A guest post from our friends at Cool of the Wild
At Cool of the Wild we love to camp and explore, and have enjoyed doing so on the south coast of England for many years. Having previously lived in London, Dorset became the go-to place for seaside escapes without spending hours on the road. The variety that the area offers means no two trips are ever the same and there is still plenty more to explore in the years to come.
Although not actually an island, the sea that surrounds much of the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset, helps to convey a feeling of separation from the mainland and a deep maritime connection. The dramatic coastline is varied and accessible, making the 60sq miles of land to the south of Poole harbour an appealing place to visit, for outdoor enthusiasts and sightseeing holidaymakers alike.
You will be charmed by the area before you’ve even reached it; the little car ferry that takes you from the busyness of Sandbanks, to the quiet of the Isle, provides some stunning views over the harbour and its scattering of small islands.
If you’ve ever read any Enid Blyton, then you will immediately recognise her affiliation with the area from which she drew inspiration for many of her stories. If you haven’t read any, then I suggest you do before or during your visit!
From the ferry, you can choose a number of ways to spend your time; exploring the stunning coastline and it’s hidden coves, getting up into the Purbeck Hills for some panoramic sea views, or heading to the picturesque towns and beaches.
Towns and tourism
Swanage and Corfe are the main visitor hubs within the Isle, as well as Wareham in the north – an alternative gateway to the area. You can easily spend half a day in the village of Corfe with it’s chocolate-box cottages and quaint tea rooms that lie in the shadows of Corfe Castle. There is a model village, some great hill walks for further castle views, and a steam train that puffs it’s way across the beautiful countryside to Swanage.
Once in Swanage, you will be welcomed by a classic English seaside feel, without the accompaniment of too much tackiness that one might expect. Its shallow sandy beaches and calm waters make it a popular summer destination amongst family holidaymakers. The Victorian resort town has a good variety of places to eat, and it wouldn’t be the real deal without a couple of decent chippies to chose from. There are also a number of family-friendly campsites within walking distance of the town and beach.
Much of the Isle of Purbeck is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it really is no wonder when you look at the depth of variety in the landscape…
To the north of Swanage is Studland Bay, a long narrow stretch of golden sand that is edged by the Studland and Godlingston Heath Nature Reserve, where you can break up your beach time with a heathland stroll.
Studland Sea School runs out of Middle Beach and provides guided sea kayak tours to the unmissable and majestic white sea stacks that are Old Harry Rocks. You can also rent sit on kayaks for some independent exploration of the bay and to take in views of the nearby Isle of Wight.
For those who like to explore on foot, the South West Coast Path offers breathtaking sea views and some spectacular inland vistas too. From Swanage, there are a number of circular walks that make it all too easy for a pit stop at the The Square and Compass in Worth Matravers. They do a cracking pasty and good local ales – well worth the detour. And if the pints flow too freely, or you’d rather continue west along the sea cliffs, a good bus service can get you back to base from various points along the coast.
For the more committed hikers, there are enough campsites along the coast to enable you to get to Weymouth in a couple of days. Be sure to take in the sights of Kimmeridge Bay, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door for some geological features of the Jurassic coast at it’s very best.
If you’ve still got energy to spare or fancy trying something different during your visit, then fear not – there are plenty of other activities that are guaranteed to earn you your fish and chips!
A good way to tear yourself away from the coast is to hop on a bicycle. The Isle offers some great cycling, both on and off road, with challenging climbs that reward you with views to die for at the top. Hiring bikes is easy and the varied routes will keep you interested for as long as your legs will keep pedaling!
The beauty of the cliffy coastline also lends itself quite nicely to rock climbing, with both sport and traditional climbing routes dotted along the coast. For an accessible sport crag with a good variety of grades, take a walk down to the sea from Worth Matravers to Winspit Quarry. With access to the sea, this is also a good place for a spot of snorkelling or a post climb swim.
To get the best out of this little corner of Dorset and it’s seaside charm, avoid visiting during the busy school holidays. But if that’s not an option, then time your arrival and departure via the ferry for early morning or late evening to minimise your queueing time.
However you chose to spend your time on the Isle of Purbeck, we hope you’ll love it as much as we do!