My diving buddy, Sinbad, and I investigate the WW2 tank wreck, one of several that sank accidentally off the coast of Swanage during the British Army’s attempts to make tanks ‘float’ in preparation for the D-Day landings.

A giant conga eel who makes his home here eyes us from a shaded spot.

We use a 100m-long rope along the ocean surface to guide us to another tank, this one exploded into two parts.

We explore the site, moving carefully around crabs clambering on the wreck, so large they wouldn’t fit on a plate. “I love UK diving,” Sinbad exclaims back on the boat.

The sea might be cold (we’re in semi-dry suits) and silty, a very different world for diving from tropical waters, but there are so many wrecks beneath the waves off this part of England’s south coast – mostly ships as well as tanks from WW1 and WW2 – that people like Sinbad prefer UK diving to going abroad.

This is my first day on England’s Jurassic Coast. Stretching 95 miles from Old Harry’s Rocks, just outside Swanage in East Dorset, all the way to Orcombe Point, near Exmouth in East Devon, it was England’s first region to become a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The rocky landscape is a record of 185 million years of the earth’s history, a hotspot for geologists and fossil hunters, as well as adventurers who come to enjoy rugged cliffs, sea views and peaceful coastal villages.

%TNT Magazine% jurassic coast uk

Swanage, a two-hour drive from London, is a good base. The town has a bit of a reputation for being a sedate place, filled with grey-haired visitors and residents, but, increasingly, young people are swinging by for more adventurous activities.

After a midday dive, I meet Dan on Studland Beach, just outside Swanage, for an afternoon of kayaking.

We paddle out on the sheltered waters of Studland Bay to Old Harry’s Rocks, all-white stacks of chalk that erosion has separated from the cliffs, leaving them isolated out in the water.

There are two versions of how the rocks got their name; either they’re named after an old pirate who lived and ‘worked’ in this area, or it comes from an old slang term for the devil, ‘Old Harry’.

Dan leads me through archways and gaps in the rocks. “A lot of these caves were used for smuggling. Rum, tobacco …” he tells me.

It’s an easy paddle around the peninsula to a few clear-white pinnacles of rock, one particularly pointed one called Parson’s Nose or Witch’s Tit, depending on which you prefer.

As we make our way back to the beach, Dan points out the nudist beach further along the coast. “I’m always surprised that people are out – in all weathers,” he says.

%TNT Magazine% jurassic climbing

Next day, I meet up with Tommo and spend the morning abseiling and climbing on Dancing Ledge, also a popular spot for coasteering.

Tommo is right behind me as I scramble upwards and he supports me on the rope as I try more difficult climbs.

There are plenty of footholds, cracks and ledges to haul and push myself up, but, still, this craggy rockface is challenging.

“Climbing is a combination of chess and ballet,” Tommo says. “Chess is all about looking at the moves ahead and ballet has that skillfulness and gracefulness.”

Further along the coast, I meet Adam, a local walking guide. We hike to the iconic Durdle Door, an arch eroded by the ocean. “It’s the centrepiece of the Jurassic Coast,” Adam says.



%TNT Magazine% jurassic paddling

A field of buttercups and long grass, an impressive and very English sight, leads down to the famous arch and rocks, sunlight sparkling on the ocean behind it.

As we walk, Adam tells me about the wealth of fossils found in this area, including the recent discovery of a prehistoric crocodile-type creature on the Jurassic Coast that measured about 3.5m.

The shifting of plates and other geological activity over millions of years has created a landscape of rock and cliffs that seem to tip, lean and jut out of the earth in all directions.

The Jurassic Coast might be an oldie, but there’s plenty of life in it yet.

Getting there

Trains from London Waterloo to Wareham cost from about £50.20 return.

Onward buses from Wareham to Swanage can be booked with the Wilts and Dorset bus company (bus no 40)

More info

Diving packages cost £20 per person per dive I

Kayaking trips cost £30-£50 per person

Climbing and abseiling costs £40

Half-day guided hikes with Jurassic Jaunts from £50

Eat, Drink, Sleep

La Trattoria, a very friendly, cosy Italian restaurant close to Swanage’s seafront, has lots of local fish and seafood on the menu, and an experienced head chef who has worked there for 28 years. Mains from about £8.

The Fish Plaice is one of the busiest of Swanage’s many fish and chip shops for good reason. Fish and chips costs about £5.50. 

The busy Square & Compass pub in Worth Matravers is popular with locals and visiting hikers, with pies, pasties and a good selection of local ales and ciders on offer. Pints from about £3.10.

The food isn’t great at Bankes Arms Studland, but the view from the beer garden is, and it’s a good start or end point for hiking to Old Harry’s Rocks. Pints from about £3.10.

Buddies B&B specialises in accommodation and diving packages. Rooms from £50pn.

Tom’s Field is a popular local campsite. Pitches from about £7pppn.

More on the Jurassic Coast at


Photos: Graeme Green, Thinkstock

blog comments powered by Disqus