What's it all about?
A classic British holiday destination in the grand old tradition of postcard scenes, Dorset has it all: seaside resorts resplendent with cheerful beach huts, a cracking coast with soaring cliffs and snug coves and rolling countryside dotted with charming, thatched cottages.
If you’re dreaming of lying on a beach, Dorset won’t disappoint. There’s plenty of sandy options, from the urban delights of Bournemouth and sweet, old fashioned Swanage to rural Studland, backed by soft sand dunes and pine trees. But don’t shirk shingle because the stone beaches are stunning. The remarkable Chesil Beach is a thin shingle barrier running for 18 miles and Lulworth Cove’s perfect almost-circle is filled with turquoise water to compete with the Caribbean.
Dorset’s coast path is all killer, no filler. The highest point on the south coast, Golden Cap is 191 meters above sea level and affords sweeping views of the undulating coast. Other seaside highlights include the orange cliffs of West Bay, location of ITV drama Broadchurch; the chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks; the famous arch of Durdle Door and neighbouring crescent coves like Man O’ War beach and Mupe Bay. The isle of Portland has views of the largest tidal lagoon in Britain and at its tip is the red-striped Portland Bill Lighthouse. Inland, the Dorset Jubilee Trail is 90 miles of rolling downs, secret valleys and cute villages while the Wessex Ridgeway crosses Dorset’s rural heart, straddling a chalk ridge with stunning valley views.
National Trust-owned Brownsea Island is one of the few places in the UK where Red Squirrels scamper, its lagoon is where spoonbills scoop up snacks and sika deer can be spotted in the woods. If you’re a fan of the BBC’s Springwatch, head to Badger Watch Dorset near Buckland Newton. Owls, foxes, and bats can also be spotted from its sett-side hides.
The cobbled streets and thatched cottages dropping down Gold Hill are famous for being in a Hovis advert
Pretty Places to Explore
Dorset’s villages offer the sort of quintessential pastoral English scenes that Hollywood location scouts would die for. This is the countryside that inspired Thomas Hardy and much of it is unchanged by time, like Sydling Saint Nicholas, where rose and ivy-clad thatched cottages wind along a babbling brook. Corfe, looked over by it’s ruined castle atop a green mount is as pretty as a picture. Characterful fishing ports abound, like Lyme Regis, with its historic Cobb, a harbour wall protecting bobbing boats. Bridport Harbour is surrounded by fish and chip shops and crying gulls – chip-seeking missiles. And bustling Poole is the port of the world’s second largest natural harbour, after Sydney. Then there are the seaside resorts – Bournemouth, with its endless sandy beach, long pier and grand Victorian hotels, and Weymouth, where donkeys still walk the sandy beach backed by colourful houses. Also worth visiting are market towns like Dorchester and Blandford Forum, the most complete Georgian town in Britain.
Much of Dorset’s coastline is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast, where the crumbling cliffs are stuffed with ancient fossils holding the secrets from three geological time periods: the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous, from around 250 to 65 million years ago. At Kimmeridge Bay, the layered cliffs are like the pages of a history book, telling the story of when they were the bed of a tropical sea, rich in pre-historic life.
And another thing...
Add these quirky places to your itinerary…
The ghost village of Tyneham
Dorset’s ‘lost village’ was evacuated in 1943 for military training purposes and no one returned. Wander the derelict cottages and visit the preserved church and schoolhouse.
The Cerne Abbas Giant
This 55-metre-high chalk man is found on a verdant slope outside the historic village of Cerne Abbas and is weilding a club and sporting an impressive erection.
The Square and Compass pub
Located in Worth Matravers, this rambling old building with flagstone floors has smuggling connections.
This is a feature from Issue 4 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.