Sea swimming and beaches

Swanage is ideally situated for sea swimming. The sandy gently shelving bay is very safe, and because it faces east, away from the prevailing wind, it is usually as flat and clear as glass. The currents are very gentle. Only when the wind changes to the east do we get waves, which liven things up a bit but are usually still manageable. The biggest danger is from inflatables being blown offshore.

You can swim anywhere along the beach from The Mowlem theatre right along to the remote north end, which feels much wilder. Do take care around landslips at this end as the cliffs are eroding at an increasing rate.

You can also swim off the Stone Quay near Gee Whites and from the shingly Monkey Beach further along towards the pier. In summer we swim from here across the bay with our clothes in a tow float and get breakfast at one of the beach cafes by Burlington Chine. Dogs are allowed on Monkey Beach all year round. 

Buck Shore is the shingle beach owned by the sailing club at the other side of the pier. You can get to it along the path to the right of the sailing club, at the bottom of Prince Albert Gardens. It's also dog-friendly. You can swim around the Victorian pier and the remains of the older pier, and it's the best area for snorkelling and rock pooling. But do keep out of the way of boat users – the rocky ledge to the right is perhaps best and also gets the last of the sun in the evening. 

Further afield

Studland Bay to the north is a three-mile stretch of sand managed by the National Trust, which is very popular at weekends and in summer but still retains an old-fashioned undeveloped charm. You can catch the open-top bus from Swanage or park at Middle Beach (for South Beach), Knoll Beach and Shell Bay (all NT). The best swimming is around Knoll Beach and to the north. There's the excellent Jo's Cafe on South Beach but in summer there tend to be too many boats moored here for swimming. Studland Bay is very shallow and safe. Knoll Beach is the National Trust's main hub with a large car park and toilets (and a rather disappointing cafe). You can hire a lovely sauna, though, which is great in winter. Britain's largest designated nudist beach can be found, clearly marked, by walking north towards Shell Bay and the ferry. 

Adventure swims

The rocky south coast of Purbeck is blessed with several must-do sea spots featured in wild swimming guide books. You can walk to all of them, eventually, along the Southwest Coast Path but here we have grouped them by car journey. The furthest, Durdle Door, is only half an hour away. We have enjoyed all these swims ourselves and heartily recommend them, but do urge our guests to think about the weather and tides and their own ability, and to take responsibility for their own safety. Swimming shoes are recommended to navigate the rocks and pebble beaches. 

Around Langton/Worth Matravers

You can walk to Dancing Ledge in about two hours but there's a NT car park in Langton Matravers at Spyway Barn (BH20 3HG). The path down is pretty spectacular and steep, and at the end is really more of rock climb than a walk. The ledge was formed by quarrymen to load stone on to boats. The sea is very deep here below the outcropping shelf and there can be undercurrents. You can instead dip in the sea pool which was blasted out of the rocks by a local prep school over a hundred years ago. Students were forced to run down here naked for a swim, among them James Bond author Ian Fleming and artist and film director Derek Jarman, who named his autobiography Dancing Ledge. Actor Sheila Hancock went nighttime dipping in the pool while staying nearby as a child evacuee during the war. 

Head west along the coast path to Seacombe. It's much easier to get down to than Dancing Ledge and in calm weather this cleft in the cliffs is a lovely spot for a dip with several ledges to go in off. You're immediately in deep water, however, so it's recommended for confident swimmers only. A small colony of puffins make the cliffs between Dancing Ledge and Seacombe their home each spring, so you may spot them out at sea. 

Further west again is Winspit, another former quarry with an other-worldly feel that has been used as a filming location for several TV sci-fi series. It was the planetary home of the Daleks for Tom Baker's Dr Who, a setting for Blake's Seven, and more recently a rebel base in the Star Wars series Andor. The quarried-out caves have also been used for music concerts and weddings but are now prone to rockfalls, so it's best not to go inside. To the left of the quarry is a small rocky beach which is a lovely swimming spot. It's best to clamber down on the left, so follow the path through the greenery on the left and then turn right down a small path. The reefs here form pools and a small lagoon, making it safer to dip or swim, and there's even a small cave to swim into with a natural skylight. The easiest way to get to Winspit is walking down the path along the valley from the village of Worth Matravers. And when you walk back up you can have a well deserved pint and pasty at the Square and Compass pub. 

In Worth Matravers there are two car parks, one just up from the pub and the other through the village, through a farm and out to St Aldhelm's Head. This is the one that's best for Chapman's Pool, a secluded crescent bay with a shingle beach and just a few fishing huts. From the car park you can head diagonally across the fields and down a steep hillside to the beach, or head back to the cottages you just passed and follow the track down behind them through a lovely wooded valley. You can also walk from here to Kingston and the Scott Arms pub by following the pint of beer signpost, which you'll pass on your way to the beach. 


Famous for its fossils and colourful seaweed, Kimmeridge Bay is at the end of a private toll road (£5). Here the Wild Seas Centre (free admission) explains about the diverse life to be found in the Marine Conservation Zone, and has a small aquarium. The centre sets out a snorkel trail in the summer, so do pack goggles or a snorkel – pick a calm, sunny day for best visibility. You can see large ammonite fossils embedded in the ledges that reach out in to the sea. The bay is composed of granite and oily shales - there is a nodding donkey oil well on the cliff. The black rocks soak up the sun during the day, making it a very pleasant spot for a late swim. Back in Kimmeridge village is the impressive Etches Collection fossil museum, as well as Clavell's Restuarant, which also operates a pop-up cafe in the car park in summer.


The village of Tyneham was requisitioned during the Second World War for military training exercises, and, despite the government's promises to the villagers, was never given back. You can now wander through the lanes of what must have been an idyllic spot and, although most of the houses are now ruins, you can still visit the old school and church. It's a £2 donation for the car park, and there is sometimes a pop-up cafe here. From here you can walk down to Worbarrow Bay enjoying majestic views towards the Isle of Portland. The white pebble and shingle beach is spectacular with clear waters. To the left, on the other side of Worbarrow Tout, is another perfect sheltered swimming spot, Pondsfield Cove. There is a cave to the left that you can swim into. Both beaches are quite steeply raked so wear swim shoes to make the scramble out easier. 

Lulworth Estate

Durdle Door rock arch is an iconic swimming spot and despite its popularity is still a magical place, especially in the early morning or evening. It's half an hour away by car and the easiest place to park is Durdle Door Holiday Park. Follow the signs from Lulworth to West Lulworth; parking is £6 for four hours or £12 for all day (free after 5pm) but the ticket can be used at other car parks on the Lulworth Estate, including the cove and the castle. It's a surprisingly steep and skiddy walk down to the beach so decent shoes are a must, and do choose a calm day as there's a danger of an undertow if there are waves. Swimming in the clear blue water above white gravel, dwarfed by the ancient arch, the effect is almost like being in a giant aquarium. Our favourite time is sunrise in winter, watching the sun rise through the arch. There's another sea arch at the far end of the beach, Bat Hole, on the other side of which is the more secluded Scratchy Bottom beach. You can also walk here along the cliffs. 

To the east of Durdle Door is Man O'War Cove. Head there down the steps to the left. This shingle beach is usually quieter than Durdle Door and the water is sheltered by long offshore reefs, which make it a safer place to swim in most conditions. The angle of the cove is perfect for catching the first rays of the sun as it rises. 

You can walk up and down the steep hill to Lulworth Cove from here, to a well-earned breakfast or lunch in the Boat Shed Cafe, but it's easier to park in the cove itself (as above, it's £6 for a four-hour ticket which can be used elsewhere on the estate). Again, it's nicer to come early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the crowds, especially in summer. The cove is an almost perfect circle carved out of the rocky coastline, and its another great place to watch the sun rise in the gap in the rocky headland. There are submerged rocks on the right hand side so enter from the boat ramp or the shingle beach to the left. Floating beneath the towering white cliffs dotted with trees and sheep, you could easily believe you were in the Mediterranean. 

To the west of the cove is Stair Hole, which at high tide is like a playground for swimmers with arches and caves to swim through. It's a steep scramble down or you can kayak around. A calm day is best. 

At low tide you can walk around the cove and over the grassy headland to Mupe Bay, which is a remote and sheltered spot with excellent snorkelling. If the tide is high you can walk up over the hills from Lulworth village on the SW coast path; a steep hike that overlooks MOD land. [Update March 24, a landslip has destroyed the steps up from the beach, but you can still get to Mupe Bay via the top path.)