As we drove into Swanage the sun was shining. Pretty stone cottages lined the streets. Beyond the houses, rolling green hills gave way to the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, formed hundreds of millions of years ago – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, popular with fossil hunters. We’d been invited to stay here by Wyke Dorset Cottages, and were booked into a lovely apartment, ‘The Pigeonhole’, for two nights. As we found out, there are plenty of things to do and some great places to eat in and around Swanage.
1. Explore the Jurassic Coast
Having quickly unpacked, we were eager to make the most of the sunshine and headed straight out to the coast for a walk along the sandy beach. Swanage is the most easterly town on the Jurassic Coast, and it’s been a popular holiday destination since Victorian times. When we visited in February it had a sleepy, quiet atmosphere that we rather loved. With the seagulls swooping above us, we passed the occasional dog walker and fossil hunter. The white cliffs of the Isle of Wight could be seen across the water.
We came back to the beach on our last morning, in search of the fossils that might be found by the cliffs as the tide goes out, but we weren’t in luck that day. We walked as far as the still receding tide permitted, enjoying the sea air and views. When we’d run out of beach, we found some stairs leading up to the cliff-top path for a lovely view looking back across the town.
2. Hot Chocolate, Chococo
For the perfect treat after a walk along the seafront try a warming cup of delicious hot chocolate. This fabulous chocolate shop is tucked away in a side alley so is easily missed, but it is well worth seeking out – their colourful little cafe serves the most tempting treats. Their hot chocolate is superb, whether you opt for the thick Spanish style hot chocolate that you can almost stand a spoon in at £3.25 or their house chocolate made with 70% Madagascan chocolate at £2.95, you won’t be disappointed.
3. Catch the Swanage Steam Train to Corfe Castle
We only had one full day in Dorset and decided to spend it on the Swanage Railway with a visit to nearby Corfe Castle. I always enjoy riding on steam trains, but rarely do you get to photograph one with such a stunning backdrop. The thousand year old castle is owned by the National Trust and is well worth exploring. It doesn’t take that long though to look around. The village itself is very pretty to explore too and there’s a model of the village, which for me was a must, as it showed how the castle looked before it was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1645.
We’d be recommended The Greyhound pub for lunch and it didn’t disappoint. Possibly the best meal of the weekend was their, oh so tasty, Wild Purbeck Game Casserole.
4. Where to Stay? Wyke Dorset Cottages
Wyke Dorset Cottages is a long established family owned company that offers a wide range of holiday homes in the area. I found their service was excellent and their website’s description of the property was spot on.
Our little holiday home, The Pigeonhole, was charming and perfect for a romantic weekend for two. Its most notable feature is the living room’s large bay window that looks out across the rooftops to the hills, cliffs and sea. A spacious wooden deck enjoys the same glorious views. The bedroom is cosy and very romantic. The bathroom is functional and I was delighted to see plenty of towels, as well as shampoo, conditioner, hand and body wash all provided. The living area is very pretty with a comfy Chesterfield sofa, flat screen TV and DVD player and a dining table and chairs for four. To one side there’s a kitchen area which is well equipped with all you might need.
The Pigeonhole’s location
This apartment, in a Victorian town house, was in the oldest part of Swanage, just a short walk from the town centre and the seaside beyond.
It was an even shorter walk, about two minutes, if that, to The Black Swan, a traditional pub known for its excellent food. Just past the pub is a convenience store, where we picked up some milk and a bottle of wine. You’ll also find the Wyke Dorset Cottages’ office here where we collected the keys and picked up some very useful advice about where to eat during our stay. And just across the road from The Pigeonhole is a rather handy Chinese takeaway, which is reputedly very good – perfect if you fancy a quiet night in without any cooking.
A supermarket and the town’s railway station are both within ten minute’s walk. While Swanage Station is not connected to the UK’s rail network, we both loved our day out on the steam train to Corfe Castle.
The only slight problem we had was parking. The apartment does have a parking space, but it is really only big enough for a Smart Car. There is parking along the street but it does get full and we ended up having to park further up the hill and walk back down.
4. Where and What to Eat in Swanage?
We had some superb meals out during the weekend but these were my favourites in Swanage.
Featherblade of Beef Braised in Ale, The Black Swan
This traditional pub just a minute’s walk away came highly recommended. We ate here on our first evening and were lucky to get a table. My Featherblade of Beef Braised in Ale, served with root vegetables and herb mashed potatoes, was excellent and cost a very reasonable, £11.95.
Hunters Chicken, The Red Lion
The Red Lion, another traditional old pub, was friendly and down to earth. I really enjoyed their Grilled Chicken with Crispy Bacon, Monterey Jack Cheese and BBQ Sauce plus chips, peas and salad for £9.95
Warm Dorset Apple Cake, The Ship
We saw this on a few menus and couldn’t resist trying it at The Ship, another more laid-back pub. Their Dorset Apple Cake served with vanilla and mulled spice ice cream tasted superb and beautifully presented, costing £5.95.
Swanage is a lovely little town bursting with antique shops, traditional old pubs and coffee shops. We particularly enjoyed looking around the fossil shop, Natural Wonders, on Institution Road. The Pigeonhole apartment was perfect for the two of us and in an excellent location. The beach and coastline are wonderful for walking and our day out on the steam train through the Purbeck countryside to Corfe Castle, not forgetting the excellent lunch at The Greyhound, was superb. We thoroughly enjoyed our winter seaside weekend away – a fabulous way to relax and recharge our batteries.
What else to do in Dorset? Visit the Red Squirrels on Brownsea Island
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Disclosure: Thanks to Wyke Dorset Cottages for hosting our weekend at The Pigeonhole in Swanage.