Exploring the backstreets of Swanage reveals a surprise at every turn, with many architectural and historical features to discover.

One of these is the picture-postcard Mill Pond, hugged by a curving row of cottages with brightly-coloured doors – a little oasis in this busy town.

You’ll find the mill pond, created via a dam with the presence of a natural spring here for many years, behind St Mary’s Church (which holds a variety of concerts and performances throughout the year) off Church Hill.

The old Purbeck stone water mill, built in 1754, has now been turned into two homes.

The walls surrounding the mill pond are Grade-II listed and are thought to date back to the 18th Century. It’s said they were constructed to prevent cattle from entering the stream and thus polluting it.

It is believed that this very old part of Swanage (once upon a time called Swanwick) was once something of a community hub, with the mill pond as its centre.

These archive images show the mill pond’s history brought to life. The etching was made by a Sir John Charles Robinson, an artist and art curator and collector who lived in Swanage in the early 1900s. Sir Robinson moved here from London following his wife’s death and made various etchings and paintings of the landscape surrounding Swanage, including Nine Barrow Down and the Agglestone.

Nearby points of interest

Memorial cross

This older part of Swanage is steeped in history and is particularly picturesque to stroll around.

The commemorative cross you’ll see by the mill pond is actually the site of the old village water pump.

An inscription remains, accompanying the cross, though much of it is hard to read now. It has been erected in honour of Sir Reginald Palgrave (1839 – 1904), who was clerk of the House of Commons. Although he retired to, and died at, Salisbury, Palgrave and his family enjoyed regular summer holidays to Swanage and had a house built here for his visits. Sir Reginald was a keen amateur water-colourist and sculptor in his spare time.

The Black Swan pub

The Black Swan pub on High Street, Swanage

The Black Swan

The Black Swan pub on the High Street is a stone’s throw from the mill pond, so you can combine a pub lunch or evening meal with a pleasant stroll down to the mill pond.

The pub offers a variety of light snacks, burgers, and seasonal mains including seafood, and vegetarian options, Sunday roasts and sharing platters, as well as a children’s menu.

It has a small beer garden, and two rooms with log fires in its Grade II-listed building.

Contact details for The Black Swan

The Black Swan can be very popular with both locals and visitors, so booking a table in advance is advisable.

Spar shop

Spar shop on High Street, Swanage

Spar shop on High Street

If you fancy a picnic by the mill pond on a sunny day, there is a Spar convenience store just up the hill, next to the Black Swan pub.

The Spar is open from 6am – 10pm daily.

It sells all the usual daily and household essentials, is an off-license and has a small in-store bakery.

📞 01929 423335

Ranger dance school

Situated right by the mill pond is Swanage’s dance and Performing Arts school. It teaches students from within Swanage and across Purbeck.

There are three teachers covering ballet, jazz and tap, with classes for both children and adults.

Students can work towards examinations and have the opportunity to take part in regular productions.

Take a look at this past production of ballet The Sleeping Beauty by the Ranger School of Dance:

(Video credit: Carltan Video Productions)

Contact details for the Ranger School of Dance

Get in touch with the Ranger’s Dance School for class availability, timetables and prices:

  • ℹ️ www.rangerschoolofdance.co.uk
  • 📞 01929 423436 or 01929 421510
  • 📥 info@rangerschoolofdance.co.uk
  • 📍Millpond Studio, Church Hill, BH19 1HU

St Mary’s Church

St Mary the Virgin is a Church of England church in Swanage with regular services and an active community.

St Mary’s has a choir, with around 35 members, who meet at the church for practice on Friday evenings at 7.30pm. To enquire about joining the choir contact Simon Lole on 07888 653529.

You can also take part in bellringing – everyone is welcome to join practice sessions held on a Wednesday evening at 7.30pm. Just go along, or call Tower Captain Matthew Pike on 01929 423203.

St Mary's Church in Swanage

Its oldest part of St Mary’s is its tower, which is medieval. The main church was built in 1859, largely of Purbeck Stone, and has had various additions and alterations over the years.

Sunday services are as follows:

  • 8am – Holy Communion
  • 10.30am – Sung Eucharist (First Sunday of month, children take part in the service)
  • 6.30pm – Choral Evensong

There are also services during the week. For the full list of service times and musical events check the church’s website: www.swanageteam.com/st-marys-church/ 

Note that there is a small amount of parking, including disabled parking, in the grounds of St Mary’s, although you might find it more useful to park for free on the road outside St Mary’s, or in one of the town’s nearby car parks, such as Co-Op.

Townsend Nature Reserve

Glimpse of Ballard Down from Townsend Nature Reserve in Swanage

Townsend Nature Reserve

You can walk up into the quiet and relatively wild-feeling Townsend Nature Reserve from the mill pond. There are various ways to reach this hidden gem that sits above Swanage Town – turning right at the Spar shop and onto Panorama Road, or onto Townsend Road off High Street.

The nature reserve is managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust and its calcareous grassland supports a wide variety of wildlife, indulging the early spider orchid and the Adonis blue butterfly.

Parts of the 13-hectare site may be uneven underfoot due to the area once being used as a quarry.

There are plenty of walking trails to explore here, and there is a fantastic walking route to Durlston Country Park via the Townsend Nature Reserve.