Swanage is pleasant seaside resort, with a wide sweeping bay and safe sandy beaches, edged by chalk cliffs on both sides.
Swanage Bay © Travel About Britain
Swanage began life as an Anglo-Saxon port that was often raided by the Danes. A column on the seafront commemorates King Alfred's rout of a Danish fleet in 877. During the middle ages the town's main industry involved the shipping of Purbeck marble, quarried from the nearby hills. Stone from this area was used in the construction of Westminster Abbey and several other English Cathedrals. The quarries are still worked today, although only on a very small scale.
The arrival of the railway in the 19th century paved the way for the town's popularity as a seaside resort. The fine stone buildings of Swanage station are a testament to that era. Although the line was originally part of the London and South Western Railway, it closed to mainline trains in 1972. It subsequently reopened as heritage line, now running legacy steam and diesel services from Swanage to Norden station, just north of Corfe Castle.
The sweeping sandy beach is one of the resort's main attractions, backed by a long promenade, lined with amusements, ice cream kiosks and beach huts. A traditional Punch and Judy show is performed on the beach during the summer.
Winding streets weave down from the town centre to the seafront, where there is a small pier and a quay. From here you can catch the ferry to Bournemouth. There are a few old stone houses around the town but the majority are modern. The oldest and most attractive part of Swanage can be found around the Mill Pond area, just off the High Street.
The town has several architectural curiosities imported from London. For example, the facade of the Victorian Town Hall (1883) came from the Mercers' Hall, Cheapside, and the Duke of Wellington clock-tower once stood at the end of London Bridge. These item and many others were brought to the town by John Mowlem, a local benefactor. The Mowlem Theatre, a modern complex that stands on the Parade, was built over the site of a previous institute, presented to the town my Mowlem in 1863. The theatre provides regular film performances and live theatre, comprising both amateur and professional productions.
Opposite the Town Hall sits the palatial stone-built Purbeck House. Rebuilt in 1876 by George Burt, the nephew of John Mowlem. The house contains many curios brought back from London, including Columns from Billingsgate Market, statues from the Royal Exchange and tiles from the Houses of Parliament. Originally a convent, the house is now run as a hotel. Behind it is a little lock-up built in 1803 "for the prevention of vice and immorality".
The town's lovely stone church of St Mary the Virgin is mainly a Victorian restoration. The tower is believed to have originally been a fortification from the 12th-c, evidenced by its arrow slit windows.
The Dorset Coast Path runs along this stretch of coastline and the downs behind the cliffs are ideal walking territory. Old Harry's Rocks, to the north of the town, marks the start of the Jurassic Coast, which runs all the way west to Budleigh Salterton. To the south lies a lovely a country park, including the cliffs around Durlston Head. Puffins and other seabirds nest here in their thousands. One of the main attractions at Durlston Head is 'The Great Globe', a 40-ton Portland stone model of the world. The park has a number of waymarked trails and footpaths. A little further south is the 19th-c Anvil Point Lighthouse. Sited at 170ft above sea level, it is visible to shipping for up to 18 miles.
Located on the seafront, this small museum contains a collection of fossils and displays of local history.
Opening times: Easter
to Whitsun : 11 to 3, Whitsun to October : 10.30 to
4.30, November and December : 11 to 3 (weekends only),
January to Easter : Museum closed.
Location: The Square, Swanage BH19 2LJ
Tel: 01929 421427
Steam railway enthusiasts can enjoy a nostalgic
trip along the Purbeck heritage railway, which runs
from Swanage station to Corfe Castle.
Location: Station Rd, Swanage BH19
Tel: 01929 425800