Swanage and Studland Cottages
Arguably the jewel in Dorset’s crown, the Isle of Purbeck distils much of the county’s charm with its brooding natural beauty and carefully managed development of modern, family-friendly tourism.A holiday hot spot since Victorian times, Purbeck is not an island but its designation is perfectly apt in that to arrive here across the ferry from Sandbanks to Studland or on the River Frome from Poole to Wareham is to enter a different world. That sense of old world charm can now be further accentuated if you chose to arrive by train – the volunteer-run Swanage Railway reconnected to the mainline last year and runs services to Wareham from stations at Swanage, Harman’s Cross and Corfe Castle.
Swanage is Purbeck’s biggest town and a charming resort that manages to feel both thoroughly modern and thrillingly retro at the same time. To the north of the town, around Ballard Point and the instantly recognisable Old Harry Rocks is the beautiful seaside village of Studland. A favourite retreat of the bohemian Bloomsbury artists in Edwardian times, during World War Two the bay was used by Allied forces rehearsing the Normandy Landings, watched from Fort Henry by King George VI, Winston Churchill and Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery.
What is there to see and do in Swanage and Studland?
An ancient fishing port and for centuries the departure point for the characterful Purbeck stone hewn from the many quarries that pepper the surrounding hills, Swanage owes many of its distinctive buildings and much of its civic confidence to the great 19th century builders like John Mowlem and George Burt who made their fortunes remodelling London and sent relics from the capital – including the clock tower and the façade of the town hall – back to their hometown.
There are many art galleries and craft shops as well as independent traders that make a refreshing change from the familiar high street names, while the Mowlem Theatre is well used with a varied programme of live entertainment and cinema. Swanage also hosts several music events with jazz, folk and two blues festivals a year.
Studland of course is famed for its spectacular beaches and heathland, an internationally important habitat. Owned by the National Trust there is a busy programme of guided walks and special events for all the family as well as some of the best bathing Dorset has to offer.
Corfe Castle is an icon of British tourism that in a thousand years of history has witnessed the murder of one English king and imprisoned another in its dungeon before being destroyed by order of Parliament after the Civil War. Much of the village that has grown up at the foot of the ruins was built from the castle’s distinctive Purbeck limestone – the same stone seen in some of England’s greatest churches, including Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.
From Corfe, a trip back to Swanage along the ridge of Purbeck Hills takes in the picturesque villages of Kingston, Worth Matravers, Acton and Langton Matravers, the heart of Purbeck’s quarrying heritage.
Where can I eat and drink in Swanage and Studland?
There’s no surprise that excellent seafood almost comes as standard in Swanage and Studland.
About as close as you can get to the sea in Swanage without getting wet, Gee Whites and the Top Deck Oyster and Seafood Bar both serve terrific seafood and some of the finest fish and chips in Dorset can be found at the Fish Plaice and Harlees takeaways.
In town Chilled Red boasts an interesting menu of well-prepared contemporary dishes and the long-established La Trattoria has refined its menu of Italian classics over many years. There’s first-rate bar food available at The Cabin under the Grand Hotel, Tawny’s wine bar and Down the Beach café, while overlooking the town from Durlston Castle in the country park, Seventh Wave bar restaurant boasts views to equal its food.
Swanage pubs including the Black Swan, Globe, Red Lion and Bull & Boat, not to mention the Kings Arms in nearby Langton Matravers, are notable for the warmth of an old-fashioned welcome and hearty food.
Studland is a big hitter when it comes to scenery and punches well above its weight in terms of eating out as well. The Bankes Arms does great pub food and has its own microbrewery, but from a wooden shack on Little Beach, Joe’s Café is one of Purbeck’s best-kept secrets with homemade cakes, fresh sandwiches and a commitment to local, organic and Fair Trade ingredients.
At the other end of the gourmand’s scale Shell Bay Seafood Restaurant is deservedly rated one of the three best seafood restaurants in the country by the Sunday Times; while a steady stream of celebrity guests have ensured the Pig on the Beach in Studland’s historic manor house has a national profile with food and views to match.
Finally, no trip to Purbeck is complete without a visit to the Square and Compass in the old quarrying village of Worth Matravers. A fixture on nearly every list of the ‘Best Pubs in Britain’ it has changed little since it opened in the 1770s and has been run by the same family since 1907, producing its own cider on site. There’s a year-round programme of live music and festivals and the only food available is a range of home made pasties.
Take a little time to browse through our selection of holiday cottages in Swanage and Studland. We’re certain you’ll find something just right for a truly special Dorset holiday.