Swanage is a small but perfectly-formed seaside town on the edge of the Isle of Purbeck - which, just to confuse you, isn’t an Island at all.
But whilst Swanage is small, it is bursting with charm and brim-full of surprises. It is, in short, an extraordinary sort of resort.
Like most small seaside towns, Swanage is sleepy and sometimes windswept in the winter months, but Spring, Summer and Autumn bring a host of events and activities to pull in the visitors that are its lifeblood.
Swanage and the surrounding “Purbecks” have a long history rooted in primary industries like farming, fishing and quarrying. But the town makes no apology for what it is today, a resort town. And it has been for over a century.
Swanage, however, is not an ordinary sort of resort. Unlike some of its larger neighbours, like Poole and Bournemouth, Swanage is compact and cosy. It isn’t quite the magnet for yachts and speedboats that Poole Harbour has become and it doesn’t have Bournemouth’s long expanse of sand. But Swanage does have a pier and a gently-curving, sandy-beached bay that looks out onto the Isle of Wight and “The Needles”. These sit neatly on the horizon as a ruggedly-handsome embellishment to an already attractive seascape.
For those with boats, there are moorings and slipways and Swanage is popular with divers and fishermen too, but for many visitors the attraction of Swanage will be its beach and what lies just inland
The beach is mostly sandy and lots of fun. It supports, as the beaches of most resorts do, a small hinterland of ice-cream shops, chips shops and arcades. And yes, Swanage has its fair share of shops selling brightly coloured inflatables and buckets and spades, but that’s what you expect of any self-respecting seaside town. It’s practically a requirement! After all, where’s the fun in a sandy beach if you don’t have the toys to enjoy it!
But there’s lots more to Swanage than deck-chairs and buckets and spades.
Firstly, Swanage has its own Steam Railway, which is an attraction in itself, but also helps in a practical sense by providing a great way of getting to the town by acting as the Swanage Park and Ride. The railway also provides a great way of exploring Corfe Castle from Swanage, and, if the Swanage Steam Railway enthusiasts achieve their dream, will one-day soon provide a passenger link all the way back to Wareham.
Secondly, there is the rest of the town, which because of its relatively compact nature is easily explored on foot.
Beach, steam railway and town centre form something of a miniature golden triangle in which there is a wonderful mix of: pubs and eateries; shops for tourists and everyday users; and things to do and see.
For many visitors, top of the “do and see” list will be the Steam Railway itself. For visitors young and old, that would be reason enough. But Swanage also offers museums and shops and an excellent park. This has an unrivalled view out over the bay and down onto the beach. It also offers just the right mix between places to play for the young and place for sitting and watching for those less so.
All of which is a good mix at any time of year, but what makes Swanage really fizz is when some added ingredient is dropped in.
Lots of seaside towns have a festival, but Swanage has lots of festivals. The town itself has a Blues Festival, Jazz Festival and Folk Festival and the Railway has a Steam Festival. There are also festivals and events celebrating the various wonders of vintage cars, food and beer, to name just a few. Mix in other events, such as the Santa Specials and family days, run by the Steam Railway, and you get a recipe for a feast of fun throughout the year. And what makes all these events and festivals so wonderful is that their magic seeps and spreads throughout the town like a fine mist - a beneficent version of “The Fog”!
If there’s a festival or event on the railway, its magic spreads out along the tracks from Swanage to the other villages along the line, from Corfe Castle to Harman’s Cross and then out and around the little streets of Swanage itself, slipping under pub and cafe doors and into cake shops and chip shops.
And if there’s a festival in the Town, it too spreads its magic throughout Swanage, out along the beaches and then up the streets to the station platform where the trains will carry it away and back to the villages. And whilst you might not be able to see it or smell it, you can certainly feel it and see what it does.
It is hard to think of time when a visit to Swanage will disappoint. If you’re a steam buff, post-holiday January may not be ideal as the Railway closes for maintenance, but even then, there is still the sea and the town. But the rest of the year, especially the main holidays, you are almost certain to find something to surprise you and a throng of people with whom to enjoy it.
And if you are passing through that way, there are plenty of other attractions and places of interest to see in that corner of Dorset, from Durlston to Durdle Door, and Tyneham to the Tank Museum. You can even take a boat ride to Brownsea!
Whilst Swanage is small, it is bursting with charm and brim-full of surprises. It is, in short, an extraordinary sort of resort "