THOUSANDS of swashbuckling, sword-wielding visitors flocked to Swanage for the Purbeck Pirate Festival today.

Organisers expected to top last year's numbers of 18,000 as residents gathered from far and wide for reenactments, musical entertainment and even the explosion or two of a canon when the historic pier was opened to the public.

Chief executive of the Swanage Pier Trust, Ben Adeney, said it was "a real community" event.

"We're doing this hand in glove with the Rotary," he said. The Rotary also had a range of entertainment at the Prince Albert Gardens.

"We've probably seen, in this short time, as many people come through the gates as we did last year which is fantastic because we had several things in play last year that made it much more robust, like being in the school holidays," Mr Adeney added. "We also had it off the back of the carnival. This is a way of seeing how well it does on its own two feet and the response has been amazing.

"It has all been incredible."

The event aims to raise funds sorely needed to restore the historic pier which has been awarded a heritage lottery grant. The trust needs to match the funds given - somewhere in the region of £74,000-84,000 - in order to carry out essential restorative works such as replacing the 41 piles.

It is also hoped that, as part of the works, there will be a brand new visitors' centre and conservatory just after Easter next year.

Mr Adeney added: "Hopefully this will become an annual event. The entire pirate community has gathered momentum and we hope it will continue."

The event continues tomorrow.