Between Swanage and the entrance to Poole Harbour is Studland, a pleasant village with an interesting Norman church. Studland is a natural resort with an expansive beach, now under the management of the National Trust.
The nearby Old Harry Rocks are an impressive coastal feature. Shell Bay, an area of clear sand, stretches towards the Sandbanks Chain Ferry, linking Studland to the Sandbanks Peninsula and is extremely popular with sunbathers.
Old Harry has witnessed a long history of shipwrecks and, at his feet, Coxswain William Brown was washed overboard and drowned from the Swanage lifeboat, William Erie II, on her maiden call in 1895. The great rock has faced the Channel gales for centuries, so it is natural that the stocky and very old church is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, but it has changed little since the Normans built it 800 years ago. The tower is squat and unfinished as the builders left it, waiting for foundations to settle. Some of its walls are reddened with lichen and the yews in the churchyard are very old. The sloping churchyard offers a wondrous view of the cliffs to Ballard Down.
On two sides of a tombstone the love story of a warrior whose name you may not find in the history books is revealed. Sgt. William Lawrence, of the 40th Regiment of Foot, saw a decade of active service mostly against the French, and lost his heart to a French woman whom he married and brought home to Studland. In 1805, he was in South America fighting Spaniards; in the Peninsular Wars he fought in most of Wellington's battles. A volunteer for the storming of Badajos, he was severely wounded but recovered to fight again at Waterloo. It was on the subsequent march to Paris that he fell in love with Clotilde Clairet at Germain-en-Laye. They settled in Studland and kept an inn and when he died 54 years after Waterloo, volunteers fired a volley over his grave.
The landings on French soil in the Second World War were rehearsed on the lovely sandy beaches of Studland. It was a training ground for invasion forces in the months before D-Day.
The lasting legacy of this activity, built by Canadian engineers in 1943, is Fort Henry, over looking Studland Bay from the sycamores of Redend Point. It is owned by the National Trust and extends along the seaward side of the grounds of the Manor House Hotel.
One of Britain's most important relics of World War Two, it is 90-feet long, with concrete walls almost three feet thick, and a recessed observation slit 80 feet in length. Behind this, on the exceedingly noisy 18th April 1944, were the field-glasses of King George VI, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower; the future President as Supreme Commander Allied Forces Western Europe.
The Agglestone, situated on the heath and 1 mile north-east, is 17 feet high and weighs about 400 tons, but how it was placed on its mound is a mystery. I would discount the local belief that it landed there when the Devil was throwing stones at Old Harry from the Isle of Wight.