Swanage

Anvil Point Lighthouse

Anvil Point Lighthouse

Swanage sits on the coast in the south-east of Dorset, to the east of the Isle of Purbeck. Dorchester is only 25 miles to the west. It’s not a heavily-populated parish town; official figures indicate circa 12,000 people, but this doubles in the summer months as this seaside town on the Jurassic Coast – a World Heritage Site – is a popular holiday venue with its sandy beaches and numerous attractions.

The town contains many listed buildings and two conservation areas – Swanage Conservation Area and Herston Conservation Area. Originally a minor port and fishing village, Swanage flourished in the Victorian era, when it first became a significant quarrying port and later a beach resort for the well-heeled gentry. Even today, Swanage beach boasts the prestigious ‘blue flag’ for beach cleanliness.

Swanage has a variety of retail outlets ranging from the ubiquitous gift shops, to two medium-sized supermarkets. Available banks include a Lloyds branch on the High Street, and Barclays and Nationwide branches. There are two post offices in the town; the main post office is located on Kings Road near the train station and then a small sub-post office within ‘Costcutter’ on the High Street.

The sandy beach and the sheltered bay are the assets which attract the holidaymaker to Swanage, which today is still a rather Victorian seaside resort. Since the town lies at the eastern end of the Purbeck wealden valley, on either side the bay is stopped by a hill.

On the north lies the huge gleaming edge of Ballard Cliff, the end of the Purbeck chalk ridge. To the south the oolite mass of Peveril Point reaches into the sea, its strata twisted, with sharp reefs below the surface – perhaps those on which a Viking fleet was destroyed by a storm in 877.

Beyond Peveril Point, to the south-west, is Durlston Head with the Tilly Whim caves, which lead below it to a broad rock platform formed by quarrying. Similar platforms occur in several places along the coast, for instance at Dancing Ledge.

Indeed, for centuries quarrying gave the whole area some importance, and the predominant grey of the buildings at its centre marks Swanage as a Purbeck town built of Purbeck stone. Until the late nineteenth century the stone was transshipped here from quays called bankers, where it was manhandled into boats which took it to freighters lying offshore.

The coming of the railway in 1887 saw the end of this activity and the demolition of the bankers, which have left no trace on the holiday scene.