Jo Blair

Posted by Jo Blair on 19th Dec 2018 -- Read Time: 4 minutes

Sand, sea and steam – exploring Swanage

In my time I’ve been lucky enough to visit some incredible places, yet one of my favourite destinations is close to home and holds a special place in my heart: Swanage, in Dorset. Anyone I mention it to always has a memory of their own about it – a fond family holiday or school trip. The area boasts breath-taking landscapes, where rolling green hills meet the majestic chalky cliffs which line Dorset’s Jurassic Coast – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than just a beautiful spot to relax, it’s one of those places that makes me want to get up early (which is very unusual!), so that my lovely Labrador and I can have the beach to ourselves.

Swanage Bay is a place that I’ve treasured since childhood. I have always had family living there, so have visited regularly since I was a small child. I loved staring out at the calm sea, feeling the salt-air fill my lungs, and so visiting now causes waves of nostalgia to wash over me. The soft sand soothes the soles of my feet; the cool, crisp (often freezing!) water tickles my toes as the sea lazily laps the shore, and I am transported back to being an 8-year-old girl, jumping waves with my grandma whilst she tried not to get her skirt wet! And 30 years later I was doing the same thing with my own daughter, reliving those happy memories and creating many new ones.

Memories of times gone by

This old-fashioned seaside town hasn’t changed much in over 40 years – strolling along the promenade I can’t help but smile! The seafront retains all of its vintage charm: Victorian-style covered seating, rows of striped deckchairs gazing out to sea, Punch and Judy on the beach, all harking back to the halcyon days of the late 1800s.

With an abundance of bakeries and traditional tearooms on offer, you’re never far from a sweet treat and a spot of Dorset tea! Less traditional, but serving locally fished seafood, there is a fabulous open-air roof-top bar and seafood restaurant overlooking the bay, with wonderful views for dinner and drinks – watching the sun set there is a truly special thing and a sight I’ll never tire of.

In keeping with its image of a bygone era, Swanage’s heritage railway operates historic steam locomotives which wind through the idyllic Dorset countryside. Sitting inside an ornate carriage, hearing the shrill whistle of the train, watching great white plumes of steam puffing over the platform, there’s always a real sense of excitement and anticipation as we prepare to leave the station. The journey allows you to fully appreciate the picture-perfect landscape and historical relics, including the ruins of William the Conqueror’s Corfe Castle. For me, there’s no better way to soak up the Purbeck Hills and stunning, unspoilt countryside.

Landmarks and legends

One of the most distinctive landmarks from Swanage is Old Harry Rocks, which stand at the north-eastern edge of the bay. There are many legends surrounding these impressive chalk formations, from being where the Devil (commonly referred to as ‘Old Harry!’) slept, to the watery grave of a ninth-century Viking raider, who was said to have been transformed into a tower of chalk after drowning there. And a more recent adventure of “Jo & her friends in a kayak” – ask me about that one!

Moving deeper inland, you can see the lush greenery of the Purbeck Hills which form a protective arc around the bay. This unique feature acts as a buffer against the weather, so you can be standing on the beach in Swanage in glorious sunshine and watch the storm clouds throwing down rain over Poole and Bournemouth next door!

More than sand and sea

Far from being a generic seaside holiday, Swanage and the surrounding area have an abundance of attractions that make it worthwhile visiting. The bay can always be relied upon for a relaxing, carefree break away from all the hustle and bustle of modern life. With the combination of an elegant Victorian seafront, the rich historical and geological significance of the area, and the gorgeous expanse of English countryside, it’s a destination that everyone would benefit from exploring.

The only final bit of advice I would offer is to try to avoid going on Bank Holidays or between mid-July and the end August… too many tourists really can overwhelm a fabulous place!