real ale to maritime curios, plus a beautiful crescent of Blue Flag sandy beach where Punch and Judy still knock seven bells out of each other.
The crew recommends: Places to visit
Star of screen, spot Swanage Pier in classics such as The Two Ronnies and Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
Strolling along the 196m pier I enjoyed 360˚ views: from the lifeboat station at Peveril Point to the chalk cliffs of the Isle of Wight. The Victorian pier is home to Divers Down, the oldest diving school in the UK, and a great starting point for crabbing, fishing, diving, boating or kayaking.
Swanage Pier Museum
The museum is at the pier head, and you can view sealife on the live feed from under the pier. Trace the development of Swanage’s RNLI lifeboats and test your skills on the Victorian gaming machines. Piermaster Brian Erskine lent me an old penny to try my hand at Monkey Have a Go and the What the Butler Saw: Hot Nights at the Jitterbug peep show.
Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre
There’s more here than meets the eye: Purbeck dinosaurs, shopping Victorian-style, and the story of Swanage’s own Dick Whittington, for whom the streets of London really were paved with gold – or possibly Purbeck stone?
Durlston Country Park
Just outside Swanage is an Astronomy Centre and 280 acres of nature reserve. The reserve is home to many species of butterflies, birds, moths and wildflowers, and we were thrilled to see peregrine falcons nesting in the cliffs. In Summer, look out for dolphins.
‘I love Durlston Castle – especially the view from the sea – our training ground. I got married there and even have the navigational chart tattooed on my arm!’
- Tom Greasty, Volunteer Helmsman, Swanage RNLI
Durlston Castle is a must-see. Have your picture taken holding up the Great Globe – 40 tonnes of Portland limestone. The castle includes a visitor centre with information on wildlife sightings, the Fine Foundation Gallery and café Seventhwave, with a fantastic terrace. Sip tea while drinking in the view of Peveril Point.
And do check their events listings: from meteor shower gazing to art exhibitions and wildlife walks.
Nooks and crannies
‘Swanage has a lot of hidden history. There’s an old gaol where Swanage ne’er-do-wells were slung and a Mill Pond just up the High Street.’
- Roydon Woodford, Volunteer Crew Member, Swanage RNLI
There is no substitute for local knowledge. Clutching Roydon’s hand-drawn map, we felt like treasure hunters.The tiny 19th-century gaol tucked down Town Hall Lane and dedicated to the ‘Prevention of Vice and Immorality’ could accommodate six underfed lifeboat crew – at a squeeze! A few steps up the High Street, the sapphire Mill Pond is encircled by picturesque cottages and even has a slipway – for the ducks.
The crew recommends: Things to do
Swanage Steam Railway
A treat for rail enthusiasts of all ages. Step onto the platform at Swanage and be transported back in time, and thrilled by the Purbeck countryside. I craned my neck to glimpse the caterpillar of steam as it billowed above the train. Alight at picture-perfect Corfe Castle: so Enid Blyton you’ll think you’ve stepped into a Famous Five story.
Swanage Boat Charters
‘The Kyarra is one of the most dived wrecks in the country. I’ve found cargo ranging from gold watches to comic books.’
- Bryan Jones, Volunteer Crew Member, Swanage RNLI
The British steamer Kyarra was torpedoed and sunk in 1918 and, at a depth of 28-30m and only 10-15 miles out, it’s easily accessible. See what treasure lies in the silt: Swanage Boat Charters will take you out to visit this and other wrecks and scenic dive sites.
‘On a nice day, kayaking from Swanage to Studland is fantastic to see the Ballard fault line – rock strata from millions of years ago.’
- Gavin Steeden, Volunteer Helmsman, Swanage RNLI
For a close-up of the Jurassic coastline, Dorset Kayaking offers guided tours around Swanage Bay and out to Old Harry Rocks. You can even kayak through a gap and into a cave there.
‘North of Swanage, take the route by the obelisk along Ballard Down and you can see Brownsea Island, Poole and the Isle of Wight.’
- Ollie Clark, Mechanic, Swanage RNLI
A great starting point for exploring Purbeck’s World Heritage Jurassic Coast, follow the South West Coast Path north to Old Harry and Studland Bay or south to Durlston Head and Dancing Ledge – a bathing pool hewn into the rock.
‘Take a boat trip to explore the Jurassic Coast and enjoy a view from the sea.’
- David Turnbull, Mechanic, Swanage RNLI
Blue Line Cruises run trips between Swanage Pier and Poole Quay, with breathtaking views of Brownsea Island. They will even drop you off in Swanage and pick you up hours later, returning you to Poole Quay after a delightful day’s exploring.
The crew recommends: Food and drink
‘I regularly pop in to Love Cake for coffee and cake – my favourite is sticky toffee pudding.’
- Becky Mack, Volunteer Press Officer and Crew Member, Swanage RNLI
‘Have your cake and eat it,’ advises a sign as you enter. And people seem happy to oblige: tables are full of cake lovers.With so many intriguing flavour combinations, I cannot decide: White Chocolate Cardamom Cheesecake, Hummingbird Cake with Pineapple and Banana smothered in Cream Cheese Icing, or choc-packed Brownies (gluten-free) – all served on vintage plates.
Swanage Bay Fish
Fish so fresh I swear one winked at me! We met Julia, who sells the fish her partner Terry catches locally. Cod, squid, Dover sole, bass, lobster and crab were a few of the delicacies on the menu when we visited.
Passionate about fish, Julia and Terry are looking forward to 2015: ‘Swanage is hosting its first Fish Festival in June. There’ll be a fish pie competition and lobster pot building, and we will raffle the biggest lobster Terry catches to raise funds for the RNLI.’
Great value, Earthlights has the best selection of teas I’ve ever seen: white tea and pomegranate, liquorice and honeybush for starters. My Brie and Salami Panini was delicious. Indulge in Seafood Chowder, a Cream Tea or even an All-Day Breakfast.
It’s a delight to sit beneath the vaulted ceiling of this quirky building and view the works of local artist David Neaves and co-owner of Earthlights, Julie, whose exquisite needlecrafts make super gifts.
On tap here: an array of real ales and ciders, good food, family-friendly service and a bed for the night. This converted 19th-century coach house is the choice of locals – especially the lifeboat crew who pop in after training every Wednesday evening.
A popular venue for live music, you may catch an impromptu performance from Kelp! – shantymen (with a sprinkling of lifeboat crew) who ‘sing songs of the sea to anyone who gets too close!’
A chocolate lover’s paradise. I had to be dragged away, but not before I’d tried Perfect Passion – scrumptious passion fruit encased in mouthwatering milk chocolate. Handmade from top-quality ingredients, Chococo creations include Dorset Blue (blue vinny cheese in white chocolate ganache) and Totally Twisted Nose (containing Twisted Nose gin).
Need time to choose? Scoff a hot chocolate and slice of cake in Chococo’s adjoining café.
The RNLI in Swanage
Swanage volunteers have two lifeboats: the all-weather Mersey class Robert Charles Brown and the inshore D class Phyl and Jack. Their current lifeboat station is two huge green containers and fundraising continues as they anticipate a new lifeboat station and Shannon class lifeboat in Spring 2016.
Call in at the RNLI shop in the Square for the perfect gift: homeware, clothing, greeting cards and tasty treats, knowing that your purchase contributes towards saving lives at sea.
On 25 May 2014, Swanage volunteers were called out by Portland Coastguard to rescue a climber with a suspected broken rib who had fallen 35m down the cliff at Marmolata Buttress.
‘The casualty was in a tricky location on a stretch of coast known as Ragged Rocks. There was a rolling swell that meant we had to time our approach with the waves,’ says Crew Member Becky Mack. Helm Gavin Steeden steered the inshore lifeboat close enough for Crew Member James Chadwick to leap onto the rocks and assess the casualty.
The injured climber was then winched into the Coastguard helicopter and airlifted to Poole Hospital.
Purbeck Literary Festival
16 February-1 March
At various venues around Purbeck, this diverse wordfest includes tales and toys for children, poetry and creative writing workshops for adults.
Swanage Blues Festival
Essentially a humungous party with great gigs, open mic and jam sessions. Follow the Blues Trail around the pubs, restaurants, hotels and outdoor venues.
Swanage Sea Rowing Club Regatta
13 June (weather permitting)
A celebration of gig racing – a tradition going back hundreds of years. Admire the competitors’ strength in these challenging races across open sea.