Dorset walk - Swanage Victorian Trail

PUBLISHED: 16:36 06 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:36 06 May 2015

Swanage from Peveril Downs - photo by Edward Griffiths

Swanage from Peveril Downs - photo by Edward Griffiths


Edward Griffiths follows in the footsteps of the ‘King of Swanage’ on this varied walk which encompasses town, countryside, woodland and coast

The Duke of Wellington Clock Tower - photo by Edward GriffithsThe Duke of Wellington Clock Tower - photo by Edward Griffiths

Thomas Hardy called George Burt the ‘King of Swanage’ and with good reason as Burt is synonymous with the development of Swanage into a popular Victorian seaside resort. This varied walk takes us through town, countryside and woodland, and along the top of sheer cliffs. Along the way we’ll see many of Burt’s edifices, both quirky and magnificent. He was an inveterate collector of ‘unconsidered trifles’ and typically found various reasons to erect monuments all around Swanage.



• Distance: 3 1/2 miles (5.5km)

• Time: 3 hours

• Start: Burt’s ’Alfred the Great’ column, The Mowlem Theatre (Grid Ref: SZ032789)

• Exertion: Not too strenuous. One steep ascent. Some mud after rain.

• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195

• Public Transport: Wilts and Dorset 40, 50, Damory Coaches X43

• Dogs: On leads in country park where requested and in town and on roads

• Refreshments: Swanage is packed with excellent hostelries, cafés and restaurants


The Walk

1 We start at George Burt’s 1862 cannonball-topped ‘Alfred’ monument which commemorates a sea battle in 877 when Alfred is supposed to have defeated the Danes. From here walk behind the Mowlem Theatre then continue past ‘The Parade’. The balconied terrace here was built at the end of Victoria’s reign (1837-1901). Along this seafront, vast banks of stone were stored awaiting shipment. The rail tracks are a remnant of the 1859 horse-drawn wagon system associated with stone movements. Continue past the Stone Pier to Swanage Pier which was built in 1895-6, three years after Burt had died, usurping the old stone-shipping pier whose stumps still stand next to the new pier. It was built mainly to attract visitors from fast-growing Bournemouth nearby.

2 Right of the entrance and Swanage Sailing Club, walk up the lane, passing Prince Albert Gardens’ Ionic columns. Fork right up the hill where a side path leads onto gardens above water treatment works. Follow the stone wall, with views over Swanage and the old pier’s stumps. Continue past The Haven. At the boat yard, divert to see the Victorian Gothic Clock Tower. This was originally built near London Bridge in 1854 to commemorate the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). When the clock was dismantled in 1866, Burt brought it to Swanage. Returning to the lane, continue past white cottages to the far end kissing-gate.

3 At this point take time to visit Peveril Point Coastwatch lookout station, where you can see the fearsome Peveril Ledges where many ships have been wrecked over the centuries. Walk up the cliff-edge path onto Peveril Downs, all the way to the top corner. Through the gate into the road, turn left for ‘Coast Path Durlston Castle’. At Belle Vue Road’s end, turn left down Durlston Road. At the bottom of the hill, take the left ‘Victorian Trail’ half-gate into the woods. Follow the path, keeping left at the fork to pass the ‘Victorian Trail’ post. Reaching the stone wall above Durlston Bay, follow the meandering ‘Isle of Wight Road’ track up with superb panoramas from viewpoint benches.

4 Over the top past the right car park, walk straight down the walled path or via the ‘Timeline’ to the recently-restored Durlston Castle. George Burt built the castle on Durlston Head in 1887. Fortunately, his plans to build a huge ‘high class’ development over what is now Durlston Country Park failed to materialise. Walk down the Tarmac drive right of the castle to the stone ‘map plinth’. Take the grass path down to ‘The Great Globe’, this was built by Burt in 1887and ostentatiously highlights the ‘British Empire’. Down the stone steps to the Coast Path, turn right up past the viewpoint, down past the ‘Dolphin Watch’ lookout, and past Tilly Whim caves. These were cut for visitors to see the remains of stone quarrying, loading and shipping of stone blocks directly to sea.

5 After Tilly Whim, go through the wall gap facing the 1881 Anvil Point lighthouse. Turn right up the steep hill past two Naval Mile marker posts. At the top, turn right along the road and through the gate. Take the instant left gap through bushes onto the green outside the Learning Centre. Join the Tarmac path across the car park. Over the pedestrian crossing onto the picnic bench area, turn left onto the wildflower field’s path. Through the bottom corner half-gate onto Lighthouse Road, walk down past the Victorian Trail woodland entrance and continue up Durlston Road. Pass Belle Vue Road where you emerged earlier.

6 Continue over and down to the T-junction. Turn right. On the left bend into Seymer Road, go through the half-gate onto Peveril Down park and turn left down the path. At the car park exit, join Seymer Road. Continue down to the Royal Victoria Hotel on the left corner. This was originally the Manor House built by Thomas Chapman in 1664, it was transformed into the ‘Manor House Hotel’ in 1827. The name was changed to ‘Victoria Hotel’ after the young Princess Victoria spent one night here in 1833, then to ‘Royal’ by new owners in 1838. Cross back to the Stone Pier and along the esplanade back to Burt’s cannonballs where you started.



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