Swanage Carnival

Swanage Carnival 2022: Saturday 30 July – Sunday 6 August

Swanage Carnival is one of the main highlights of the year in Swanage and across the Isle of Purbeck, with eight days of entertainment taking over the town’s streets in one of Dorset’s most popular family-friendly festivals.

For a whole week in the summer, Swanage’s streets, beach, hills and parks come alive with live music, a colourful parade, barn dances, beer tents and even a wheelbarrow race encompassing every pub in the town. Its bars, cafés and restaurants all enter into the party spirit, and the carnival’s hub at Sandpit Field is a-buzz with stalls, street food, fun games and performances day and night.

 

The carnival has grown year-on-year since its inception over two hundred years ago. Now, you can expect an array of over a hundred different events, ranging from fun dog shows to family-friendly competitions, and from live bands and a DJ, to the simple pleasures of sand sculpture competitions and go-kart racing.

Some of the best-loved annual events during Carnival Week include the incredible Red Arrows air show, the three spectacular fireworks displays, and of course the Swanage Carnival procession – these events in particular draw many hundreds of visitors each year, so come early to get parked up, make the most of the day, and find a good spot to watch. (Check our car parks page for handy tips on where to park for both short and long-stay parking in town.)

Throughout the week you’ll also be treated to street performers, children’s fairground rides, craft competitions, races, discos, a classic car show, and much more.

At the Carnival’s heart is Sandpit Field, which will have you returning day after day to sample the excellent range of street food, local specialties and sweet treats, as well as exploring the various craft stalls and traditional fairground games. Sandpit Field is also the venue for events throughout the week such as the dog show and dog agility display, as well as being home to the main performance marquee and beer tent with its excellent range of locally-brewed, craft and familiar favourite ales, ciders and IPAs.

The ever-popular Masquerade Night (typically the Thursday evening) sees people spilling out of the bars and restaurants of High Street – fancy dress is encouraged! And Prince Albert Gardens is transformed into an open-air club, complete with DJ and a dance floor area to continue the celebrations into the night.

Carnival events

With over 100 events making up the Swanage Carnival programme every year, there’ll be something for the whole family to enjoy each day.

The best way to plan your time is by buying a Carnival programme, which will have all the event days and timings, along with other handy information, such as a map of where and when everything is happening. It’s also a great way to support the carnival as proceeds go directly to carnival charities – pick up a copy in many of the local shops in Swanage.

You can also check out general Carnival information on the organiser’s website: swanagecarnival.com

Main events

The top attractions of the week are the Carnival procession, where the streets around town are closed off to allow an array of marching bands, colourful floats, vintage cars and local groups in fancy dress to parade along the shore road and around town, and the Swanage Fireworks, held over three nights at sundown and with a grand finale on the final night.

Both spectacles are best-enjoyed by grabbing a spot on the hill above the beach and watching the action unfold.

Carnival procession

The carnival parade is a real feast for the eyes and ears, with marching bands and steel drummers joining the procession of floats from near and far, and is typically held on the first Sunday of Carnival week.

Swanage Carnival Dancer

Swanage Carnival procession

Look out for all the local Swanage organisations that take part, such as schools and Brownies & Scout groups – and give them a cheer as they pass. Representatives from the local coastguard and RNLI always take an active part, as well as a range of other community groups all celebrating the best of Swanage.

Be treated to displays from belly-dance troupes, majorettes and Morris Dancers, as well as our very own Swanage Town Band.

Every year there are also crowned Carnival Ambassadors – a popular competition for young local people to get involved in.

People in pirate fancy dress at the Swanage Carnival parade
Pirates ahoy!
Group in Swanage Carnival parade going past the beach on Shore Road
Procession along the prom (Picture credit: Andrew Writer)
A marching band performing during the Swanage Carnival parade
Marching band
Music float (Picture credit: Ben Terret)

(Pictures all courtesy of the Swanage Carnival team unless otherwise specified)

Fireworks

Running on three nights during the week (Saturday; Wednesday; Saturday) the Carnival Fireworks are not to be missed.

With Swanage Bay serving as the perfect backdrop framing the spectacular illuminations of the sky above Swanage, these summer firework displays are a great way to end your day of festivities.

Fireworks over Swanage Bay during Carnival week

Fireworks lighting up Swanage Bay (Picture credit: Jamie Sayer, courtesy of Swanage Carnival)

Why not make a plan to see all three from different places so you get a unique aspect of the town each time? The most popular spots to view the fireworks are on the hilly banks above Shore Road and from The Downs, which look across the sea to the beach. Or, if you have a boat, do as many visitors do, and watch from the water.

Timings & useful info

The fireworks tend to kick off at around 9.45pm, although it’s best to arrive early to get a good viewing spot and to ensure you get parked up in time.

Leaving the area immediately after the fireworks can get you caught in slight traffic – we’d recommend staying a little longer for an evening beach stroll or perhaps a nightcap in one of the pubs before heading home.

Parking can be incredibly busy during Carnival week, especially for popular events such as the fireworks, so it’s best to make a day of it and arrive early in the day, or to come by bus or train.

Swanage fireworks (Credit: Dorset Photographic)
Fireworks across the bay (Credit: Sam Town)
People watching Swanage Carnival fireworks (Picture credit: Bridget McKenz)

Traditional carnival events

There’s nothing quite like a traditional celebration at the seaside and Carnival is just one of many annual events that families have been enjoying in Swanage for generations.

For the whole family

The carnival’s organisers work throughout the year to bring fun activities, games, competitions and events to everyone from tiny tots through to their great grandparents – and many of these can be enjoyed by the whole family together.

Have a go at building a giant sand sculpture together, go on a treasure hunt through town, or throw on your dancing shoes for a good, old-fashioned barn dance.

Boys racing along Shore Road in Swanage in pedal-push go-karts

Pedal go-kart race along Shore Road

Some favourite returning Carnival events:

  • Dog show
  • Barn dance
  • Stalls
  • Air displays
  • Fun Run
  • Go-karting
  • Bowls tournament
  • Bake-off
  • Sailing regatta
  • Swanage Bay Swim
  • Treasure hunts
  • Wacky Races
  • Live music

For kids

Dedicated children’s stalls, fairground games and activity tents take over Sandpit Field during Carnival week.

There’s Arts & Crafts areas, traditional games like Hook-a-Duck, and lots of yummy food stalls including old-fashioned favourites such as hot dogs, candy floss and toffee apples.

Children catching bubbles in Sandpit Field, Swanage

Bubble fun on Sandpit Field

Some of the fun activities held each year for kids at Sandpit field include:

  • Party time – Children’s party and fancy dress disco
  • Fun races
  • Painting competition
  • Circus skills
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Sand sculpture competition
Child enjoying sack race at a the Swanage Carnival
Fun sack races
Winnie the Pooh themed children's ride, Swanage
Children's rides

For grown ups

For one of Dorset’s biggest street parties, get dressed up and come with a carnival-style mask or headdress to Masquerade Night.

The fancy dress shop in town, Fifis, will equip you with everything you need and more for your night. Fifis can be very busy in the lead-up to Masquerade Night as choosing your outfit in preparation is part of the fun of Carnival week – it’s also the go-to place to get kitted out for Swanage’s famous New Year’s Eve fancy dress night.

People watching a man drinking a yard of ale outside the White Horse pub in Swanage

Yard of Ale outside the White Horse pub

Whilst Masquerade is suitable for accompanied children and teens in the early part of the evening, with street performers taking to the southern end of High Street, it’s a more grown-up affair in the latter part of the evening.

Arguably the most celebratory atmosphere is outside Snack Bar, with people spilling out onto the street with a skilfully-made cocktail in hand, and of course the DJ stage in Prince Albert Gardens, with its natural dance floor. This beach-side open-air club is brought to the carnival by EHM (Electro House Masquerade) Events.

Grown-up Carnival events:

  • Masquerade night
  • Beer tent
  • Classic car show
  • Wheelbarrow race
  • Pool competition and darts tournament
  • Yard of Ale
Street performers at Swanage Carnival's masquerade night
Masquerade entertainers (Picture credit: Dorset Photographic)
Swanage Wheelbarrow Race
Wheelbarrow Race through town (Picture credit: Swanage Carnival)
Classic car display
Wheelbarrow race

Accommodation – where to stay for Carnival week

The best way to enjoy Swanage Carnival is to stay near the action. Whether you want to camp, self-cater or treat yourself to a luxury B&B or a hotel with sea views, there are plenty of options within walking distance of the hub of the carnival.

Book in advance – Be aware that Carnival week is extremely popular and places do get booked up quickly, with many carnival-goers being returning visitors who like to stay in their usual accommodation year-on-year. If there is less availability in Swanage itself, there are plenty of campsites and self-catering options in neighbouring villages such as Langton Matravers, Worth Matravers, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Studland, as well as a range of camping options within the nearby Purbeck countryside.

B&Bs

Get set up with a hearty breakfast for a fun-filled day at the carnival – just leave enough room for all the delicious food tents in Sandpit Field that you’ll want to try – before returning to a cosy bed in one of Swanage’s many bed & breakfasts.

Airbnb and sites such as booking.com will have a range of places to stay. Some of the most popular B&Bs in Swanage include:

Robertsbrook B&B in Swanage

Robertsbrook Guest House

  • Arbour House
  • Bella Vista
  • Caythorpe House
  • Gretenham
  • Rivendell
  • The Limes
  • Millbrook Guest House
  • Robertsbrook Guest House
  • The Rookery
  • Sandhaven
  • Swanage Haven Boutique
  • Town Hall Lodge

Self-catering

From lodges in Swanage Coastal Park overlooking the sea, to entire homes to rent offering enough room for the extended family, there are plenty of ways to stay your own way for Carnival week.

View over static caravans at Swanage Coastal Park toward the sea

Swanage Coastal Park

The Swanage Bay View Holiday Park is another great option for staying for the events. You can see the sea from its indoor swimming pool and there’s a gym, bar and lounge area to chill out in after a day’s excitement down at the carnival.

For that home-from home feeling, check our directory of holiday cottage letting agents for holiday homes to rent in Swanage.

Campsites

Sign at entrance to Herston Caravan & Camping Park

Herston Caravan & Camping Park, Swanage

Within Swanage itself you’ll find Ulwell HolidayPark, nestled beneath the Purbeck Hills and a short walk from town. Ulwell has great facilities for children, such as a playground and indoor swimming pool.

Nearby is Herston Caravan & Campsite, which is good if you’re on a budget, but it’s a slightly longer walk into town (around 20 minutes).

Just outside Swanage you have popular campsites in and around Harman’s Cross and Corfe Castle – get to the carnival by hopping on the Swanage Railway steam train so you can avoid having to park, which may be extremely busy.

Hotels

Cars parked outside the Grand Hotel, Swanage

The Grand Hotel

The centre of Carnival week action is just a stone’s throw from the Purbeck House Hotel, which is located in the centre of town – perfect for Masquerade Night and all the beach-side and street activities and events.

The Grand Hotel and the Pines Hotel toward the northern end of Swanage bay, are both handy for taking a stroll down to see what’s going on at Sandpit Field and for grabbing a good spot on the hill to watch the Carnival Parade or the fireworks.

If the hotels in Swanage are full, or you fancy staying a little out of town, try Mortons Manor in Corfe Castle, or in Studland there is The Pig on the Beach and Knoll House Hotel.

History of the Carnival

From a simple sailing regatta back in the 1800s to the week-long extravaganza with over a hundred events throughout the week as it is today, Swanage Carnival has become a key event for the town’s tourism and a special place in the hearts of the people who live here and those who return year-on-year to enjoy the festivities once more.

Vintage programme cover from the Swanage Carnival , c. 1939

A Carnival programme from 1939

As the original, historic regatta held in Swanage Bay gained in popularity it soon became a regular feature of the new seaside town, and a carnival to mark its finale was introduced in the 1900s.

Word soon spread of Swanage’s fun-filled Regatta & Carnival and soon a new element was added – the road race. This began to draw even more visitors, and by the mid-1900s festivities had grown into a week-long celebration similar to the carnival we know and love today.

In the 1950s the Swanage Carnival gained further renown when the children’s author of the moment, Enid Blyton, took up the position of Carnival President. Blyton was heavily involved in various aspects of Purbeck life – with her husband, Kenneth Darrell Waters, she owned the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club in Studland and many of her books are heavily influenced by the landscape of this, her favourite holiday destination. It’s recorded that Blyton also helped to organise the famous fireworks display that continues to be one the main attractions of the event to this day.

“I hope the Carnival and Regatta will be as successful as ever, with real summer come at last. But my main thoughts are, of course, with the children, whether resident or visitors. This year they have a very full and exciting programme, and will enjoy every minute. Happy days to you, children, and a great welcome to Swanage, if you are our visitors.”

Enid Blyton, in her Carnival Presidential foreword

Archive image of the Swanage Bandstand and carnival queen

Archive image of a Swanage Carnival Queen being crowned at the bandstand

In the following years, Swanage Carnival became a vital opportunity to raise money for local charitable organisations in Swanage and continues to contribute hugely to good causes, so if you see a donation point or friendly volunteer with a bucket, pop what you can in and know that it’s going to a good cause.

Volunteering

Volunteers of the Swanage Carnival committee

Swanage Carnival volunteers

One of the best ways to get involved with the local community in Swanage is through volunteering – and what better way to start sharing your time and skills than Carnival.

It’s a great way to meet new people and see different aspects of the town, whether that’s helping out with the preparations in the months leading up to Carnival as a committee member, or simply becoming a Friend of Swanage Carnival and helping out during the fun-filled but busy week – either way the amount of time you give is flexible.

To enquire about becoming a Friend or committee member, send an email to the Swanage Carnival team here: swanagecarnival.com/volunteer/

More festivals in Purbeck

Whilst Swanage Carnival may be the largest and most well-known annual event here, there are plenty of other festivals to check out both in Swanage and the surrounding Purbeck area.

Family Fun

Purbeck Pirate Festival

Returning for 2022 (late May Bank Holiday weekend).

You’ll probably spot the Purbeck Pirates dropping their anchor at the Swanage Carnival (and Wareham Carnival & Wednesdays for that matter) but they have their very own festival in Swanage each year.

The crew also join in with the Poole Pirate’s annual Harry Paye Day (Harry Paye was a real-life pirate who has an interesting connection to Old Harry Rocks.)

If you’re in town over the late May Bank Holiday you’ll be able to watch the pirates invading the bay and showing off their sword-fighting skills, practising their musket and cannon fire, and taking part in all sorts of shenanigans, inducing a pirate pub crawl, a parade through town to the beach and causing skirmishes amongst the stalls on Sandpit Field.

Find our more on their website: purbeckpiratefestival.com

Wareham Carnival

(Returning in 2022)

Wareham Carnival is held every summer and has its own ever-popular themed procession.

Follow the latest updates on the Carnival’s website: warehamcarnival.co.uk 

Wareham Wednesdays

Summer events will return for 2022

Wareham Wednesdays’s Bonfire Night Fireworks (5 November 2021) is still going ahead as planned at Swanage & Wareham Rugby Club. (This event has now passed)

Running on Wednesday evenings during the summer holidays, this family-friendly event has live music, fireworks, food stalls and kids’ games and activities.

Check the latest updates on Wareham Wednesdays site: warehamwednesdays.org 

Music

Swanage Blues Festival

The 2022 Blues Festivals are scheduled for 3-6 March and 6-9 October

There are two equally popular annual Blues Festivals in Swanage – during spring (March) and autumn (October). Book accommodation early to enjoy the vibrant mix of chilled and party vibes, as well-known musicians headline and join with local artists to bring you open mic nights, jam sessions and great performances throughout the town.

Swanage’s pubs come alive during Blues Week, with a packed programme – you can check all the details on the Swanage Blues Festival website: www.swanage-blues.org 

Swanage Jazz Festival

The next jazz festival is planned for 2022, running from Friday 10 – Sunday 12 July.

Festival contact details:
  • 📥 info@swanagejazzfestival.co.uk
  • 📞 01929 448059

Swanage Folk Festival

9-11 September 2022

A weekend of both free and ticketed concerts, dance and music workshops, street performances, sea shanty singers and a craft fair, all topped off with a traditional ceilidh – so bring your dancing shoes.

This family-friendly event takes place at various locations in Swanage including Sandpit Field, the Conservative Club and the Swanage School.

Find out more and book tickets online: www.swanagefolkfestival.com

Purbeck International Chamber Music Festival

The Purbeck International Chamber Music Festival began as part of Purbeck Art Weeks and has now grown into a large and unique festival in its own right.

Set in various locations across Purbeck including churches and unusual historical sites, musicians who take part are both home-grown and come from abroad.

The festival also aims to nurture a love for classical music within the community and amongst children through school workshops and masterclasses.

Purbeck Valley Folk Festival

18 – 21 August 2022

This family-friendly, intimate festival is set on farmland between Corfe Castle and Swanage and is one of the most popular events of its kind on the Jurassic Coast.

Kick back to the sounds of world and roots music, and dust off your dance shoes for some toe-tapping traditional folk at the festival’s annual ceilidh.

The festival has five stages and a range of kids’ activities, food & drinks stalls and a range of music and craft workshops.

Book tickets and camping here: www.purbeckvalleyfolkfestival.co.uk 

Wilkeswood Reggae Festival

22 – 24 July 2022

The Wilkeswood Reggae Festival is held every year in Wilkeswood Woods situated between Harman’s Cross and Swanage.

Set across three stages, there’s DJs, local talent and as well as well-known reggae legends bringing the woods alive with the sounds of raga and dubstep, with a bit of drum & bass thrown in for good measure.

Tickets can be booked on the festival’s website and include three days’ camping: wilkswoodrootsreggaefestival.co.uk 

Camp Bestival

28 – 31 July 2022

Camp Festival is one of the most popular music festivals on the south coast. With its unique setting in the grounds of Lulworth Castle, Camp Festival attracts some of the most well-known names in the industry to its main stages each year, and organised by Rob da Bank.

The line-up for 2021 included Fatboy Slim, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Sara Cox and Kelis.

2022’s line-up is set to include Rag n’ Bone Man, Rudimental and Shed Seven, as well as R&B legends Kool & the Gang and Earth Wind & Fire. For kids there’ll be appearances from Dick & Dom, Mister Maker and some of the Horrible Histories team.

It’s one of the more family-friendly festivals in the UK, with a huge area dedicated to kids with activities, events and workshops such as circus skills, fancy dress, storytelling and face painting – top attractions for 2021 included the world’s biggest bouncy castle and a visitor from Mr Tumble.

Check the full list of events, line-up and latest updates on the Camp Festival website, where you can book camping, day or VIP tickets: www.campbestival.net

Arts

Purbeck Art Weeks (and Dorset Arts Week)

Purbeck Art Weeks (PAW) has grown year-on-year since 2001 to become Purbeck’s premier community art event.

Featuring many local artists, exhibitions are also accompanied by a full programme of musical events.

Typically held across two weeks at the end of May, PAW sees around 40 open studios, as well as a collective exhibition at Rollington Barn and various family-friendly events, with local schools getting creative, too. Don’t forget to check out the various local galleries throughout Swanage and Purbeck during PAW too, as they all get involved in supporting local artists’ work.

Visit the PAW website to see who’s exhibiting this year: www.purbeckartweeksfestival.co.uk

Dorset Art Weeks

14 – 29 May 2022

PAW’s sister festival, Dorset Art Weeks covers the whole of the county and is one of the largest open studio festivals in the UK.

ℹ️ www.dorsetartweeks.co.uk 

Active

Purbeck Running Festival

Saturday 18 – Sunday 19 September 2021 (event now passed)

Running events are held over the weekend across the Purbeck countryside and include the Purbeck Marathon as well as a more challenging Ultra and shorter runs (5k, 10k & 16 mile).

Find out how to sign up and check this year’s routes on the festival website: thepurbeckrunningfestival.co.uk 

Purbeck WALX Festival

2022 date to be confirmed

Formerly the Purbeck Nordic Walking Festival, the Purbeck WALX is a three-day walking festival with its base at Corfe Castle.

There are two main walking challenges – a 16-mile and 27-mile – and a knees up on the Saturday night in Corfe with live music, as well as a range of other shorter walks, activities and workshops. You don’t have to be a nordic walker – lots of people take part walking without poles.

ℹ️ www.nordicwalking.events 

Environmental

Planet Purbeck Festival

Monday 20 – Sunday 26 September 2021 (event has now passed)

This community-run festival celebrates the natural world of the Isle of Purbeck, promoting sustainable initiatives, tackling climate change at a local level and protecting the area’s biodiversity.

A week of family-friendly events focusing on our coastal and countryside environment include live music, local food and produce stalls, wellbeing and kids’ fun activities. It’s also a great way to find out what local initiatives you can get involved in and a way of meeting like-minded people.

Planet Purbeck also holds regular events throughout the year and the community group encourages anyone to get involved and support the movement.

Find out what the team are up to and check for updates on their website: planetpurbeck.org 

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