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On the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset and known for its incredibly diverse array of wild flowers, which cover the landscape in a rainbow of colours

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Swanage Beach
Corfe Castle
Swanage Railway
The town of Swanage is on the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset. Despite the name, it is actually a peninsula. The area is known for its incredibly diverse array of wild flowers, which cover the landscape in a rainbow of colours. In particular, the Isle of Purbeck is the best place in Britain to look for the rare "Early Spider Orchid", which really does look like an arachnid.
Swanage is a seaside resort on the Isle's eastern coast. It was previously known as both Swanwich, and Sandwich, before settling on its current name. The beach is soft and sheltered, which normally makes it a calm and pleasant place to be. You can climb onto a deck chair, and relax in the sun, or you can rent a pedalo, and explore the water. If you prefer to move with a little more speed, you can hire a jetski, or go windsurfing. You can even take a peek under the surface, by going scuba diving. There are plenty of interesting places to investigate, including several old shipwrecks. Swanage is often thought to be the home of British scuba diving. Its diving school, which is located on the beach's pier, was Britain's first. Back on dry land, there are also the usual ice cream stalls, fish and chip shops, and amusement arcades.
A few kilometres to the west is Corfe Castle, one of Dorset's most well-known landmarks. It stands on top of a mound of earth in the centre of the Isle of Purbeck, and is best seen perfectly silhouetted against the sky. It's one of the most dramatic and striking castle ruins in the country, and it makes every tourist that sees it instantly reach for their camera. The structure was made from Purbeck limestone, which is rated as one of the highest-quality building materials that can be quarried in England. It has been used throughout history, particularly in cathedrals.
Part of Corfe Castle was built in the 11th century, but various different monarchs added to it after that. It was destroyed during the English Civil War, after one of the royalist defenders turned traitor, and opened the gates for the besieging parliamentarians. They deliberately damaged the building beyond repair, to ensure that it could never again be used as a military stronghold.
Surrounding the castle, there is a beautiful small village. If you look round with a careful eye, you'll see evidence of what happened immediately after the building's destruction. The local residents saw an opportunity and took it; they helped themselves to cast-offs from the ruined fortress. Many of the local houses still include doorframes, or other architectural features, that were once a part of Corfe Castle.
The castle is linked to Swanage by a fabulous heritage railway. It was originally opened in the late 19th century, but was unfortunately shut down in 1972. The local residents fiercely opposed this closure and proceeded to set up a society to campaign for its restoration. After a lot of negotiations and hard work, they finally got their wish. By 1995 the Swanage Railway was once again open for use with the line running all the way back to Corfe Castle. There are big plans for the future, too. It is hoped that eventually, Swanage will be connected to Britain's main rail network by a regular service. In the meantime though, the railway runs for a total of 10 kilometres, using historic steam and diesel locomotives through utterly adorable countryside.
Visitor Information
Swanage Tourist Information Centre, The White House, Shore Road, Swanage, BH19 1LB. Tel: 01929 422 885
Corfe Castle is open daily (except over Christmas), from 10am to 5pm (4pm Winter, 6pm Summer). Entry costs around £8 for adults, £4 children. The Square, Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5EZ. Tel: 01929 481294
The Swanage Railway runs various services daily from May to October and at some other times of the year. Several fare options apply. Consulting their timetable is therefore advisable. Station House, Swanage, Dorset BH19 1HB. Tel: 01929 425800

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