Having lived in the area all my life i can honestly say i've never tired of the surroundings at Durlston Castle. Although not having any particularly special feature, the place as a whole is definitely worth a visit and is a really enjoyable day out. The Castle itself is currently closed, but only temporarily whilst it's refurbished, and was a lovely place to stop for a meal or drink beforehand, so i can imagine it will be definitely worth a visit when it reopens. There isn't a lot of history to the castle, but shows a lot of Victorian features, including the Globe which shows how the countries once were, as well as astronomical features surrounding it. The countryside surroundings are lovely, and there are trails for visitors to follow, going through a range of areas, all around the country park, which is free except for the car parking, which for the amount of time you can spend here is worth it. There are planned walks or watches organised by the Country Park as well, just next to the castle, so its also worth seeing if there is anything planned before visiting. The castle sits on clifftop, so there isn't direct access to the beach there, but a little further along is the closed down mine, Tilly Whim caves, which are nearer the shore and although no longer accessible, can still be seen to a certain extent, and boards around the park give details about the features. The lighthouse is also close by, and many walks go past this and onto dancing ledge, another beauty spot on the coastline at Durlston.
Durlston castle stands on a headland above Swanage, in Dorset. If you are thinking proper castle with keep, walls, dungeon etc, think again. This is an amazingly foolish folly - I don't think anyone could realistically live in it, and it doesn't have much history. However, it does have a fair few other things going for it. If you arrive by car, you have to pay to park - last summer it was four pounds for the day, expect this to go up. After that you don't actually have to pay for anything. You can have a look at the castle, and the various attractions in its area of park for free. The Castle: Largely consists of a restaurant, a pub, and a cafe which was closed and appared to have been closed since I last went there about ten years previously. The cafe garden has a huge globe in it, which is vaguly entertaining, and has superb views out across Swanage. There are some fossils, I would not go so far as to call it a museum. Food and drinks are reasonably priced as these things go. The loos are a nightmare - you have to go down a steep flight of stairs, I saw no sign of a disabled alternative and for very young, very old or not very mobile people, the loos would be a real problem. The grounds: No formal gardens here, just glorious purbeck coastline. How much you see depends on how far you want to walk. Tilly Whim caves - not very exciting, these are old mines that are now closed to the public due to rock falls, so you can see the opening and the big iron gate. There is some information about what used to go on there, but on the whole a bit of a let down. The Lighthouse - a white lighthouse perched on the edge of the cliffs - worth seeing, again not astounding. The real attracttion is the landscape and the coast. I think at low tide you can get down to the sea - although its one of those areas you want to be careful in to avoid getting cut off. The headland affords superb views, you can watch the ferries
going in and out of Pool harbour, you can watch the sea birds, and if you are very lucky, you might get to see dolphins. For the early part of the coastal walk, there is a small wall between you and the cliff edge, which makes this a safe place to take kids. There are places to sit if you want to look for dolphins, and boards telling you what you might see and where. Basically, this is an easy walk, ideal for those who like dramatic coastline, wildflowers, and sea birds. If sitting out with binoculars and a chance to see dolphins fills you with a feeling of rapture, this is the place to go. If you were looking for armour, big walls, torture chambers and the like, then Durlston will bore you silly. Incidentally, if you don't want to pay, and you are staying in Swanage, you can walk out to the castle - takes about half an hour, affords excellent views. If you want a longer walk, you can either walk from the castle round towards Studland (which is a nudist beach in the height of summer) or walk across Swanage beach and out to Old Harry rocks on the far side - either is well worth doing and you will see some wonderful coast. On a hot summer's day, both routes are really exposed to both sun and wind, so take sunblock and plenty to drink. If you just want to wander around the site, you won't need more than an afternoon, evening allowing time for some food. (Unless you mean to sit out and watch for dolphins.) It is pleasant and if you like more sedate holiday activities, well worth doing.
The week before Easter in our local newspaper, the Bournemouth Advertiser, a featured advertisement captured our imaginations in an instant. The advert was for Durlston Castle and that there had been record sightings this month of dolphins, sometimes up to nine and including a new baby! Dolphins, of all things! I did not know that there were dolphins off the Dorset coast! And the first thing that entered my mind was 'Oh yeah - record sightings. A record maybe 'cos there was now one sighting and previously there had never been anyway at all!' Nevertheless, in spite of our scepticism, on Easter Sunday we drove out to Durlston Castle to see what we could see. Durlston Castle is an old castle (obviously) from the late 1800's situated in the Durlston Country Park just outside Swanage in Dorset. The drive itself from Bournemouth to Swanage is amazing. Once you have crossed on the ferry from Sandbanks in Poole to Studland the surroundings are really very unspoilt. And for those of you, who might enjoy such things, Studland Beach is a naturist beach. The village of Swanage is very quaint, but here I must issue a warning. Already, in this early stage in the tourist season, the village is heaving with tourists and driving through the High Street is hazardous to say the very least. Once we arrived at the castle there was a fair bit to see and do: 1. Firstly the castle itself. To my untrained eye, the Castle appeared to be in a relatively poor state of repair. The renovations that had been done looked shoddy, amateurish and cheap. I had the feeling that a lot of money needed to be spent on the place in order for it to be restored to its former glory. A bit sad really 2. A mini museum which shows some local history and fossils. It is advertised as 'mini', but really it should be described as tiny. 3. A 40 ton granite globe of the world. This is a masterpiece of Swanage eccentric
George Burt, which was built at his uncle John Mowlem's masonry works in Greenwich. This is most impressive to see, but some of the writing on the globe itself and surrounding walls has worn thin and is difficult to read. 4. Rock climbing along the Lighthouse cliffs. I can't really comment on the facilities here as I am not a climber, but to my untrained eye, the cliffs looked enough of a challenge. 5. The Tilly Whim Caves. As far as I could make out, these caves were used for the landing of goods from the sea to the land. The name Tilly Whim comes from a worker (Tilly) and a crane they used for their working (a Whim). Unfortunately these caves are closed now, due to rock falls in the 1970's, but still they provide an air of mystery and romance. 6. A bar, which had the smell of authentic wooden fires and would appear to be quite cosy on a cold winters day. We didn't stop for a drink here though I cannot comment on the overall service and quality of drink. 7. A restaurant offering a carvery. The carvery meal was OK, but I am afraid to say, nothing to write home about. I had the feeling that everything was very much unorganised and understaffed. The staff that were there, appeared to be flustered and not sure what they were supposed to do. There was a general feeling of chaos in the restaurant and I certainly didn't walk away feeling refreshed and at peace. 8. An informal self-service restaurant which was closed. A bit odd really, seeing as it was such an important tourist day? 9. Walks along the cliff coastline. I must say that this was by far the most impressive part of the afternoon. The views out to sea are spectacularly breathtaking. No, this is not an exaggeration! The path along the cliffs is very good, a doddle for any hikers, but good for a Sunday afternoon stroll for the rest of us. Take binoculars with as you can spend hours gazing down into the sea, to the driver's
boat anchored below, the circling birds, the birdlife on the actual cliff and of course for the famous dolphins. Although we spent a fair few hours on the coastline path we did not see any dolphins, but we were assured that only the day before they had been there. How awesome for the drivers if the dolphins did come out to play! We gleaned a few tips for successful dolphin watching while we were there: · The best months are December, April and May. · The best time of the day is 2 hours before high tide · A flock of circling seagulls is often an indication that the dolphins are about. Perhaps the gulls know that where the dolphins are, the food is! Because of the Foot 'n Mouth crises, there were a few paths closed and we had to walk over disinfectant mats, but there was still more than enough to keep you occupied for a entire morning or afternoon. On the whole we had a fantastically restful and peaceful day. We will definitely be back for the dolphin watching, this time following the tips above. I have rated this producted very highly, because the views are quite simply stunning, but also because it is the only place in Dorset that I know of where one can watch out for Dolphins. And one final note, if there are any dolphins out there, this is the place you will see them. You can see for miles from the cliffs. Costs Ferry fee - £2.20 per car each way Carpark at Durlston Castle - £3.00 for the whole day Carvery - £5.95 approximately