After our recent trip to St Ives in Cornwall, we are so impressed with England's south coast that we decide to fit in a brief stop in Dorset on our way to France. The area is well known for its Jurassic Coast, where beaches like Lyme Regis and Charmouth team with prehistoric fossils.
We choose Swanage as our specific destination, make some quick hotel enquiries, and end up finding a very accommodating B&B who provide us with two last minute rooms for our family of five for the same price as their family room (which is not available that particular night). When we arrive at The Castleton, a four star rated guest house, we are greeted warmly by our host, Julian, who even comes out to help us with our luggage. After a quick tour of the cosy guest lounge, and the cheerful dining area where we will gather to eat our eagerly anticipated "Dorset Full English Breakfast" in the morning (which turns out to be delicious, and just what we need to set us up for the day!), it's off to check out the area. The sun is shining, and even though it is September, the temperatures are surprisingly warm. Julian tells us it never rains in Swanage!
The one place our kids are clamouring to go having seen the British Channel 5 series, Monkey Life, is Monkey World. This ape rescue centre is a remarkable facility housing over 250 rescued and endangered primates, many of whose dramatic rescues are featured on the tv show. As we tour the centre, which is about 20 minutes north of Swanage, the kids are excited to see the animals, not only because they recognize them from tv, but also because their play areas are so fantastic! The scheduled talks for each species are very informative, and the kids enjoy learning even more about their tv friends. The orang-utans are a huge hit, as are the chimps and the cotton-top tamarins. And just when we think we've done it all, there appears the Great Ape Play Area, where our children relive their experiences by "becoming" the different primate species they have encountered on our visit. What an exhilirating and ingenious way of ending the tour!
As we drive back to Swanage, the stunning sillhouette of Corfe Castle comes into full view on its hill perch. The National Trust describes this as one of Britain's most iconic castles, and I can immediately see why. These dramatic ruins offer incredible views of the Isle of Purbeck, and although we don't have time for more than a brief stop today, Corfe is definitley going on the bucket list!
Also on that list is the nearby Famous Five Trail named for Enid Blyton's classic adventure series. She apparently spent her summers here in Swanage; our oldest daughter has just finished several of the equally classic Secret Seven books, so her interest is piqued. One for next time!
We finish our day strolling on the beach, which is still glorious even this late in the afternoon, and we all have a paddle in the amazingly warm water. It is so pleasant that our stroll takes us all the way along the pretty promenade into town and we end up having a lovely meal at La Trattoria, a quaint little restaurant serving authentic Italian food and divinely delicious desserts. Especially the Venitian Cheesecake - yum!
As we await the little ferry to Bournmouth the next morning, bellies full of Dorset sausage, admiring the sun shimmering on the water, we are left with the distinct feeling that one day in Swanage was just a drop in the bucket. Next time, we'll come for a week!
The Castleton Guest House
Jane Hastelow is a former high school English teacher and curriculum coach currently enjoying a year of family travel and education with her husband and three children. She has a BA in English and a Masters in Communications. Jane loves to combine her passion for writing with family travel. You can also follow her adventures at