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Down my way: Big Country’s journey in Purbeck

30 years on, Nick Swann retraces the route of an iconic 1983 music video

The Swanage to Norden railway was a trackless pipedream in 1983 when the In a Big Country video was recorded

The video to ‘In a Big Country’ by Big Country was shot, not in Scotland as some might think, but in Dorset, back in 1983. I thought it might be interesting to compare the locations then and now… all I had to do was find out where they all were.
The castle ruin that features at the beginning of the video is, of course, Corfe Castle. The quad bikes were filmed going past the castle along a disused railway line. Back in 1983, the lines had all been ripped up and the station where the late, great Stuart Adamson (the original lead singer of Big Country) opens a mysterious black box was derelict.


In contrast to many changes over time, where things that once stood have now been replaced or demolished, the Corfe Castle railway station and the six-mile section of railway line between Norden and Swanage have now been fully restored and look just as they would have done in their heyday, thanks to the Swanage Railway company. In the video, the band rode quad bikes along the old railway line route towards Swanage, which provided me with clues as to where the location of the other shots might be. I realised that the cliff shots at the end of the video were filmed at Old Harry Rocks at nearby Studland.
Driving on the back road from Corfe Castle to Swanage, I followed the railway line as closely as possible, looking for the thatched white cottage at the start of the video and also the barn that was on fire in the video.


Amazingly, I found the latter just by chance, not far from Swanage. I knew the Holy Grail would be to find the thatched cottage which appears at the start of the video, but after circumnavigating Corfe Castle and nearby villages, looking for anything that looked remotely like it, it seemed this might be one place I’d be unable to find.
I headed for Swanage and the pier, where I knew some of the filming took place. The building from which the band emerge with their wet suits on has now gone, but the pier is still home to diving enthusiasts. The big white hotel in one of the shots has since been demolished, but not, as one might expect, been replaced by housing, but instead with an area of parkland. The original pillars to the hotel, however, remain. As with the railway line, this area of Swanage has improved too. The view east from the pier towards Studland is unchanged. Next stop was Studland and Old Harry Rocks. It’s a mile’s walk to get to the rocks from the nearest car park and once there, I knew it was the place.

The final piece of the jigsaw was finding the little isolated village which had been so hard to find...

Apart from the thatched cottage, which I was beginning to think might have been knocked down, or just be somewhere else altogether, the other shot that was hard to track down was the view the girl sees through her binoculars at the start of the video. I’d found a place on the edge of Studland that looked remarkably similar – a kind of tiny village all on its own on the hillside, but I couldn’t identify the road in the centre or the building with the three concrete pillars that can be clearly made out in the video. Things had, I thought, changed dramatically in the near three decades since then and that these features would no longer be recognisable. Late afternoon, I decided to head for home and, as I glanced left on a bend in the road I caught a glimpse of a thatched cottage through a gateway. Was this the place? The windows were different – no longer leaded with black frames and the porch was not open like in the video but boxed-in, but the white S–shaped wall tie above the window was there. What clinched it was that the view from the cottage was similar to that in the video.

...The tell-tale concrete pillars of one of the houses made it unmistakable, despite not having the zooming power of the original videographer's lens

I headed back to Studland and I looked right and saw the building with the three pillars in the distance! It was the little village on the hillside that I had been looking at (the Glebeland estate), but I’d previously been doing so from the wrong angle.
• Big Country are Bruce Watson, Jamie Watson, Mike Peters, Derek Forbes and Mark Brzezicki. They are playing three dates of their Land’s End to John O’Groats tour in the South West in October; for details visit www.bigcountry.co.uk

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