Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Day in Studland on the Isle of Purbeck

While visiting Dorset I received a message from a friend on Facebook insisting that I visit a place called Studland. Knowing I wouldn't have time, I filed it into the back of my head as a possibility, but thought nothing more of it… That is, until I met some locals in The Plantation, the lovely pub where we stayed, who told me that The Pig on the Beach was a must-see and that Studland was well worth the walk it would take to get there. After hearing this from several people, I decided to re-jig the itinerary and visit this mysterious place I'd never heard of… It all started with a walk on the beach - all the way to the end of Sandbanks Beach where we would find a ferry near the Haven Hotel.

The ferry ride is a very short one - about 3 or 4 minutes I would say and costs just £1 per person for a return journey. Though it's a quick jaunt, there's a stunning view of Corfe Castle, which was built by William the Conquerer and dates back to the 11th Century. If you have time, you can visit the castle which is easily reached by bus or car. Sadly, we didn't have time on this trip - maybe next time.

The ferry docked and we disembarked to find Shell Bay. A few signs for beaches were noticeable, what looked like a stable for horses and a public restroom area adjacent to a car park. After that, pretty much nothing… Shell Bay is a National Trust site and the natural area is preserved for its unique landscape. It's absolutely gorgeous, however after walking for a few minutes and seeing nothing, but a long stretch ahead, we were a bit nervous. It's as though we time-warped from a seaside English village to the California dessert with nothing but a long stretch of road before us for as far as the eye could see.

In the end, we opted for doubling back and paying for bus fare into Studland… Should you choose to go this route, you'll want to have a bit of cash on you, but it's also worth noting that the busses run every hour and can be full when they arrive. We lucked out and got the last two spots on the bus, though I was squeezed in sitting crossed-legged on the luggage shelf… 

The bus ride is a great and faster way of seeing the scenery on the island. One thing to remember is that it may not be so easy waiting around for the bus back to the ferry. We, in the end, decided to do the long walk back. It's beneficial to take a little backpack with bottled water and a small snack or energy bar. Additionally, I'd highly recommend dressing in layers as it cools down significantly when the sun sets or if there's rain and wearing suitable shoes for walking a few miles. It's just over 3 miles, which you can do in about an hour, however you may decided to stop, wander or take photos, which will add to the time. If you're out in the sun, you'll definitely want to have water with you and wear sunblock.

Upon reaching Studland, to call it a bus stop would be an overstatement… It's basically a sign on the side of the road, however it seems suitable not to put up too much in the way of obstacles in such a beautiful place. It may also be worth noting that Studland has a population of just 425 people… The beach in Studland has areas for naturists, but they can be avoided if you choose. For those of you not familiar with the term, insert nudists here. It's hardly a metropolis, so amenities are scarce. That said, when you get off the bus, there are clear signs pointing you in the right direction for The Pig on the Beach among a couple of other cafes and bars, so off we set to find our destination.

The Pig on the Beach looks like something out of a fairytale and though it's quite elevated above sea level and therefore not really on the beach, the views of the sea from this little pub, restaurant & hotel are breathtaking! 

The Pig is actually a small chain of restaurants and other locations include The New Forrest, Southampton, Bath and Brockenhurst.

The Pig on the Beach is the newest location and boasts 23 bedrooms in a gorgeous country house with shabby chic style.

Though a fairytale cottage from the outside, The Pig on the Beach takes on a different persona from the inside… I would describe it as a country, preppy version of an F. Scott Fitzgerald hideaway. Rustic charm, country style and a touch of Gatsby-esque wasps style combine for a unique little oasis that is literally out in the middle of nowhere, yet magically all booked up for lunch despite the journey required for a visit.

Inside the door at The Pig on the Beach
Rather than sous chefs, The Pig relies on a forager and a kitchen gardener to produce what they call "British garden food, true to the micro seasons and influenced by the forest and coast with an emphasis squarely on fresh, clean flavours." Anything they don't grow themselves is sourced locally within 25 miles.
A clever way of displaying the menu…
The commitment to local sourcing is so strong at The Pig that they've even included a map of food sources on their website, which you can see here.
The bar area at The Pig on the Beach
Though we couldn't stay for lunch, we did sit down for a cup of coffee at The Pig on the Beach. My impression of this place is that it's too wonderful to miss out on. The crowd is preppy-chic and if you plan to dine there, you'll want to be too if you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb. I'd suggest booking ahead and traveling by car or taxi if possible, however even if you can't dine there, a drink or coffee will suit just for the experience of visiting.

Just outside the Pig on the Beach is a farm with live chickens and Fort Henry, a bunker designed to protect the English coast during WWII. 

Stunning views
Green, green, green 
A view of Old Harry Rocks
After leaving The Pig on the Beach, we decided to try our luck at the other pub in Studland, The Bankes Arms. To get there, we walked along the coast, although elevated quite high, through farmland on worn out paths. We caught this stunning view of Old Harry Rocks, three chalk formations that mark the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A field of sheep, just on the other side of The Bankes Arms
How cute is this guy?!?!

The Bankes Arms is a popular spot on a sunny day and in comparison to The Pig draws a more athletic crowd with loads of runners, cyclists and hikers stopping for a bit of lunch, a basket of chips or a cheeky pint while they take in the view of the Old Harry Rocks.

The Bankes Arms dates back to 1549 or so they say and its old-world charm does nothing to dispute that reputation. We stopped for a cold Diet Coke and a snack… They do a cracking basket of chips!

Originally owned by the Bankes family, the pub was cared for by landlord and publican George Damron in the early 1800's and has a sordid history of smuggling, which you can read about on the website here

The Bankes Arms is the home of the Isle of Purbeck Brewery, brewing fine ales on the property.
The walk back… 
The walk back to the ferry from the Bankes Arms took us about 1 1/2 hours with stops for taking photos, exploring, etc. and it's a lovely walk. I definitely recommend a visit for anyone who loves a good long walk or a run - many people were running vast distances there in Purbeck and what a beautiful place to exercise or train for a marathon! 

If you have the time while visiting Dorset, I highly recommend spending the day in Studland. Start with a serene walk along Sandbanks Beach and see how the scenery changes from hour to hour. Sandy beaches, cool blue waters, knolls boasting high trees, brush, swampy ponds, cliffs, green fields, castles, farm animals… There's so much to see, you'll wish you had a week there! 

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