For the first time in decades, visitors to Durlston Country Park in Swanage will be able to peek inside Tilly Whim caves as part of the restoration of the Pleasure Grounds.
The Heritage Lottery funded project has transformed the overgrown and uneven woodland path leading up to Durlston, into an easier to access route with new planting, reclaimed sea views and a new children’s play trail, as well as The Shed which is a hub for inclusive activities.
The project, started in August 2018, is now nearing completion and an exhibition has just opened at the Fine Foundation Gallery at Durlston Castle detailing the history of the park.
Tilly Whim caves were a popular place to visit in the Victorian era
Tilly Whim caves opened as a tourist attraction in 1880s
The exhibition includes the story of how the Victorian benefactor, George Burt bought the land and opened the caves as a tourist attraction in the 1880s. They had to be closed to the public in 1976 because rock falls made them too dangerous.
Now the plan is to install new gates that will allow visitors to get down to the cave entrance at Tilly Whim and peer inside. It’s still too dangerous to allow people inside but it will give more access to the area, while leaving the bats and adders undisturbed.
New sea views have been opened up and there’s been lots of new planting under the woodland canopy to encourage more ecological diversity
“Still lots of good stuff to come!”
Durlston Pleasure Grounds Project leader, Ali Tuckey said:
“As we enter the final months of the project, there is still lots of good stuff to come! The access to Tilly Whim will be via a gate specially handcrafted by a blacksmith. We really hope the project will help ensure that this very unique landscape continues to get the love and attention it deserves for many more years to come.
“We started this project because we love this place and it’s been great to see so many new visitors enjoying it and inspiring to see so many new volunteers helping care for it.
“Seeing the ‘Everyone Needs a Shed!’ project grow and flourish has been especially satisfying and the improvements to accessibility mean a lot of people have been able to make use of the park for the first time.
“We particularly noticed during lockdown many people who we recognised from Swanage, using the park for the first time, and we had lots of great comments about how important it has been for people’s physical and mental health during a tough few years.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing the woodland come back to life this spring. The woodland management work and new plantings meant we had an amazing display of spring flowers last year and I think this year will be even better!
“The project is really just the beginning, so even after the end, in August this year, we hope the Pleasure Grounds will just keep on getting better!”
Before and after pictures as the improvements took shape, many during the last two years of the Covid pandemic
More historical interpretation
As well as the improved access to Tilly Whim, the team will also be installing more information about the history of the Pleasure Grounds, from a Victorian garden, to a secret wartime radar base, a 1950s visitor attraction including a menagerie of exotic animals, right up to the present day.
There will also be new play features for children and families, plus further conservation work of Victorian features including the Egyptian Bench.
The team have now rebuilt a total of 978 metres of dry stone walls and the Egyptian Bench is being restored
“An amazing team effort”
“It’s been an amazing team effort from staff, volunteers, Friends of Durlston, the local community and a great team of contractors and we are really grateful to everyone – and especially Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund – for making it possible.
“If anyone wants to help, there is always loads to do, whether joining one of our regular work parties, coming along to the shed, helping with wildlife surveys or leading events, so do get in touch if you’d like to get involved!”
The exhibition about George Burt and the history of the park is at the Fine Foundation Gallery at Durlston Castle until Wednesday 30th March 2022
- More about Durlston Country Park and how to volunteer is on its website
Old and new features