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We were lucky to visit the Victorian seaside town of Swanage on a Bank Holiday weekend when the south of England was experiencing a heatwave, so the area was busy with people. Swanage Bay is flanked on one side by cliffs and by headland on the other side, and in between is a charming pier, and is filled by many pleasure boats ready to take holiday makers out to see the Old Harry Rocks at the end of the cliffs.

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Beach furniture has changed a lot since I was a child. Now people erect small tents on the beach to act as shelter from the sun and/or wind. But you can still hire classical deck chairs to sit on or take advantage of the benches dotted around the area. And if you have young children to keep amused, then Swanage offers a 'Punch and Judy' show.

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Punch and Judy shows date from the 16th century and require audience participation; a bit like a pantomime. The audience has to shout support for the hero and boo at the villain. The story line is complicated, and involves Judy asking Punch to take care of the Baby. Of course things go wrong and somewhere along the line, a crocodile tries to steal a string of sausages from Punch! It may not make sense but it is great fun!

Because this was a Bank Holiday weekend, extra activities were happening in Swanage and we were treated to a performance by the local Morris Dancers wielding huge white handkerchiefs and sticks.  They wisely chose a shaded area in which to perform as the weather was soooo hot!

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The sea here was remarkably clear, so closer to the pier were people searching for crabs. The divers were geared up to head further out to sea to explore the many wrecks out in the bay. This seemed to be a very popular activity with a dive school on the pier.

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The pier itself was charming, and since these wooden structures are expensive to maintain, one can buy small memorial plaques to place on the pier and the money for these helps with the upkeep of the pier. The older pier (on the right below) is probably the most photographed object in Swanage. It may not look much here, but if photographed with no boats, the sun low on the horizon and using a long exposure technique, you can end up with a beautiful image.

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While we were enjoying the view from the pier, we heard then saw two small planes overhead and realised they were doing some sky-drawing to produce a heart. I thought someone must have been proposing marriage but then we saw the planes drawing a heart over the cliff tops as well. It turns out they were honouring a pilot who had recently passed away in a plane accident.

This region is famous for its stone quarries, so much of the old housing is built in Purbeck limestone. This grey stone turns beautifully golden in the late afternoon sunshine. The frontage of Swanage Town Hall actually derives from The Mercers Hall in London. This is because after the quarried stone had been shipped to London, the ships needed ballast to make the return journey to Swanage. One source of ballast was stone work from demolished buildings, so this in turn was incorporated into the buildings of Swanage.

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If you want to escape from the beach, you can always take the steam train to nearby Corfe Castle; a delightful village well worth exploring. We walked around the base of the ruined castle which is over 1,000 years old and has a fascinating history.

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You will never be short of something to eat in Swanage as there are many good cafes and restaurants and pub food both in the town and nearby. And of course, you can’t go wrong with the local fish and chips, although we did reckon that Bridlington’s fish and chips were superior! Here’s a photo of Lawrence sampling Swanage’s finest cod and chips.

There are many interesting places to visit from Swanage as it forms part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. We visited Durlston Country Park and Chesil Beach on this trip.

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© Helen Gray 2021