No, not Ian McEwan's novel of erotic failure, published a few years ago and reviewed by me here, marvellous though that was. Rather, an old favourite from school, J Meade Falkner's Moonfleet. This is set largely in Dorset, although it goes briefly abroad, as it must have seemed then, to the Isle of Wight and then to Amsterdam. Written in 1898, it is actually set over a century before, covering about 15 years, with the action starting when John Trenchard was a boy, growing up in a Dorset village in 1757.
He lives in Moonfleet, a village on the Fleet, the long thin brackish lake which is trapped between the land and the twenty miles of heavy shingle which is Chesil beach. He is entranced by tales of pirates and smugglers and ghosts, and these all link up in a surprising way when he is a little too impetuous in his exploring. He is drawn into smuggling, and after the accidental death of the squire is hunted as an accomplice to murder, though he is innocent enough. There is much excitement, much good clean fun and a jolly yarn, before he comes home again, pirate treasure found and ready to win the heart of his childhood sweetheart - though Falkner (there really is no "u") is very imaginative in the way he returns his hero to his beloved Dorset coast. There is much more to it than that, but I don't want to spoil the plot.
This is a novel which my father - born in 1912 - recalled fondly from school. It is well written, though with plenty of improbability, and is one of those virtuous novels in which the good in heart win out, and there are reasonbly realistic pictures of people and places, including the difficult and unhappy. It is not, some say, Falkner's best novel (The Nebuly Coat, apparently, claims that prize), but it is certainly his best known. It paints a fine picture of south coast smuggling in the 1760s, and is a lively thriller as well: you might want to try it, particularly if you are, at heart, a boy between 12 and 15!
The Fleet is still there of course, a fine bird sanctuary, and there is Moonfleet Hotel, set in this staggering and rather unlikely scenery. Even if you don't read Falkner's book - or the McEwan - you should walk the beach, on a sunny gusty day with the salt on the wind and the sun in your eyes.