The Isle of Purbeck is the bulge of Dorset just west of Poole and has a bit of everything – glorious sandy beaches at Studland, an old- fashioned seaside town in Swanage, spectacular Jurassic coastline and a serious contender for the best pub in the world. Julia Colls went with her family, dog in tow.
We decided at the very last minute that we wanted to get away for a 2-night mini break. I went to Bournemouth Poly (25 years ago) and have so many happy memories of long walks and pub lunches on the glorious Isle of Purbeck so we decided on a whirlwind trip.
We managed to get a last minute late rate at The Knoll House Hotel in beautiful Studland Bay. On arrival I had flashbacks to the Kellerman’s Resort from Dirty Dancing. Behind the main hotel are lots of chalet-styles apartments. We had booked into a 2-bed suite with a seaview. Enid Blyton used to holiday here and adored the hotel; there’s a real feeling of stepping back in time with heaps of Blyton memorabilia scattered throughout. It is totally dog-friendly; they even have a separate doggy dining room. There’s a new snazzy bistro with good cream teas and heaps to keep little ones amused with a pirate ship adventure playground, games room, soft play and small swimming pool. For older kids there are two tennis courts, a small golf course and an outdoor swimming pool in the summer.
The stunning sandy beach at Studland Bay is literally a two minute walk across the hotel lawns. We all woke up early one morning and wandered down to the beach at sunrise with a hot cup of tea, spotting a wild deer in the woodland undergrowth. The beach is owned by the National Trust (a section of it is the Trust’s only nudist beach, if that is your thing); there is an excellent visitor centre and café and in the summer they run heaps of nature trails, activities and watersports.
It’s a ten minute drive up to Corfe. The ruined 11th century ghost of a castle dominates the landscape for miles around and offers a good feminist tale. The Chateleine, Lady Mary Bankes, successfully defended it for 2 years while her husband was off fighting in the Civil War. It is worth a clamber to look around. The village below is picture-postcard pretty and even comes with its own model village. We saved the Swanage Railway Steam train that makes the 40 minute run from Norden to Swanage for another trip. Instead we drove up to Worth Matravers. Park your car in the public car park and consult your map to see how ambitious your walking loop should be. If your children are up to a 5-mile circular hike, the scenery is fantastic – taking in the tiny chapel at St Anselm’s Head. Lunch back at the The Square & Compass is a must – munch on a Cornish pasty and a pint of cloudy ale, all served through a tiny serving hatch. It is steeped in history, has its own fossil museum and an original Augustus John drawing above the fireplace (of the landlord). There is often live music in the tiny bar.
On west and you come to the perfect horseshoe cove of Lulworth and the instantly recognisable arch of Durdle Door. There is a glute-busting clamber up the hill or if you want peace and quiet, walk across the shingle of Lulworth and up away from the crowds. (Beware, quite a lot of the land back from the coastal path is MOD – not for inadvertently wandering across!).
We could have gone on west to Kimmeridge Ledges and Osmington Mills but we headed back to our base. The cool set automatically zoom past Knoll House on their way to The Pig on the Beach next door but there was something special about the relaxed, old-fashioned atmosphere of this old hotel we liked. It’s not smart and it’s not glossy but it’s got something. It’s not the sort of place where you have to worry about muddy paws. They even do a ‘Sandy Paws’ break. We will definitely return.
3-night summer rates from £720.