I do like to be by the seaside
If Bournemouth is the dowager queen of the Dorset coast and Lyme Regis its natural beauty then Swanage is something of plain and unpretentious Jane. But that was where we spent a couple of nights last week. Beautifully situated in its own bay, it is because of the number of nearby wrecks and the quality of sea and sea life Britain’s diving capital.
But for me it has the all forgiving charm of a pier. Britain’s architectural dinosaurs have become a recent diversion. Swanage pier by no means the most famous or grandest and is in need of £400,000 , is a little beauty. It has been closed several times but at present it affords a classic Victorian stroll and no slot machines.
But if Swanage has modest charms the nearby villages in the Purbeck Hills are deep in the virtues that make Englishmen die for their country.
Worth Maltravers (enclosure of(14C) Maltravers family)has two churches that make Simon Jenkins England’s 1000 Best Parish Churches. Thankfully the Victorians never got their hands on the small Norman St Nicholas. In the delightful,who wouldn’t want to be buried in an English, village graveyard, are the original and subtle stones for the sculptors Mary Watson and Sir Antony Caro. The latter one of the leading lights of world sculpture until his death aged 89 in 2013.
Part of the charm of the village is the fact that all the houses are built with the famous local,grey and well weathered Purbeck stone. No thatch here. The day we were there ,there was a craft fare in the village hall and the gardens were in rich bloom. We sat in a tea garden listening to the distant boom of either quarrying or Army gunnery practice.
In the next village Kingston is the church of St James. This was built by the local gentry the Eldons in 1870. Not least as a remedy for local unemployment. The architect was LC Street who not only built London’s Law Courts but All Saints Putney where Adelaide was christened.
This church is so over the top and out of context that at first you laugh. Why not another tower, go for it.Jenkins states it is “widely regarded as the most perfect recreation of early 13th century architecture.” Street strangely called it his “jolliest church”. But whatever smile it may once have created now there must be tears.
An organist was playing while we there and we were both glad to talk. The local congregation from the village of twenty houses can barely fill one pew. There are a few concerts a year which fill the building but mostly it just stands like so ,many of our beautiful churches waiting like condemned men their fate. The small congregations which support many of our rural churches are mainly aged over seventy. In twenty years, one dreads to think.
An then it was the circular coast walk around Kimmeridge( convenient track belonging to Kimmer) which gave views of the channel and the cliffs going out and of Poole harbour coming back. We had the walk to ourselves. The heart quickens with the view,the soul soars with a kestrel, the eye catches a darting hare, a pint of Palmers from Bridport beckons. Don’t tell me God isn’t English. If he isn’t, he is missing out.