Swanage is a town torn from a picture book on the Isle of Purbeck: loveliness and vulgarity both. It is famous for fossils, Purbeck marble, a dangerous-looking small theme park, and Punch and Judy. My husband is very attached to Swanage, because it exists in a state of 1952 – in homage to this, it has a branch line with a station from The Railway Children. In the summer, on the beach, you see fat sunburnt people with handkerchiefs on their heads. I didn’t think they existed anymore: I thought they were all dead.
Some parts of Dorset have gentrified, though this doesn’t really describe what has happened to Sand-banks, the Bishop’s Avenue of the coast. That is closer to calamity, or invasion by space aliens who love concrete and glass. I can’t bear to look at Sandbanks, so I can’t say if it has good restaurants.
Lulworth Cove is as eerie as ever: you will get pub food here, near necrotic fairy cottages (all holiday lettings now, of course). Lyme cannot surpass its close-up in Persuasion, and then The French Lieutenant’s Woman: that is, I’d rather visit those Lymes than my own. But since I make an annual pilgrimage to Swanage, I want to know if fine food is possible here, and it is, due to James Warren, the owner of the Salt Pig.
Restaurateurs are optimists. It’s rare they hate people and, when they do, they get a sitcom: Fawlty Towers. The Salt Pig is a series of five restaurants (with deli and butchery) in the Purbeck Hills: at Wareham, Studland, Tyneham, Carey’s Secret Garden near Worgret – Dorset place names are special – and Swanage. Warren keeps rare Mangalitsa x Berkshire pigs and, because he is tender to them, they travel no more than eight miles to be eaten.