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James Kingston explores this jolly seaside resort, famous for its golden sands and magnificent steam railway

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48 Hours in... Swanage

James Kingston explores this jolly seaside resort, famous for its golden sands and magnificent steam railway

Swanage is a gloriously Victorian seaside town, a sparkling jewel in a sheltered valley surrounded by the lush green Purbeck hills. But before Swanage was developed into a watering place, it was predominantly a stone-and-fishing town, where boats landed their catch, and thousands of tons of Purbeck and Portland stone were shipped to all parts of the south of England and, most significantly, to London. It was Swanage MP William Morton Pitt who started the swing towards the leisure industry. He altered the faade of the Mansion House into a fashionable Georgian style and turned it into a first-class hotel. He built the Rookery nearby and Marine Villa almost on the shoreline. He also erected the fine row of Georgian-style terraces in Seymer Road. These were all patterns for the development of Swanage into the busy little holiday town we all love so much today.

Stroll around the town
Starting at the Mowlem Theatre on the seafront, youll notice the Swan Brook emerging under the back lanes into Swanage Bay. Walk up Station Road to visit Swanage Railway Station. Overlooking the tracks is Gilbert Road. At its far end, over the bridge into Court Road, the Railway Workshops viewpoint is essential for any steam train enthusiast. Across Kings Road, the much-photographed Mill Pond is behind St Marys Church. Mill House gardener Jean Davies informed me that the spring still feeds 30,000 gallons of clear water into the pond every day. In turn, this feeds the Swanage Brook on its short journey to the sea. From here, continue up to join the High Street back into town. When you pass Swanage Town Hall, which a local entrepreneur built in 1883, notice the extravagant 1670s faade, saved from the Mercers Hall in London by George Burt. Pop around the back to see the tiny stone lock-up, originally erected for the prevention of vice and immorality in 1803 behind St Marys Church. Continuing along High Street, youll pass a whole array of tempting shops, selling a huge range of goods from original art to diving and surfing gear, fresh flowers, seaside collectables and ethnic clothing. Theres no shortage of pubs and cafs, either. When you cross over Institute Road, walk into The Square where youll find the Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre with its Jurassic Coast displays. Contact 01929 421427 and

Three things to take home
Swanage Bears in the High Street offers cuddly
bears from man-size to miniature, with prices from gift-range to expensive limited editions and one-offs made by bear-maker extraordinaire Hayley Maskell. Contact 01929 480006 or
Pick up a selection of fresh hand-made chocolates from the multi-award-winning Chococo in Commercial Road. Claire and Andy Burnet make their deliciously unique range using fresh Dorset cream. The on-site family-friendly Cocoa Central caf specialises in hot chocolate, Sicilian roasted coffee, chocolate fondues, milkshakes and also has a childrens menu. Contact 01929 421777 and
St Aldhelm Blue, from the Windswept Cow Cheese Company at nearby Worth Matravers, Swanages Robert Field Honey and Isle of Purbeck beer from the brewery at the Bankes Arms, Studland, can all be found at the Purbeck Deli in Institute Road, run by food-loving former teacher Diana Littleton who also makes a cracking stem-ginger chocolate brownie. Contact 01929 422344 or

Things to do
Learn to scuba-dive at Divers Down on Swanage Pier (more details from 01929 423565 or or join Swanage Boat Charters to scuba-dive the wrecks and reefs in Swanage Bay (contact 01929 427064 or Fancy a spot of fishing? Swanage Angling Centre in the High Street can put you in touch with local skippers, sort you out with bait and tackle and tell you the best marks for shore fishing (call 01929 424989).

The Mowlem Theatre, opened in 1967, plays host to both film and live theatre. Relax with a drink in one of its two bars or enjoy a pre-show meal in its licensed restaurant, To find out what is on during your visit, call 01929 422239 or visit
Children will love Putlake Adventure Farm at Langton Matravers, just two miles from Swanage. They can bottle feed lambs and goats, enjoy a tractor-trailer ride, and burn off energy in the indoor or in the outdoor play areas. Contact 01929 422917 or
Langton Matravers Museum in St Georges Close explores Purbecks heritage of social history and stone, with displays of fossils, and a reconstruction of a section of a Purbeck quarry mine. Open Monday to Saturday, 10am-12 noon, 2pm-4pm. Contact 01929 423168 and
Immerse yourself in the Purbeck stone tradition and learn stone carving at Burngate Stone Centre just beyond Langton Matravers. During Dorset Arts weeks (29 May and 13 June) and throughout June there will be two-hour Have-a-Go sessions for children and adults. Details from 01929 439405 or
Durlston Country Park, barely a mile from Swanage, is a 280-acre paradise of limestone downland, hay-meadows and woodland, with signed trails and plenty of wildlife. Its sheer sea-cliffs are packed with nesting birds in the spring and the Visitor Centre has a live webcam of the seabird colonies. Open daily 10am-5pm. Details from 01929 424443 or

Eating out
As a dedicated holiday town, Swanage is awash with places to eat out. Ocean Bay at the east end of the beach is renowned for its cuisine but, without leaving the High Street, you can choose from a vast assortment of bistros, cafs and restaurants including a specialist pizza house, some excellent fish-and-chip restaurants and several inns serving good bar meals. There are also restaurants and cafs galore in Institute Road and Station Road. At Swanage Station, Swanage Railways Wessex Belle dining train serves a first-class menu in elegant surroundings. Opening for pre-dinner drinks at 7pm, the train leaves Swanage at 7.30pm, with a five-course meal during two trips to Norden, returning to Swanage about 10.30pm. Details from 01929 425800 or

19-20 June: Swanage Armed Forces and Veterans Weekend has events for all the family. On Saturday theres a Street Party with a 1940s theme, a sandcastle competition on the beach and Forces Drill and Standard Bearers competitions. On Sunday, theres a Military Parade with bands, Swanage Veterans and old vehicles. More information from 01929 427261 or
31 July 7 August: Swanage Regatta & Carnival is the top carnival on the South Coast and, with more than 100 events, there is something for everyone. Theres live music every day, a half-marathon, sandcastle competitions, treasure hunts, magnificent firework displays, a dog show, numerous sporting events, the sailing regatta, and one of the longest Carnival processions around. Swanage Railways Norden park-and-ride at Corfe Castle is open until midnight throughout Carnival week, with extra trains laid on for firework evenings.
10-12 September: Swanage Folk Festival fills the streets, pubs and clubs with dancing and music during this annual three-day extravaganza of music and fun. More information from

Tourist Information: Shore Road. Telephone 01929 422 885 or
Transport: Swanage Railway runs regular services from Norden and Corfe Castle to Swanage. Park at Norden and enjoy a trouble-free visit without worrying about parking. Details from 01929 425800 or
Buses: From Bournemouth and Poole, Wilts & Dorset 50 arrives via the Sandbanks ferry. Wilts & Dorset 142 and 143 provide services from Wareham and inland towns and villages



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