Holiday cottages: Perfect Purbeck

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Perfect Purbeck

For a refreshing break, the Purbeck peninsula in Dorset is hard to beat, says Gillian Thornton

Standing on the sand of Studland beach, I was at last on the inside looking out. My first sighting of it had been from a cross-Channel ferry – and that view inspired me to visit and explore the region on land.

A sandy promontory guarding the entrance to Poole Harbour, Studland beach sweeps in an arc towards high chalk cliffs dramatically eroded by the sea. Here, the towering stacks of Old Harry Rocks mark the start of the Jurassic Coast – 95 miles of spectacular shoreline designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 for its fascinating geology and fossils.

But the Purbeck area, which lies inland, is equally captivating – it’s a landscape of rolling hills and heathland, pretty villages and historic sites and it’s been famous for centuries for its stone and marble.

Great for walkers, bird watchers and outdoor enthusiasts, Purbeck borders Poole Harbour on the east, takes in Swanage and the towns of Wool and Wareham, and stretches west towards Dorchester and north towards Bere Regis.

Middlebere Farm
We approached our holiday home – Middlebere Farm – across gorse-covered heathland, fields of cattle and broad expanses of reedbed. Its setting is like a scene from a Thomas Hardy novel – a white-washed farmhouse and two cottages, all thatched, and beyond them, beautiful wetland views. The only sound, as we stepped from the car, was birdsong.

We’d booked into The Farmhouse, the largest of the three Middlebere properties, now part of the National Trust holiday cottages portfolio. Once a 16th century longhouse, it’s been restored along eco-principles and it now combines period furnishings and inglenook fireplaces with underfloor heating and other modern comforts.

'Not that anything is very far in Purbeck. You can walk a good stretch of the South West Coast Path and still be home for tea'

Middlebere Farm – originally part of a 16,000 acre estate – was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1981. Deafeningly quiet today, it would have been very different 200 years ago when a tramway carried china clay past the farm to ships on the coast.

Property image: Swanage Holiday Properties Ltd

Swanage Holiday Properties Ltd, Swanage
Swanage is the gateway to the Jurassic Coast - the World Heritage Site that runs from Studland Bay ...

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There’s a bird hide behind the farmhouse and the RSPB Arne nature reserve across the inlet – not to mention footpaths criss-crossing the neighbouring heathland. Walkers and bird watchers could spend their entire holiday barely straying from the doorstep.

But we had broader horizons – not that anything is very far in Purbeck. You can walk a good stretch of the South West Coast Path and still be home for tea.

Wareham
On a low ridge between the rivers Frome and Piddle, Wareham was an important port in Saxon times. But as the river silted up, water traffic transferred to Poole. These days, the Frome is lined with sailing boats – hire a self-drive motor or rowing boat from South Bridge.

A free Visitor’s Guide from Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre tells the story of Wareham. Pick up details of a Town Walk and a Walls Walk (around the old ramparts).

Corfe Castle

Corfe
From Wareham, it’s about three miles to the hilltop ruins of Corfe Castle – particularly impressive amidst an early morning mist. Built by William the Conqueror, it was added to by various monarchs until it finally fell during the English Civil War.

The visitor centre gives a good overview of the castle and adjacent village – built entirely of Purbeck stone, much of it taken from the ruined castle. A short woodland walk round the base of the hill brings you to the visitor entrance off the village square.

Corfe Castle was the inspiration for Kirrin Castle in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. The author first visited the ruin in 1940, arriving by steam railway from Swanage – which you can still do today. The Ginger Pop shop (www.gingerpop.co.uk) in the square stocks at least 150 Blyton books and tapes, as well as period toys and ginger beer – the Five’s favourite drink. It organises themed walks and holidays for Blyton buffs.

Contact writer Gillian Thornton

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