The day started with a seaside stroll and ended with a castle, caves, a lighthouse, and a pirate ship! Is it any wonder Swanage has a history of smugglers?
Swanage’s Victorian Pier
Being a sunny Sunday, Swanage was full of vacationing seaside goers. We first walked to the famous Victorian Pier. The area was busy with all sorts of water crafts, jet skis, and divers preparing to head out. We discovered that the cost of strolling on the Pier itself was 80 pence. The fee pays for the upkeep of this piece of Victorian history. While I would not have minded paying, as we were only here this once, instead we more interested in finding brunch and personally, I wanted to visit the clothing boutiques in town – a girl’s got to have her priorities! …though exploration of anything historical usually outranks clothes in my book. I blame the hunger driving us back towards town.
Walking along the beach in the opposite direction from the Pier we found Swanage to be exactly what you’d expect a seaside getaway to be like. There were shops filled with beach toys and accessories, numerous ice cream and fish and chip vendors, a carnival with rides for small children and a mini golf, paddle boats to rent, and vacationers all over! Interestingly, the beach didn’t look that clean and we felt it was a bit too windy and cold for a day at the beach, but that didn’t seem to be stopping these Brits! We found that half the shops in the downtown are not open on Sunday, so there wasn’t much else to do besides enjoy the beach. I decided I like Swanage best on the weekday evenings when the shops are open and the streets are quiet.
Swanage has beach storage sheds to rent for summer vacationers. We saw a few families seated in lawn chairs in front of their open sheds, and inside was just a shelf with teas and a kettle. Tea time must not be forgotten, even at the beach! And isn’t is so much easier when your tea and chairs are already at the beach?
Dorset Coastal Path
Our afternoon hike started uphill from our Airbnb rather than downhill towards the sea. Our host pointed us in the direction of a tree lined dirt path and gave us instructions for finding certain landmarks, which we eventually did find, but not because we remembered her instructions. Our dirt path soon ended at a kissing gate and we found ourselves on a landscape of rolling green grass hills. In Britain, public hiking trials run through private cow pastures, so it’s not uncommon to just proceed through someone’s gate. Just make sure you lock it behind you! One difficulty however, is often having to guess where your trail proceeds. We chose a direction that had a hint of a trail, or at least looked a little more trodden than elsewhere. Soon we had a magnificent view of the Anvil Point lighthouse below us and the blue waters of the English Channel beyond.
From our vantage point we could see the famous Dorset Coastal Path that runs along the cliff tops and made our way towards it. This path is well signed at points so we were easily able to find our way to the recommended, Durlston Castle -which is no castle at all, it just looks like one. This house, commissioned by a man who wished he lived in a castle, is today open to the public as a free art gallery and cafe. I highly encourage visiting this just because it’s so strange.
Walking through Durlston castle felt like being dropped into a real life version of the old computer game MYST. There was a bizarre skinny circular staircase that led to a second floor through a whole in the ceiling, and out back there was a walkway that led to a doorway in a square shaped stone structure and inside we found another circular staircase leading downward. However, instead of finding a dungeon at the bottom with a strange man writing in tomes, we found the art gallery. The photograph exhibition, by Purbeck Footprints, were all images of the Swanage area. I saw a large print of the colorful beach storage rentals, which I myself had taken a photo of (see above), but my favorite was a photo of a pirate ship in front of Old Harry rocks.
Finding the Coastal Path once again, we walked back towards the lighthouse. We had walked upland of the lighthouse on the way to the castle so this time we walked on the path at the edge of the cliffs. This part of Dorset is full of old stone quarry caves, though most are unsafe to enter these days. We soon passed the caves of Tilly Whim (don’t you just love the name?). The sign warned us that these are no longer open to tourists, as they are very unsafe.When these quarries were in operation, stone would be hoisted down over the cliff sides to waiting ships below. These same cliffs and caves also provided perfect cover for smugglers because maneuvering a ship among these rocks is dangerous work.
Eventually we passed the lighthouse again. This time we walked by the gate and I found that the cottages are available to let for holidays. I want to stay in a lighthouse someday!
And what day would be complete without looking out to sea and spotting a pirate ship? I think it may be the very same ship I had bought a print of at the art gallery.
Actually, we completed our day with a dinner at the Black Swan, again. It’s just so good! And no other pub has Pickles the pub dog.