The Dorset landscape has inspired many literary figures, from Thomas Hardy and John Fowles to crime novelist Minette Walters, but arguably none is more cherished in the hearts of children, parents and grandparents alike as Enid Blyton.
Blyton ignited my passion for reading the day I discovered a dusty hardback of the Magic Faraway Tree in my nan’s loft. Thirty years later, and living in the county that inspired her, I still find myself gazing to the top of tall trees looking for Moonface and Silky, scouring the shoreline for buried treasure, and ordering ginger beer in tearooms.
The writer, born in 1897, visited Dorset three times a year for over 20 years, and the coast, Poole Harbour, its islands and heathland have provided inspiration for many of her books, especially the Famous Five.
The Isle of Purbeck (which is not a real island, but a peninsula) has changed little since Blyton spent her holidays there dreaming up mysteries for Julian, Dick and Anne to solve with cousin George and dog Timmy at ‘Kirrin Cottage’ in Dorset. Her books paint a picture of an idyllic land where the characters “watch waves break into spray over rocks”, “lie on heathery beds listening to sounds of the night” and “smell the drifting scent of honeysuckle”. The villages are hundreds of years old with smugglers’ tunnels in the houses, and the countryside is a perfectly safe place for unaccompanied minors to roam (in spite of all the kidnappers on the loose), with picnics of ham rolls, hard-boiled eggs and Aunt Fanny’s gingerbread cake.
One of the best ways to experience Enid Blyton’s Dorset is a walk along the Purbeck Way from Corfe Castle to the Victorian town of Swanage, where Blyton wrote many of her stories. The footpath to the top of the ridge is steep (especially when you’re dragging a buggy as I once did!), but the views of Poole Harbour, Bournemouth and the English Channel make this ridge walk spectacular.
1. Start at Corfe
The ruins of Corfe Castle (owned by the National Trust) rise from an outcrop in a gap in the Purbeck Ridge, and can be seen for miles across Dorset. Built towards the end of the 11th century, this was once regarded as one of Britain’s most impregnable fortresses until Oliver Cromwell got his hands on it, and after a three-year siege, destroyed it in 1646.
Kirrin Castle, which appears in the Famous Five books, is believed to be based on Corfe Castle, which Blyton visited in 1941, arriving by steam train from Swanage (how you’ll end this walk). The quaint village of Corfe is where the walk begins. Starting from Sandy Hill Lane, pass under the railway and turn left over a stile. Take the footpath that climbs up to the Purbeck Ridge.
2. Poole with a view
At the top of the ridge turn right (signposted Rollington Hill) and follow the path. From here you can look down to Poole Harbour, with its eight islands, including the largest, Brownsea, which was the inspiration for Blyton’s Whispering Island.
Eventually the stone track starts to drop and ahead of you is Swanage Bay. Descend to Ulwell Road and turn right. From here you have the option to shorten the walk by continuing along the road into Swanage. However, the nicest option is to continue on the Purbeck Way by taking the footpath from the second layby on the left. Follow the signs for the obelisk.
3. Join the South West Coast Path
From the obelisk, turn right towards Ballard Point and join the South West Coast Path, which is signposted into Swanage (and continues for over 600 miles to Minehead).
4. Seaside Nostalgia
The charming coastal town of Swanage is where Enid and husband Kenneth stayed, favouring The Ship, The Grosvenor and The Grand hotels. She’d sign copies of her works at the bookshop, which is now Martin’s the Newsagent, and go swimming around the pier before supper. If you’ve time, visit the little museum on the pier for a dose of vintage seaside nostalgia, and stop at one of the many kiosks selling fish and chips, shellfish and Dorset ice-cream.
5. All Aboard
There are few walks that can end as perfectly as this – with a trip back via steam train; the same one that Enid Blyton used to take. The station is in the centre of Swanage and well signposted. When you disembark at Corfe Castle, it’s fun to imagine Julian, Dick and Anne on the same journey, wide-eyed with anticipation of the fun ahead after a tedious term at boarding school.
“I do love the beginning of the summer hols,” says Julian in Five Go Off in a Caravan. “They always seem to stretch out ahead for ages and ages.”
“They go so nice and slowly at first,” says Anne, his little sister. “Then they start to gallop.”