Studland is many things. It is a village, a bay, a beach, a heath and a Parish. But above all, taken as a whole Studland is a beautiful, if confronting, place.
Studland’s beauty comes from three miles or so of sweeping sandy beach with a hinterland of dunes and heathland wilderness. It also comes from its picturesque village and Norman Church, set in coastal lowlands between the Purbeck Hills and Poole Harbour.
To the extent that Studland is confronting, it is because all this beauty lies just across a narrow channel from Sandbanks, some of the most expensive real-estate per square foot in the World, and Britain’s coastal home, and playground, for some of the nation’s wealthiest and most "celebrated" individuals.
At times, this juxtaposition of affluent urban modernity with ancient, perhaps prehistoric, natural wilderness lends an almost cinematic air of unreality to those viewing the scene from the Studland side of the few hundred metres of water that separate the two. Coming from the Studland direction, approaching the chain link ferry that bridges this tidal gap, can feel a little like emerging from some post-apocalyptic wasteland to enter a citadel worthy of “The Hunger Games” and President Snow!
Some might argue that, for exactly the same reasons, an apocalypse of its own has already descended on the Sandbanks side of the waterway!
Regardless of perspective, there is irony here because residents of Sandbanks have paid a huge premium for the right to enjoy the beauty and exclusivity of their tide-line peninsular whilst just across the water anyone else can enjoy the same scenery for free! And enjoy it they do, in multiple ways.
Studland Beach is a popular one. It is Sandy and scenic. It is also close to Poole and the Bournemouth conurbation which regularly disgorges residents young and old on sunny days via the chain ferry to play on the beach and in the dunes. Care is advised on some sections as there is a long established nudist tradition here and, if that’s not your thing, these parts are best avoided.
Nevertheless, there’s plenty of sand to go around and families enjoy playing in it and splashing in the shallows. There are warnings though, especially near the chain ferry, where the narrow channel into Poole Harbour make for some very strong currents caused by this massive natural harbour’s twice daily tidal filling and emptying. But you don’t need to plonk yourself here, as there are several car parks along the length of the beach, all pay and display, although National Trust Members go free!
The National Trust has owned all of Studland since 1981, when it was left to them by Ralph Bankes, along with Kingston Lacy and Badbury Rings. This more or else ensures that the near-wilderness on this side of the chain ferry will never be developed in the same way as the Sandbanks side. That said, there are houses, hotels, beach huts and the like, but in a very low-key, and mostly unobtrusive way. Nevertheless, the area is very popular and well used by visitors and locals, especially in good weather.
The Chain Ferry marks the start of the 630 mile South West Coast Path so this stretch is well-used by long- and short-range ramblers. The beach is also a big draw while the heathland is a magnet for walkers, runners, dog owners and cyclists. Understandably, the area is a welcome retreat for those in the nearby metropolis and is fairly easy to get to from Poole and Bournemouth – thanks to the chain ferry.
This wasn't the case in the past, making Studland Village, tucked away at the far end of the beach from Poole, a favourite, and suitably isolated, haunt in days of yore for smugglers, pirates and their ilk. In Studland’s defence, in those particular times, "their ilk" seemed to be pretty much everyone in the local community! There are even suggestions that a room in the Parish Church was especially built and set-aside as a store for contraband! Whether or not piracy and smuggling can be described as a proud history is up for grabs, but Dorset certainly has a rich one in this regard and St Nicholas Church Studland would not have been the only one used in this way.
The Church is worth a visit, partly because it is pretty and tranquil, but also because it has a fascinating, rich and, at times, chequered history (see above!). It also sells a fascinating guide to the history of St Nicholas Church and its surroundings. This is well-worth the small asking price, if not more, and provides as much information on local smugglers and brigands as it does about this ancient, and beautiful, place of worship. The book also has a handy, child-friendly map of places of interest. There are many of these, spanning the millennia from iron-age barrows and Roman salt works to training beaches for the D-day landings.
In the Churchyard itself, there is also what amounts to a story on a stone – a story of war, heroism and of love.
Sergeant William Lawrence was a son of Dorset who joined the army and went on to fight in America and Europe, including at the Battle of Waterloo. His tombstone, and that of his French wife, Clotilde, reads like an outline for a character in Bernard Cornwell’s “Sharpe” novels. This much decorated soldier, like the fictitious Sharpe, fought his way through Portugal and Spain to France and saw the carnage wrought first hand. He was badly injured himself when he volunteered as part of the “Forlorn Hope” at the siege of Badajoz, in which almost 5,000 of the attacking forces were killed or wounded, resulting in subsequent vengeful looting, rioting and atrocities by the victorious, and out of control, troops.
After all of this daring do, and more besides, Sergeant Lawrence and his wife returned to Swanage for a more peaceful life running the “Wellington Arms", which once stood opposite the current Bankes Arms. Although it is said that as well as running the pub he was also a prolific smuggler! Even so, he still found time to dictate his memoires!
So, Studland, much to see in this beautiful, if once crime ridden part of the world and also a great starting point for a short walk out to Old Harry Rocks, or, if the South West Coast Path takes your fancy, a long one all the way to Minehead!
Studland’s beauty comes from three miles or so of sweeping sandy beach with a hinterland of dunes and heathland wilderness. It also comes from its picturesque village and Norman Church, set in coastal lowlands between the Purbeck Hills and Poole Harbour. "