Isle of Purbeck

Lulworth village Dorset England UK by SusaZoom ShutterstockThatch-roofed cottages are an icon of Lulworth village © SusaZoom, Shutterstock

You’ll chance across plenty of opportunities here for Slow Travel, including a ride through the peninsula on the Swanage Steam Railway.

One glance at the map tells you that the Isle of Purbeck is not actually an island, but a peninsula of some 60 square miles bordered to the south and east by the English Channel and to the north by Poole Harbour and the River Frome. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up one morning to the news that residents of the Isle of Purbeck are lobbying for independence from the rest of Britain. And I for one wouldn’t blame them. The people who live here will proudly tell you how lucky they are to dwell in this enchanting corner of England. When extolling the virtues of the peninsula, locals may tell you that it inspired some of Enid Blyton’s stories and that it has its own microclimate. Both claims are evidently true: Blyton was a regular visitor to the area from 1931 and the Isle of Purbeck does indeed have one of the highest sunshine records in England.

The peninsula is dissected by the Purbeck Hills, a chalk ridge which runs westward from the sea near Old Harry Rocks across the Isle of Purbeck to Lulworth Cove, and whose shape hints at the origin of the name ‘Purbeck’ –supposedly from the Saxon ‘pur’, meaning bittern or snipe, and beck meaning ‘beak’. Purbeck marble has been quarried from the Isle of Purbeck’s coastal plateau, especially the area between Swanage and St Aldhelm’s Head, since Roman times and can be seen in many of England’s grandest buildings.

Wareham, a pleasing ancient market town within Saxon earthen defences, marks the obvious gateway to the Isle of Purbeck and Poole Harbour. In the centre of the peninsula the towering ruins of Corfe Castle constitute one of Dorset’s most-visited landmarks. Swanage is a seaside resort with all the associated entertainment, while Studland Nature Reserve provides sandy, unspoilt beaches and heathland. Off the coast from Studland the chalk stacks known as Old Harry Rocks mark the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast. The military training area around East Lulworth encompasses the fascinating deserted village of Tyneham, which can be visited when the firing ranges are not in use. Nearby are some of the Dorset coast’s most photogenic landmarks, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door.

You’ll chance across plenty of opportunities here for Slow Travel, including a ride through the peninsula on the Swanage Steam Railway, and ideal country for cycling and walking. The South West Coast Path traces the outline of the peninsula and footpaths and bridleways crisscross the hills. For me, the highlight has to be horseriding along Studland Beach as the sun is setting, illuminating the pale faces of Old Harry Rocks.

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