Last week, I risked the weather and went away from a day. After a stinker of a term, and mid-battle with a book that just wouldn’t cooperate, I needed a break, so I took the risk of booking two nights in a hostel down in Swanage on the Dorset coast and crossed my fingers and hoped neither the town or the route there would vanish under the rising floodwaters.
Miraculously, the heavy rain forecast never fell and I arrived in Swanage just before dusk. It’s a little old Victorian seaside town built along the back of a deep bay in the chalk cliffs at the eastern end of the Jurassic coast. Its main industry is still tourism and the beach is busy in the summer. In February, it’s a much sleepier place.
The next morning I woke up early and took my breakfast with me as I wandered along to the end of the bay. Here’s the view from the bench where I had my breakfast. Many a ship has met an untimely end on the reef below.
Wandering back down towards the beach, I found this old cafe which is being renovated.
The high street gives a hint of the town’s Victorian heyday. This is the town hall and the Grand Hotel, if I remember correctly.
Swanage does have one tourist attraction which does open in February, and by mid-morning I was aboard a steam train, heading inland for the village of Corfe Castle. The castle itself was the stronghold of bad King John in the middle ages. By the English Civil War, it had passed out of royal hands, but still belonged to royalists. It was the last stronghold of the Royalists in the southwest and Parliament’s siege only ended when an insider was bribed to open the gate. The lead defender was the redoubtable Lady Mary Bankes, wife of the owner, who had been sent away to serve the king in the north. She stayed in the castle with her daughters and five men (although they were later sent another 80 to help garrison the castle). They held off two sieges and when Lady Mary was finally ousted she was allowed to take the castle keys away with her to her new home.
The castle itself wasn’t so lucky. Parliament ordered its demolition. Charges were planted below the walls, rendering the place indefensible. It’s now an absurdly picturesque ruin, with its walls slanting out in all directions and its crumbling towers visible for miles.
The steam trains run right below the castle walls and the station is the epitome of an old-fashioned English country station.
Back in Swanage, the sun had come out enough to sit by the beach with my book and read the rest of the day away to the sound of the sea, watching small children run along the sand clutching ice-cream cones in their gloved hands (it is England after all).