Not strictly an isle, but a peninsula, the Isle of Purbeck is home to a diverse array of wildlife, intriguing historical sites and areas of global geological importance.
With its stunning sandy beaches; huge variety of walks; and fantastic places to eat, shop and explore, anywhere in Purbeck is a unique experience waiting to be discovered.
The Isle of Purbeck is one of the beating hearts of the Jurassic Coast – the only natural World Heritage Site in England. People come from far and wide to explore its diverse beauty, rich history, active outdoor activity scene, great local food and drink, and abundant nature.
Purbeck is also dotted with countless villages and towns with their typical English charm and character, making it the perfect place to both live and stay for a holiday.
It has inspired famous writers, attracted historians and drawn holidaymakers for generations. But what is it that makes this corner of Dorset so special?
Purbeck’s most famous landmarks & attractions
The Isle of Purbeck has many well-known, iconic landmarks and special places to visit that draw thousands of visitors every year.
From castle ruins and abandoned villages to stunning natural features of the Jurassic Coast, Purbeck – as it generally and locally referred to – offers endless days of exploration for the whole family.
Here are some of the highlights of the Isle of Purbeck that will have you returning time and time again:
- Agglestone – Legend surrounds this unique landmark in the heathlands around Studland
- Arne Nature Reserve – Over 565 hectares of woodland and heathland flanking Poole Harbour
- The Blue Pool – A disused clay pit with ever-changing colours is surrounded by woodland walks – near Wareham and Corfe Castle
- Chapman’s Pool – A secluded cove popular with walkers near the village of Worth Matravers
- Corfe Castle – Combine a visit to Corfe Castle with an amble around the picturesque Corfe Castle village
- Clavell Tower – Check out this stunning Tuscan tower when you visit Kimmeridge Bay
- Durlston Country Park – Stunning coastal walks hug this country park, complete with a lighthouse, castle, restaurant and exhibition space
- Durdle Door – This special, world-renowned beauty spot also has fantastic walking trails nearby
- Jurassic Coast – With so many different aspects to explore you’ll be spoilt for choice
- Lulworth Cove – A beautiful backdrop for walks and picnics, this romantic cove is found at the foot of the pretty village of West Lulworth
- Old Harry Rocks – The commanding views of the chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks and nearby Pinnacles are one of the most photographed areas of the Dorset coastline
- Purbeck Hills – The Purbeck Hills, or the Purbeck Ridgeway, is a chalk ridge that runs from Old Harry Rocks all the way to Lulworth and offers great views and varied options for exploring
- Studland Bay – With four miles of beaches, bays, heathland and cliff walks, and an active watersports scene, there is plenty to do in Studland Bay
- Swanage Bay – Swanage Bay and town make for a delightful visit, with plenty for the whole family to do at different times of the year
- Swanage Railway – The Swanage Railway is a part of Purbeck’s past that is very much alive today – ride a restored steam train and examine old railway memorabilia at the Railway’s museum at Corfe Castle Station
- Swyre Head – The views from the highest point on the Isle of Purbeck are as breathtaking as they are far-reaching
- Tyneham – What remains of a village abandoned in the Second World War lies in this very special spot in Purbeck
Get out into Purbeck’s nature
Some of the lesser-known landmarks in the Isle of Purbeck make for equally intriguing visits and breathtaking scenery.
Some are also havens for rare wildlife and marine life, such as Studland Bay being home to all six British native reptiles and red squirrels on Brownsea Island.
Here are a few pockets of Purbeck that promise memorable experiences for the whole family:
- Brownsea Island – Situated in Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island makes for a unique day out via the Sandbanks Ferry
- The Downs – An area of grassland above Swanage, perfect for picnicking and admiring the view
- Kimmeridge Bay – A special spot on the Jurassic Coast rich with fossils and geological interest
- Knoll Beach – The most well-known of Studland’s beaches, Knoll Beach has much more than at first meets the eye, with woodland walks, sand dunes, a Discovery Centre and wildlife activities
- Lulworth Ranges – Walking routes that give a fresh perspective on the Isle of Purbeck (subject to opening restrictions)
- Peveril Point – A lovely spot to watch the sunset at the edge of Swanage
- Townsend Nature Reserve – A hidden gem situated just above Swanage, Townsend Nature Reserve is a lovely, quiet place to walk with great views over Swanage and toward the Isle of Wight
- Worbarrow Bay – An unspoilt beach with few facilities close to the ‘ghost village’, Tyneham
Explore Purbeck’s past
Purbeck is bursting with history, both natural and human. Discover the stories of the people of the past and Purbeck’s special geological history as part of the world-renowned Jurassic Coast.
There are dinosaur footprints, fossils and intriguing landforms dotted around Purbeck, and plenty of bays, beaches and coves to witness how the sea has carved their shapes over the millennia.
Learn all about the huge Victorian influence on the creation of Swanage as we know it today by strolling along the pier or visiting one of George Burt’s many artefacts from the 1800s dotted in and around Swanage, such as the Great Globe at Durlston Country Park and the obelisk standing proudly on Ballard Down. Explore further back in time to the Saxon, Roman and Bronze Age eras as you walk over ancient burial mounds and along earthen defences.
- Creech Barrow – Said to be the site of a hunting lodge for King John, Creech Barrow provides panoramic views across Purbeck, Poole Harbour and the Purbeck Ridgeway. The funerary bowl barrow is a scheduled monument and is believed to have been excavated for archaeological interest in the 1800s
- The Etches Collection – Discover locally-collected fossils in this museum in Kimmeridge village
- Lulworth Castle – Visit the 17th Century Castle and take a stroll around its grounds
- The Mill Pond – This little secret behind St Mary’s Church in Swanage makes for a nice place to stop for a photo and a picnic
- Nine Barrow Down – A number (actually more than nine) of Bronze Age burial mounds and one long barrow are situated on the Purbeck Hills between Corfe Castle and Swanage
- Stair Hole – One of the intriguing geological features of Lulworth
- Studland Bay’s WWII walk – Various relics of Purbeck’s connections to WW2 remain in Studland, such as Fort Henry; the pill box on South Beach, and ‘dragon’s teeth’ defences at Middle Beach and Bramble Bush Bay
- Swanage Pier – The restored Victorian pier in Swanage is a highlight for visitors, with its traditional feel feel and exhibition telling the pier’s unique history
- Wareham Walls – The Saxon walls that surround Wareham on three sides make for an interesting walk – you can complete it in under an hour
Explore Purbeck’s quarrying history
Discover the importance of Purbeck stone to the Isle’s economy, past and present at the Purbeck Mining and Mineral Museum in Norden and by exploring disused quarries, such as Winspit, and check out the quarries still in use today.
- Purbeck Mineral & Mining Museum – Located just outside Corfe Castle, you can combine your trip with a visit to the Swanage Railway Museum at Corfe Castle Station
- Winspit – Caves forged through quarrying stand overlooking the sea at this unique area beneath the village of Worth Matravers. You can go inside the caves still, but exploring is entirely at your own risk
- Dancing Ledge – The old quarry caves here can only be viewed from a safe distance, but it’s an interesting spot to visit, popular with climbing groups and with visitors to the tidal pool created in the early 20th Century
- Tilly Whim Caves – Learn more about Swanage’s quarrying past at the now-inaccessible caves at Durlston Country Park
- Active local quarries – Haysom Purbeck Stone quarry, Lovell Purbeck, Lewis Quarries, Keates Quarries and Suttles Stone Quarry. You can visit Keate’s Quarry, near Worth Matravers, where dinosaur footprints have been discovered
The towns and villages of Purbeck
Swanage is the only town in Purbeck, and as such is an important hub for both locals and visitors to the area. However, the town of Wareham, which is just outside the official boundary of the Isle of Purbeck, is also very much a part of Purbeck as a whole – the Saxon town has been strongly connected to its neighbouring villages for many centuries.
Swanage and Wareham’s surrounding villages, hamlets, localities and communities all have special aspects waiting to be discovered – for example the fossil museum in Kimmeridge, the cafés beside duck ponds in both Worth Matravers and East Creech and the smallest town hall building in England in the village of Corfe Castle.
Many villages are connected to important pieces of Purbeck’s history, such as East Lulworth, which is home to Lulworth Castle, and Studland, which has many connections to the Second World War, as well as ongoing important wildlife conservation projects in and around its surrounding bay.
Take some time, whether you live here or are just visiting, to explore these smaller places and help the many enterprising companies, shops, café and services there continue to thrive.
- Acton – This tucked-away and tiny village has a sense of bygone days. You’ll pass it if you walk to the Spyway dinosaur footprints from the village’s car park, or if you’re visit the Burngate Stone Carving Centre
- Arne – One of Purbeck’s smallest hamlets, Arne is just a handful of houses and a church. Take a stroll through on your visit to the RSPB nature reserve at Arne
- Church Knowle – Church Knowle is Corfe‘s nearest village. It has a pub, a children’s playground, a church and an animal sanctuary
- Corfe Castle – Built around the now-ruined castle, Corfe Castle village is a must-visit attraction in itself, with pretty streets, plenty of walks and a variety of places to eat and drink
- Durlston – Durlston is a residential area of Swanage adjacent to Durlston Country Park. You’ll notice many Victorian buildings and features built by George Burt
- East Creech – A beautiful little village, whose centre is a large duck pond, to stop for a coffee and scone during a walk. Climb to the top of Creech Barrow for panoramic views across Purbeck
- Furzebrook – The small village of Furzbrook, just outside Wareham and Stoborough, is home to The Blue Pool. It also has an active village hall, which holds a range of classes throughout the year
- Harman’s Cross – Home to one of the stations of the Swanage Railway, Harman’s Cross also has a vibrant community based around its village hall. Stop at the playground near the station on your way from Swanage to Corfe Castle
- West Holme – The small locality of West Holme is home to Purbeck’s largest garden centre, Holme for Gardens. Visit the gardens, where you can pick your own fruit, or pick up some local produce for your tea in the farm shop
- Kimmeridge – You’ll drive through the village of Kimmeridge en route to Kimmeridge Bay. Kimmeridge is home to The Etches Collection fossil museum and a great café and restaurant, Clavell’s
- Kingston – Kingston sits above Corfe Castle, giving impressive views down onto it and across the Purbeck Hills. You can walk to Swyre Head from here and grab lunch at The Scott Arms
- Knitson – A small rural area between Harman’s Cross and Swanage, Knitson Farm has a touring site for campers and is interestingly listed as a gliding site on the Wessex Hang Gliding & Paragliding Club website
- Langton Matravers – With a village shop, pub, small petting farm and excellent access to a variety of walks, Langton is an interesting place to visit close to Swanage
- West Lulworth – You’ll pass through this pretty village if you’re heading to Lulworth Cove. There are plenty of walks and eateries to explore here
- East Lulworth – This small village has a pub and café and is home to Lulworth Castle and close to Lulworth Equestrian Centre. Visit the stables’ website for more information: www.lulworthequestriancentre.com
- Ridge – Ridge makes for a pleasant stroll around if you’re near Wareham or heading to either Stoborough Heath or Arne for a dog walk
- Steeple – This tiny hamlet makes for a quick pit-stop if you’re exploring the Tyneham or Kimmeridge areas – it has a Norman church and further up in the Purbeck Hills you’ll find the 18th Century folly of Grange Arch. Steeple Leaze campsite is popular with both locals and visitors for its relaxed vibe: www.facebook.com/steepleleazefarm/
- Stoborough – Stoborough lies across the causeway from Wareham. It has a lively community with a primary school and village hall. The Lookout Holiday Park also has a handy shop, which also serves the village: www.thelookoutholidaypark.co.uk
- Studland – Stop in Studland village to stock up on picnic supplies before heading to one of the bay’s beaches, or visit The Bankes Arms pub for a local beer or The Pig on the Beach for a hearty meal
- Wareham – Although not strictly in Purbeck (you’ll see the Welcome to the Isle of Purbeck as you leave Wareham or go around it toward Swanage), this Saxon-walled market town very much feels like a part of, and is intertwined with, the Purbeck landscape, culture and community
- Ulwell – An area to the north of Swanage, home to a camping and caravanning park and direct access to the obelisk. Ulwell Holiday Park’s swimming pool is also open to the public: www.ulwellholidaypark.co.uk
- Woolgarston – The handful of houses you might discover behind Corfe Castle, along Sandy Hill Lane, are the rural hamlets of Woolgarston and Little Woolgarston
- Worth Matravers – Popular with visitors for its excellent access to coastal walks, picturesque village pond, and noteworthy pub, The Square & Compass, and tea room, Worth is a great way to spend the day
Notable names of Purbeck
Being synonymous with natural beauty and with a rich geological and human history on England’s Jurassic Coast, it’s no surprise that the Isle of Purbeck has inspired many organisations and companies both near and far to use Purbeck in their titles.
Local ‘Purbeck’ organisations
As well as the well known Purbeck Hills, also known as the Purbeck Ridgeway, and other various walking routes, such as the Purbeck Way, there is a wide range of notable companies that use Purbeck in their names, from buses to archery clubs, and from schools to cider companies.
Join a local Purbeck-inspired club, such as the Purbeck Runners or try your hand at something new, like clay-pigeon shooting.
- Purbeck Sports Centre – The Isle of Purbeck’s largest leisure centre has a gym, swimming pool and café. Check the latest classes on their website: ℹ️ www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/sport-leisure/leisure-centres/purbeck-sports-centre/purbeck-sports-centre.aspx or phone 📞 01929 500000
- Purbeck Runners – A friendly running club covering Swanage and Purbeck, with regular weekly runs from Swanage’s Beach Gardens and The Mowlem. Visit their website to join: ℹ️ www.purbeckrunners.co.uk
- Purbeck Archers – The local archery club is open to both children and adults and meets regularly at the Purbeck Shooting School during the summer months ℹ️ www.purbeckarchers.org
- Purbeck Shooting School – Have a go at clay pigeon shooting at the 80-acre site based just outside Purbeck, toward Bere Regis. Find out about group bookings and lessons on their website: ℹ️ www.purbeckshootingschool.com or call 📞 01929 405101
- Isle of Purbeck Golf Club – The Isle of Purbeck GC is in a fantastic location between Studland and Corfe Castle and offers membership, coaching and a pro shop, and welcomes visiting golfers. Contact details: 📞 01929 450361 ℹ️ www.purbeckgolf.co.uk
- Purbeck Angling – The fishing tackle shop in Wareham is associated with the Wimborne & District Angling Club. It’s open seven days a week and is situated on on South Street
As well as The Swanage School, The Purbeck School in Wareham also serves students of the town and the wider Isle of Purbeck, and there is also a special school based in Swanage.
- The Purbeck School – The Purbeck School is a co-educational secondary school and specialist science college for students aged 11 – 18 in Wareham. Contact details: 📞 01929 550077 ℹ️ www.purbeck.dorset.sch.uk
- Purbeck View School – Based in Swanage, Purbeck View School provides both day and residential education and care for students aged 7 – 19 with Autism, learning difficulties and complex needs. Find out more on the school’s website: ℹ️ www.cambiangroup.com/specialist-education/our-schools/autism-schools/purbeck-view-school/
Tune in to the local community radio station or check the local news with the Purbeck Gazette, Swanage News or on Purbeck Police’s Facebook page:
- Purbeck Gazette – Look out for the free, monthly edition of the Purbeck Gazette, packed with local news, events and a handy local business directory. You can also read the gazette online here: ℹ️ www.purbeckgazette.co.uk
- Purbeck Coast Radio – Turn your FM radio frequency to 101.2 to listen to local chat, great tunes and all the latest news in Swanage and Purbeck. Listen live online: ℹ️ purbeckcoast.com
- Purbeck Police – Part of the wider Dorset Police, Purbeck Police keep an active profile on Facebook with their latest news stories as well as useful advice and information on community engagement activities ℹ️ en-gb.facebook.com/pg/PurbeckPolice/posts/
Purbeck culture and the Arts
The Isle of Purbeck has an active creative arts and music scene throughout the year, which has inspired the creation of Purbeck-dedicated annual festivals.
- Purbeck Art Weeks – The largest annual arts even in Purbeck sees artists opening their studios to the public, collaborating on exhibitions and providing a packed programme of talks, concerts and creative activities. Visit the PAW website for a look at this year’s artists: ℹ️ www.purbeckartweeksfestival.co.uk
- Purbeck Artisan Yard – A creative collective of local artists and makers from across Purbeck in the heart of Wareham. You’ll also find unique vintage finds here, tucked away down Church Street
- The Purbeck Folk Festival – Every year a farm in the heart of Purbeck comes alive with the sounds of folk music, barn dancing, poetry-reading and much more. The family-friendly festival is based just off the A351 between Corfe Castle and Swanage ℹ️ www.purbeckvalleyfolkfestival.co.uk
- Purbeck Film Festival – The annual film festival here in Purbeck aims to bring a rich diversity of classic, independent and foreign languages films to rural communities by bringing them to local venues ℹ️ www.purbeckfilm.com
Purbeck food & drink
Many areas in Dorset have become foodie destinations, so it’s no surprise that some born-and-bred food and drinks companies proudly use Purbeck in their brand name.
The following are must-tastes while you’re here on your holiday and make excellent souvenirs.
- Purbeck Ice Cream – Traditional flavours as well as the more unusual Dig-a-saurus and Skulldiggery. Many of the attractions and shops in and around Purbeck stock this award-winning local ice cream
- Isle of Purbeck Brewery – Grab a pint of Purbeck IPA or take home some bottled Fossil Fuel or Studland Bay – Wrecked with you. Rather handily brewed on the same site as The Bankes Arms pub in Studland
- The Purbeck Cider Company – Look out for locally-crafted ciders such as the Purbeck Pirate and the Dorset Blush
Find places to stay – or even move to – on the Purbeck Heritage Coast:
- Corfe & Purbeck Holidays – Self-catering holiday cottages in Corfe Castle and the wider Purbeck area ℹ️www.corfeandpurbeckholidays.com
- Purbeck House Hotel – A Victorian hotel in the heart of Swanage. Get in touch to book a room to stay or to hire the venue for an event: 📞 01929 422872 ℹ️ www.purbeckhousehotel.co.uk
- Purbeck Property – For holiday homes and residential sales and lettings around Purbeck
- Purbeck Lettings – Residential lettings covering Swanage, Corfe Castle and the wider Purbeck area
- Purbeck Breezer – The handy local bus route is a cheap and easy way to explore all that Swanage and Purbeck have to offer
- Purbeck Taxis – Book a cab to take you to the attractions that buses don’t reach or for a day out without driving. Call 📞 01929 500 604
- Purbeck Mobility Centre – Hire a scooter or self-propelled wheelchair for the day or your entire stay to help you discover Purbeck with ease. The Wareham-based team will deliver to where you are staying for free. Contact: 📞 01929 552623 ℹ️ www.purbeckmobility.com
Purbeck has also inspired some businesses further afield
- Farrow & Ball – Check out their Purbeck Stone paint colour –www.farrow-ball.com/paint-colours/purbeck-stone. The famous paint company also sticks other ‘local’ colours, such as Lulworth Blue, Ammonite and Wimborne
- The Purbeck Gundog School – Originally based at the Purbeck Shooting School near Wareham, Purbeck Gundog Training now runs out of their site at West Moors in Ferndown. Call Chrissie to book your dog in on 📞 07719 605705 or 01202 870925