Do yourself a favor, stay in an Airbnb, and make friends with your hosts.
Our Swanage Airbnb host Angela, informed us the night before that she was concerned that we were not having as good a time as we should be having. Her other guests, she informed us, gushed about their days spent in Dorset and we did not seem to be having the time of our lives! Thus she was certain that if we followed her directions to the letter the next day, we would have the BEST day EVER. So thanks to Angela, we had a pretty good day! (For the record, and Angela if she ever reads this, I was not traveling with very expressive people, but we did in fact have a wonderful time in Dorset!!) Angela’s suggestion was that we visit Worth Matravers and all it had to offer, which was a tea room, duck pond, quarry caves, and a pub. In that order. When we bashfully told her we’d been considering starting the day back in Wareham at their farmers market and would like to know if we could bus from Whareham to Worth Matravers, she waved her hand and told us not to mess around with the bus. Her husband had an appointment in Wareham in the morning so he would drop us off at the market and then pick us up after the appointment and drive us to Worth Matravers. So thank you, Nick and Angela, for a truly wonderful day!
The farmers market in Wareham was smaller than we expected and a little bit hidden. We had to ask a few locals before finding it. On this day the market was mostly food, so we were just there to look. There were a couple outside tables in a parking area and a small metal building just large enough for a long table where we found several different types of eggs for sale. Duck, chicken, quail… Along the back wall were shelves housing various veggies for sale. The interesting thing about this market is that starting at 11am they auction off all of the remaining items. Unfortunately we were there too early to witness this, but apparently it is a long standing tradition of this particular market.
Around the corner from the farmers market we happened upon a church market, and as markets are irresistible, we explored this too. There were about 5 women each behind their own table selling hand made crafts and goodies (read: honey, jam, preserves). I had been wearing a baseball cap due to the sun and forgotten to take it off when we went inside (oops!), so it was no wonder when one of the women asked if I was on holiday. When the women learned we were from Alaska they became very interested in chatting with us! I suppose the lesson here is: don’t look like a tourist, unless you’re from somewhere interesting!
We spent the rest of the time waiting for Nick to finish with his appointment by spending a little time viewing the small Wareham museum then watching children at the quay feeding the ducks. I found the museum interesting because, while I generally associate England with the Medieval Age, the displays informed us about the inhabitants of the area well before this time. Archeological digs in the area had produced pottery and kilns of these early civilizations. At the quay as we watched children throwing bread for the ducks, a very large swan glided over to join in the fray. As the smaller birds gave the swan a wide berth, the graceful white bird stood on the stone steps that descended into the river directly in front of the children so that just his feet were still in the water. He accepted the bread he was thrown and each time he politely requested more by giving a quiet throaty quack and slightly lifting his giant folded wings from his back. Meanwhile the other birds nipped at any bread that landed behind the swan or too far to his side to be in his reach.
Eventually Nick picked us up and as we drove towards Worth Matravers we questioned him about the stone used in the architecture of the area, since we had been instructed to visit the quarry caves of Worth Matravers. He explained to us that the houses are built of different, and more roughly cut types of stones than stone used for decoration. He spontaneously decided to take us to two stone quarry shops along our route. The first had a showroom of stone flooring, stairways, vases, bowls, and decorative items, all with very smoothed stone. The second was a shop where Nick had taken classes in stone carving. They had a showroom of their students rock carvings.
Nick also told us that the short stone walls we had seen all over the place topped by rocks sitting vertically instead of horizontally are called “Cock and Hen walls.” The larger vertical stones are the Cocks and the smaller stones are the Hens. I learned something new, and now you know too.
Worth Matravers, pronounced “M’traaaavers”
Per Angela’s suggestion, Nick dropped us at the door of the Worth Matravers Tea Room where we thanked him for chauffeuring us around and he pointed us in the direction of the quarry caves before taking off. Worth Matravers is a cute little stonework town built around a quaint duck pond and small lawn that houses a duck house. The inhabitants of this house seemed to be two white ducks that were happily gliding around the pond. The tea room, which sits on the uphill side of the pond, offered Clotted Cream Tea, I was sold.
Worth Matravers Tea Room – locally sourced food!
The tiny Worth Matravers Tea Room has a beautiful English Garden in the back with stone tables and benches each with a sun umbrella cover. We were delighted to sit out here for lunch. While the others ordered lunch, I had been dying to try Clotted Cream Tea. I had seen this advertised outside various tea rooms and restaurants but had not yet found out what exactly Clotted Cream Tea involved. It turns out clotted cream is whipped butter, and clotted cream tea is just black tea with scones, and whipped butter. The wonderful thing about the region of Dorset we visited is that they have access to the sea and most of the area is farmland, so the food in Dorset is always fresh and locally supplied. This tea room was no different. Everything was as locally sourced as possible. So sitting at a table made of local stone, I sipped Dorset Tea, and shared the others lunches, made of local fish, meat, and veggies. You could not ask for a more quintessential Dorset experience!
I have to take a moment here to expand on the Dorset Tea. This is THE MOST delicious black tea I have EVER had! It’s very smooth and there is no bitterness at all. And I only have it with milk, no sugar like the British. In Britain when you ask for tea the waiter doesn’t ask what kind of tea you prefer, they bring you black tea. Also, black tea is so common that they refer to it as “normal tea” or “builders tea” because it’s what you offer builders working on your house, much like we’d offer coffee in the United States. Sitting in the shadow of Corfe Castle at the Grayhound I had asked for tea. After a few sips I realized that whatever tea the waiter had brought me it was not the Twinings I had in London. This stuff was DELICIOUS! We then proceeded to have a slightly confusing discussion with the waiter:
Me: What kind of tea is this?
Waiter: Just the normal tea.
Me: But what brand? It can’t be twinings!
Waiter: It’s just the black tea we have downstairs.
Me: Can you find out what the box or teabag says?
Waiter: Uhh… I can go check… (five minutes later he returns) It’s just the Dorset Tea.
Me: (thinking duh, we’re in Dorset) What kind of black tea is used in Dorset?
Waiter: No, Dorset Tea is the brand!
Ever since then we had looked all over for Dorset Tea to bring home. We searched the shops in Swanage with no luck, and then finding some in Whareham, bought the shop practically out of its stock (which was only about 3 boxes). Lucky for us, the Worth Matravers Tea Room also sold some of their locally procured menu items, so we bought another couple boxes of tea.
Winspit Quarry Caves – Once used by smugglers along the Jurassic Coast!
After lunch we walked downhill past the pond and easily found the trail to the quarry caves. This trail, like all the others we’d been on led right through cow pastures. Unfortunately it was here that Micah stumbled and sprained his ankle. Luckily the cows didn’t seem too concerned or interested in us as we sat in the middle of their pasture.Wanting to see the caves, Micah decided to soldier on despite the ankle. We probably shouldn’t have let him, but continue we did.
The Winspit quarry caves are no less dangerous than the Tilly Whim caves, yet that did not seem to stop people from rock climbing (which a sign strictly forbade) or walking into the caves (we MOSTLY peered from the entrance…). These caves were large. They were held up by pillars of rock that had been left at intervals. The ceiling of the caves definitely looked like they were sagging under the weight of the rock above and at least one of the caves had a collapsed roof.
The caves were situated on cliffs looking over the English Channel. Looking over the cliff side, we could see below us the waves crashing against the rocks. This area was used by smugglers in the past and from the spot where I stood on the cliff top I could picture smugglers trying to ease their boats through the dangerous rocks.
This coastline is also part of the Jurassic Coast and fossil ammonites are common finds. I had been disappointed not to spot one at Durdle Door, but was very excited to find a large ammonites imprint in a rock near one of the caves!
Square & Compass Pub
The last place on Angela’s itinerary was the famous Square and Compass pub, so after a slow procession back towards town from the caves we found the pub where Micah dropped into a seat and attempted to numb the pain in his ankle with local sustenance. Meanwhile we explored the pub’s museum fossil room and called Martin (the taxi). The original plan had been to walk back to Swanage, but due to the sprained ankle, we changed our plans. This time it was Martin who picked us up and drove us the scenic way back to Swanage.