Take a trip through time on the Isle of Purbeck’s heritage railway
Let a lovingly-restored steam train take you on an unforgettable journey along the foot of the Purbeck Hills and through the picturesque countryside surrounding Swanage.
The historic Swanage Railway has been much-loved by many for generations since its first locomotive took to the tracks in 1885.
Despite being forced to close in 1972, the railway is now a thriving tourist attraction in Swanage, thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers who campaigned to save, rebuild and reinstate the line.
Swanage Railway now draws some 200,000 visitors every year from all over the country, providing a vital economy to the town, and leaving a lasting impression on young and old alike.
Experience the Purbeck of the past on a vintage locomotive
There is nothing quite like riding on an original steam-powered or heritage diesel train to evoke the simpler times of bygone days. Stepping into the 1940s-style ticket office and waiting room to be greeted by a soot-stained fire man or waving to the driver in his traditional attire will transport you into the Isle of Purbeck‘s past in a truly nostalgic experience.
There’s plenty to see on your journey too, from grazing ponies in the fields as you pass leisurely by, to the stunning and varied views of Corfe Castle as you approach in vintage style. And, if travelling as a family, and like Harry and Ron on the Hogwarts Express, you can’t resist a snack as you go there are regular dining trains running throughout the year.
If you’re staying in Swanage a ride on a heritage train is the perfect way to visit Corfe Castle for the day.
Swanage Railway events
The Swanage Railway runs various events throughout the year, which can prove hugely popular, so advance booking is essential. Some of the highlights include:
Bi-annual steam gala – The three-day celebrations of Swanage Railway’s own stock as well as visiting steam locos are typically held in Spring and Autumn
Spring diesel gala and beer festival – Featuring special visiting diesel locomotives, Beerex train and beer festival in Corfe Castle
Classic Transport Rally – Held in September at Harman’s Cross, the rally showcases over 300 vintage engines, cars and motorcycles
Christmas train – The new ‘Steam and Lights’ experience will conjure up the spirit of Christmas as it chugs merrily through the Purbeck countryside.
Watch it arrive into Swanage Station, or even better, book a seat on board for a magical ride.
Santa Specials – Meet Father Christmas and his helpers on this fun-filled journey, complete with festive food, drinks and maybe even a present
Christmas Belle – Enjoy Christmas nostalgia with a touch of luxury on the Pullman Observation Car. A smart dress code completes the experience, during which you are served champagne and canapés
*Note that some events may be subject to alteration due to Covid-19 restrictions*
Fares are for either a table of two or four people. Children under five (not occupying a seat) travel free.
Two passengers – £16
Four passengers – £32
Two passengers – £25
Four passengers – £50
You can also book an entire compartment for yourself and up to five other people at a cost of £70
Book online with Swanage Railway and view travel times : https://www.swanagerailway.co.uk/re-opening-services
Dogs are welcome on board trains at a cost of £2 for a single trip or £3 return
Combined ticket with Corfe Castle Model Village entry
For a fun-filled day out in Corfe Castle, why not combine your train ride with a visit to the model village?
Walk around the village’s streets in miniature, and see how Corfe Castle itself might have looked before it was blown up.
Stop for a bit to eat in the café and visit the secret fairy garden and small croquet lawn.
Train & model village combination ticket prices
Adult – £19.20
Child – £11.00 (age 5-15; children under 5 are free)
Family – £52.50 (up to two adults and three children)
All stations have step-free access and all trains can accommodate wheelchairs and have a ramp to assist with boarding.
Swanage Railway staff are on hand at all times should you need assistance.
Wheelchair users may travel in the guard’s van or, if you have some mobility, travelling in the passenger compartments is possible.
- Toilet facilities – at Swanage, Corfe Castle and Norden
- Disabled facilities – at Norden station
- No toilet facilities – at Herston Halt or Harman’s Cross
The line runs from Norden to Swanage, with stops and interesting sites along the way.
If you’re boarding, or getting off, at Norden station you can check out the Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum, and Corfe Castle Station is home to the Swanage Railway Museum.
- Swanage – Complete with buffet coach, traditional waiting room and recently restored canopy, Swanage station really is like stepping back in time. You’ll also find the Railway’s gift shop here
- Herston Halt – A request stop between Swanage and Harman’s Cross mainly used by residents and visitors to the nearby campsites
- Harman’s Cross – You’ll find a village hall thriving with community spirit here, as well as a great adventure playground for young and older children
- Corfe Castle – With period features, vintage ladies’ waiting room, and even a webcam to watch you favourite train come through even when you’re not here. Corfe is also home to the Swanage Railway museum
- Norden – Park up and explore the Purbeck Mineral & Mining Museum and play area before heading on to Swanage in style on a heritage steam or diesel train
*Note that Herston Halt and Harman’s Cross station are currently closed due to Covid-19.*
Watch the Battle of Britain Class – 34072 ‘257 Squadron’ in action:
Fuel up before you ride:
You can fuel up before your journey at Swanage Station’s Bird’s Nest buffet, or look forward to a light lunch or afternoon tea on your return.
There are also various options for light snacks and afternoon tea within walking distance of Swanage Railway station, including:
Light lunches and snacks
- Love Cake – For a delicious afternoon tea head to Love Cake at 42 High Street. 📞 01929 475664
- Fortes – For a panini and coffee, try Fortes, underneath the Mowlem on Institute Road. 📞 01929 422741
- The Cornish Bakery – For a pasty and brownie to have in or take out. Located at 1 Institute Road. 📞 01929 425749
- Swanage Bakery – For freshly-baked artisan breads, pastries and sandwiches. Call to pre-order for picnics and parties: 📞 01929 422594
For something a little more hearty try
- Gee Whites – For al fresco seafood dining by the bay. Gee Whites also offers seaside favourites including fish & chips, pizzas and toasties. Located at 1 High Street. 📞 01929 425720
- The Black Swan – For exceptional pub grub and roaring log fires. The Black Swan is set just outside of the main part of town at 159 High Street. 📞 01929 423846
- The Trattoria – For authentic Italian cuisine, run by a friendly family team at 12 High Street. 📞 01929 423784
There is also a Co-Op opposite Swanage Station and a Budgens nearby for stocking up on picnic essentials, as well as several sandwich shops and delis for ready-to-go lunch.
When the Flying Scotsman came to Swanage
To say the excitement was palpable when this national treasure came to Swanage in March 2019 would be an understatement.
The waiting room, platform and streets surrounding all five stations were abuzz with locals and visitors all clamouring to catch a glimpse of this historic visitor, while Swanage Railway staff waited proudly to welcome this most famous locomotive in the world to the town.
(Picture credit for Flying Scotsman images: Andrew PM Wright)
Swanage Railway museum and exhibition
Housed at Corfe Castle station, the museum celebrates the history, legacy and character of the Swanage Railway.
Visit the line’s first ever locomotive, named Beryl, in the Goods Yard; step inside the old Station Master’s office and ladies’ lounge; and visit the museum itself in the Goods Shed.
You can also take a pew in the cinema coach to watch archive railway film and peruse the books and paraphernalia of the past.
The history of Swanage Railway
Swanage Railway holds a special place in the hearts of many, near and far – especially as it was brought back from the brink after closure and demolition after years of campaigning.
A timeline that tells a story of perseverance and determination
1885 – Swanage Railway opens. The ten-mile single track runs from Wareham, initially with one goods train and five passenger trains each way.
Early 1900s – Holidaying at seaside resorts has become a popular Victorian pastime and Swanage is well connected for visitors from London. By 1931 there are 13 daily passenger trains operating.
1945 – ‘Push-pull’, locomotive-hauled trains are introduced, allowing trains to be driven from either end.
1960s – Railway use is in decline due to increased car usage and improved road networks.
1966 – Steam trains are replaced by diesel-electric trains. Crowds flock to Swanage station to witness the last steam train being driven out of town.
A through-service from London runs on Saturdays during the summer months.
1967 – The Government deems Swanage Railway unprofitable and announces its closure, however closure is postponed due to fierce opposition.
1969 – Through-trains from London cease and passengers have to change at Wareham to get to Swanage.
1972 – Swanage Railway closes after 87 years of operation.
Residents and volunteers form the Swanage Railway Society and begin the long campaign to reinstate a year-round service as well as a connection to the mainline at Wareham.
But, in the summer of that year, British Rail demolish six-and-a-half miles of track – in a matter of weeks.
Swanage Station is sold to the local council, which proceeds to remove the platform and some station buildings.
There are plans to turn the station into a shopping facility and proposals to use the railway land at Corfe Castle as a bypass, (although plans are later withdrawn in 1986 following sustained concerns from volunteers and residents alike)
1975 – The council leases Swanage Station to the Swanage Railway Society following a residents’ vote.
1976 – The laborious task of relaying the track begins – each part is painstakingly hand-laid by volunteers.
The first locomotive to grace the relaid tracks is ‘Beryl’ – a petrol ‘shunter’. A beautifully restored Beryl can be viewed at the goods yard at Corfe Castle Station. She is soon followed by the first steam train in many years.
1979 – The volunteers form the new Swanage Railway Company as the first passenger train runs on the newly-restored section of track, which is just a few hundred metres long
1982 – The council has allowed the track to be extended past Swanage and a new halt is built at Herston
1984 – The track begins to be laid from Herston to Harman’s Cross.
1987 – A new station at Harman’s Cross is built and opened the following year.
1995 – The track finally reaches Corfe Castle and the station is restored – passengers can once again travel by train from Swanage to Corfe.
The track also now connects to Norden, where a new station is built, along with a park-and-ride facility.
1997 – Harman’s Cross receives a new signal box, allowing two trains to run on the line simultaneously.
2002 – The track is joined up once again to the mainline in Wareham.
2009 – The first steam train in over 40 years, and the first diesel in 30, run from London to Swanage.
2012 – The Swanage to London junction is upgraded, enabling passenger trains from Swanage to continue on to Wareham and in 2013 the Railway wins a £1.4m grant to bring back passenger trains between Swanage and Wareham.
2017 – Swanage Railway begins a trial summer service running trains from Swanage to Wareham, allowing passengers to pick up the mainline, following a £5.5m investment.
It’s hoped this service can resume in the near future.
The Railway continues to run its hugely popular annual steam and diesel galas, as well as seasonal events such as the Santa Special and unique experiences including ‘footplate’ taster sessions, from firing up the steam train to driving it.
Thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly for generations, the award-winning Swanage Railway has brought a huge boost to the local economy and helped cement Swanage as popular seaside resort for generations to come.
Swanage Railway webcams
Live streams of the platform and tracks at Swanage station and Corfe Castle station are broadcast via webcams that can be viewed at any time.
Swanage Station webcam – See what’s happening at Swanage Station right now: https://maybach.railcam.co.uk/Swanage_43965/embed.html
Corfe Castle Station webcam – Watch for a vintage locomotive going past the Corfe Castle ruin here: https://maybach.railcam.co.uk/Corfe_14435/embed.html
Swanage Railway volunteers
The huge team of dedicated volunteers are vital to the continued running of the railway.
From the railway’s daily operations to behind-the-scenes roles, there is an array of opportunities awaiting anyone interested in getting involved with the railway.
Prior experience is not necessary as the team will train you up, and the amount of time you can give is completely flexible.
Here are some of the friendly faces you could be working alongside:
You can find the current list of paid staff and unpaid volunteer opportunities on the Swanage Railway website: https://www.swanagerailway.co.uk/volunteeringandpaid