Readers’ travel notes: Exploring Swanage with kids
Family Traveller reader and father of three, John Salberg, runs through why the seaside town of Swanage in Dorset has become a firm family favourite.
You’ve successfully pushed through the throng of flocking sun-seekers, endured the single file traffic jam made up of people carriers and inflatables, and only one child has screamed in the last 45 minutes. And then there it is – the glowing sun, glinting off a magnificent calm of blue, a golden stretch of beach extending in both directions.
Welcome to Swanage.
A gem in the heart of Dorset, it is a typical English seaside town that mixes charm with a sprinkling of garishness to create a piece of summer heaven for the whole family to enjoy. Whether a spontaneous day-tripper or an MPV-laden week-long cruiser, this tiny seaside town has everything to restore, invigorate and entertain even the most exhausted parents and their adorable little ones. Here’s how to make the most of a trip there with the kids.
1. Head to the beach
The true star of Swanage is of course its magnificent sandy beach, boasting a wide expanse of blue sea and stunning views across the water. The trick is to head left, and keep going. Take a 10-minute stroll along the beach away from town to give yourself some space, and get away from the bright lights of the arcades and crazy golf. Here you will find plenty of space, safe places for taking a dip and a small range of places for grabbing snacks. And, if you’ve failed to tick all the parenting boxes by not preparing a packed lunch, then head to The Cabin where you will find a great little restaurant serving sandwiches and salads.
2. Make your ice cream count
With kids, the call for ice cream is never far off, but more often than not you will be forced to quickly resort to the nearest shop, resulting in chemical-induced kids with blue tongues and sticky hands. When the urge for ice creams inevitably arises, you need to make it count by heading to the best place in town. The consensus among our family is that Fortes Gelato holds that particular title in Swanage, which is located right in the heart of the town and offers a wide and ever-changing selection of fine, handmade ice creams. Each one is bursting with authentic Italian flavours and modern twists to keep every member of the family satisfied.
3. Play coffee shop roulette
Sadly, us Brits cannot always rely on summer warmth, and there will always be those days when the sun refuses to make an appearance as the overhead clouds look increasingly ominous. However, rather than ducking into the nearest cafe or trendy coffee shop, get the whole family involved in a little game – each day, one of the family gets to choose a coffee shop to descend upon. No ifs, no buts, no sly parent influence, go where your four-year-old wants you to go. Swanage is blessed with a real range of options, each of varying quality and quirks that provides this game with an extra edge, and it is the perfect distraction while you enjoy a fleeting moment of bliss as you sip on your latte.
4. Embrace the tinpot beats of the arcade
The nagging has finally got to you. You have done so well with your toolkit of distractions, blindfold tactics and simple grab-and-run away from the lights and beats, but the moment has come – it’s time for the arcade. The glint in the eye, the quivering top lip, and the pained threat that you are ‘ruining their lives’ forces you to concede and agree to a whistle stop tour of K’s Funworld Arcade on the beachfront. To your delight, however, you find an arcade full of family fun, with games starting from as little as two pence a pop. You might even be lucky enough to bag yourself a four-foot neon unicorn, courtesy of your daughter.
5. Head up to the cliffs
With the unicorn safely stashed but the ringing techno base still in your ears, head up the hill to Durlston Country Park to breathe in the fresh sea air and let the cool winds cleanse you. Walk along the cliffs and marvel at the hundreds of passing seabirds, search for smugglers’ caves and pass the time casting your gaze over the waves for a pod of fleeting dolphins. The activities centre and exhibitions, meanwhile, provide further distractions and educational entertainment to keep even the most insular teen engaged.
6. Hunt for fossils
If the inner explorer has been unearthed by your nature-filled afternoon in Durlston then you need to embrace the Jurassic World Heritage Coastline and head for a day trip to Kimmeridge, a short 20-minute car journey away by car. This picturesque bay will have you snorkelling and searching for fossils before you can say ‘ammonite’, as you race around trying to find prehistoric creatures. There is a £5 charge for the private toll road and parking, but it’s a bargain when you consider the beauty of your surroundings and an experience your little ones are likely to cherish forever.
7. Fill up on culture
When it gets to that time and you all need an escape from the sun and sea, there is the perfect day trip located right on your doorstep. Head to the charming train station and book yourself a journey on the award-winning Swanage Railway, a 12-mile journey transporting passengers through the beautiful Purbeck countryside. Arrive early to avoid the crowds and jump onboard for the 20-minute steam ride to the picture postcard village of Corfe, home to a majestic, thousand-year-old National Trust castle. Wander around at your own pace and take time to explore the grounds, before taking part in some of the fun daily activities and events on offer to kids.