The Swan brook Culvert is a location I’ve grown up around and always wondered about. During my childhood, many summer days were spent building sandcastles and playing by the sea with the outfall of the culvert pouring it’s fresh water down the beach, creating beautiful patterns across the sand as it does.
The Swan brook is a small stream with a catchment area spreading across Nine Barrow Down in the North, near Corfe Castle, to the village of Kingston in the South. As it makes it’s way down the valley it follows a similar path to the Swanage Railway, converging with several tributaries before reaching Swanage at a bridge under Victoria Avenue. The brook then winds it’s way through the town before several short culverts hide it from view. The main culvert, constructed in Victorian times, runs parallel to Station Road, underneath the shops and restaurants on it’s southern side and then dumps it’s load onto Swanage beach, right beside the Mowlem Theatre. The various culvert sections were built during the 19th century using local stone and parts have been altered over the years. The recent construction of a new building on Station Road allowed passers by to look down into the brook from above.
The brook has always has the potential to flood and has done so on many occasions. Heavy rainfall during a spring tide has sunk Swanage under seven feet of water in the past when the flood water has nowhere to go. This is hard to imagine in the dry, summer months when the stream can be little more than a gentle trickle, but when it wants to, it can really go some and during heavy rains when the silty brown torrent projects it’s bowels across the slippery rocks at great velocity, you really would not want to pay a visit.
Swanage was aided by an expensive flood alleviation scheme which involved sinking several huge interceptor reservoirs, each large enough to park a double decker bus in. At the time, the council were allowing tours but theses days I do not think access is possible. The drainage culvert from these runs under Victoria Road and emerges under sea level at the end of Banjo Pier which was constructed for the purpose. Since completion in 1997 the system has had a few chances to demonstrate it’s worth, but it failed to make any difference during it’s first flood in the year 2000 after vandals damaged the sluice gates.
Entering the culvert at low tide is best, for obvious reasons. Care must be taken to avoid slipping on the wet rocks. Once under a couple of hastily constructed concrete bridges you are faced with the first portal into Swanage’s underworld, a nice stone faceted, brick lined arch with the date of 1910 carved into the keystone. Note that the other end of this arch, now underground and obstructed by the culvert’s construction, bears the very different date of 1881 (I think it was). A large, old pipe crosses the stream under here before the culvert makes a sharp turn northwards, along Station Road.
Walking the long, straight section, the culvert’s height varies and soon becomes a very low stoop. Iron girders cross the ceiling and the walk becomes a wet crawl for a good ten to fifteen metres. Once past this, the ceiling begins to rise again, eventually allowing just enough room to stand. I would say comfortably, but already my back wasn’t coping too well after a week of exploring other culverts.
Reaching the far end of Station Road after around 150 metres, the culvert makes a smooth, wide turn to the West, which could make quite an attractive shot if the ceiling was a bit higher. Here I bumped into quite a few of the brook’s inhabitants, the sea trout were beaching themselves in panic but the flatfish seemed much less bothered by my presence, which seemed wrong as they’re the ones most likely to get trodden on. This section is low and difficult to move under, but opens up after the bend allowing for a breath of fresh air while the customers of the town’s pubs roam the streets above.
After this point the brook is frequently open, with low bridges and only a couple of short culvert sections ahead. The next bridge had piping running underneath it making it difficult to pass so I decided I didn’t want to ruin my back, or get any wetter than I already was. With the sun already rising I turned back towards the outfall, leaving the rest for another day.