After Covid-19 has passed getting away and finding things to do in Dorset will be a top priority for many. Here are some ideas for when you safely can.
Once the ‘Pines Express’ brought holiday makers to the seaside town. And still today the area is punctuated with swathes of pine trees that are said to improve health. Once a small fishing community that grew. Rather like the trees did into what is now the busiest seaside resort on Britain’s South Coast. With 7 miles of beach running from the edge of Sandbanks to past Boscombe and almost into Christchurch.
The pier at Bournemouth is the centre point along the seafront. Where the theatre there still hosts seaside shows and performances. The steep cliffs that back onto the beach have been punctuated with two funicular rides on both sides of the pier which make for an easy way to access the sea from the clifftop. Zig Zag paths in places too!
Many newer hotels have been added to the numerous number that have been in the town for decades. The town offers a range of excellent entertainment with venues such as ‘The BIC’ The Bournemouth International Centre and Pavilion theatre.
Bournemouth Offers Those LBGT Options
Plus, a whole range of nightclubs for the dancers and clubbers. It has many LBGT venues too. The BIC is a leading venue for UK national conferences as well as hosting top international performers to its stage.
In terms of museums the ‘The Russell Coates’ has to be the most famous. Bournemouth Natural Science Society is tucked away at 39a Christchurch Road, Boscombe covering the natural sciences in its own way. Or explore under the sea at the Oceanarium. Bournemouth Aviation Museum offers a very hands on experience at their facility next to Bournemouth Airport.
The main shopping streets and cinemas can be accessed through the well-kept and trimmed gardens that run down to the pier approach.
The gently running clear stream runs through to the sea and can be very cooling in the summer heat there. Squirrels darting around in the bushes and trees are fun to watch there too.
A delightful Georgian and Regency Town has grown up behind the large sweeping sandy bay. That today helps to draw in masses of tourists who love the fine sandy beach for that typical beach holiday. This has been popular for families of all ages since George III took to making sea bathing a great outside and healthy pursuit.
The flat and level streets behind the beach make it perfect for the older or infirm visitor. An extensive harbour and backwater now house as well as working fishing boats, large motor and sailing yachts that have to get to the sea through the lifting bridge that halts the road traffic every few hours through-out the year.
With many seafood restaurants to be found dotted around the harbour this has to be one of the best places to sample to fruits of the sea. A stunning Sea Food festival is held in July and is the largest in the UK.
During the year the town lays on a series of events from a Veterans festival weekend in early June. Here the Veterans parade and there are a number of displays of military vehicles from the 2nd World War. Car shows and motor cycle rallies as well as the town’s Pavilion theatre which hosts a whole programme of stage shows and concerts throughout the year.
Also a folk festival that brings in dozens of folk dancers and musicians from all over the UK.
Things To Do Like Beach Volleyball?
And for those fitness folk, then the Weymouth Beach Volleyball Classic is a top UK event. Which brings top international players to the town. With Iron Man and triathlon events are all part of the calendar too. Fish are also on the visitor menu with the Sea Life Park pulling in visitors all year.
With the curving bay views over to Lulworth Cove and the eastern area of the Jurassic coast make for a more interesting outlook than just about any of the other Dorset beaches. For me this town and area around are the real English Riviera!
Known to the Romans as the ‘Isles of Slingers’. As they were attacked by stone throwing residents who fought the Romans who dared to raid them. Portland today lies at the centre of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. The Royal Manor of Portland does seem to have an independent outlook. Probably because it could almost be an island apart from Chesil Beach linking it to the mainland.
Sticking out several miles into the English Channel it is the home of Portland Stone. The stone that built much of London. An elongated diamond shape when seen from above has been touched by Henry VIII and also played a huge part in the D Day invasion of France in 1944. Tens of thousands of US troops left from Portland Harbour.
The island’s most popular visitor place has to be Portland Bill where not just one light house stands, but three! The view point, visitor centre and café are busy nearly the whole year around. Summer for relaxing in the grassed areas and in Winter a perfect place to admire the power of the sea as huge rollers wash in sending spectacular waves crashing over the rocky outcrops.
D Day Museum Dedicated To That War Period
A museum dedicated to the US and British servicemen and women who took part in D Day are remembered at the Castletown D Day Centre. A full of ‘hands on’ experience is allowed on many on the items on display. There is the possibility of obtaining a longer stay on Portland. As there are two prisons on the island.
Should you misbehave! Extending 18 miles to the west Chesil beach a giant pebble beach linked to the Isle of Portland. Where at the Portland end the pebbles are the size of potatoes and at the far end near West Bay they are the size of peas! There are a number of castles to be found as well as the one built by the Tudor monarch. Stone carvings and other art is on display outside at Tout Quarry with work by Anthony Gormley there too.
Poole sits beside the second largest natural harbour in the world. An extensive playground for many different sailing and water sports.
The island of Brownsea is a National Trust property in the middle of the harbour is where the Scouting movement was started by Lord Baden Powell in the early 20th century.
Brownsea Island is also famed for its Red Squirrels.
At mouth of the harbour is the Sandbanks peninsula where many exclusive properties are located. Probably the most expensive area of real estate in the UK apart from in central London.
Also located there is a motor and pedestrian ferry which carries vehicles and cyclists back and forward to places like Studland, Swanage, Wareham and Corfe Castle.
The town still has a number of Georgian buildings and the medieval Scalpens Court .
A Jurassic Coast Jaunt From Poole Harbour
Shops, bars and pubs on the quay are a popular with visitors that prefer more land-based activities.
Home of the RNLI the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Sunseeker luxury super yacht boat builders. Poole is famous for its pottery too. Carters tiles were produced in the town as well as more classic style art pottery produced by the Poole Pottery who still have an outlet shop again in the Quay area. The pottery is much collected.
The main area for shopping is linked from the old town area to The Dolphin centre where the major shops and outlets can be found. The town has the main London to Weymouth railway line that cuts through so you may have to wait at the crossing at times in the High Street on the way there.
The county town Dorchester was once the Roman town of Durnovaria. Dig a hole in the town and you are likely to hit some Romano remains. Behind the main offices for the County Council are the part-preserved remains of a building from that period.
The town was on the Trafalgar route and the Kings Arms was a stopping off point for a horse change for the Royal Navy Officer Lt John Lapenotiere that carried the news of Nelson’s death at the battle from Falmouth to London in 37 hours!
Dorchester was the home town of Dorset author Thomas Hardy who lived, worked and died here.
He Lived at Max Gate at Alington which is open to the public. Although, his cremated body minus his heart is buried in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey. His heart is buried at Stinsford Church near to where he was born. His former birthplace of Stinsford is now a National Trust property a mile east of the town.
The Dorset County Museum currently undergoing refurbishment offers a great insight into the County.
Dorchester With History From Iron Age Building To 20th Century Building
It was at this court that the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to be transported to Australia for setting up what was the very first Trade Union in the world! There is a colourful annual rally held at Tolpuddle each year. There is a museum in the village dedicated to the six men.
The former brewery site is now a shopping and restaurant area and is opposite the market which on a Wednesday is thronging with stalls and people.
The Hangman’s Cottage at Northernhay again located behind council offices is a good place to start a walk along the River Frome back to the east side of the town.
At Poundbury You Could Bump Into Prince Charles
Located to the west of the town is Poundbury. This is Prince Charles architectural project that has been underway for over 20 years.
It is an experimental urban housing site. With integrated businesses, offices, shops and school all in this one area.
A place to live and work. All within walking distance. Certainly, well worth an exploratory visit for anyone with an interest in architecture. And you never know when touring Poundbury that you may just run into the Prince. As he is a very regular visitor.
Made famous in The French Lieutenants Woman film. The Cobb breakwater is very much an important part and draw for tourists visiting this small seaside town. Author John Fowles lived in the town. A walk on The Cobb is a must do in Lyme!
The tiny fishing harbour and part sandy beach is a very attractive and relaxing place to visit in the far west of the county.
Behind the seafront narrow streets and colourful houses and cottages line them. These are charming to walk around.
Why Not Visit The Mill By The Stream
A working watermill is located there ‘the Town Mill’ and offers an interesting insight into its history and where you can also purchase freshly ground flours. As a gift or to cook with yourself if self-catering on your visit in the county.
This is ‘Fossil Town’. Being the home of the first known woman and leading palaeontologist Mary Anning. There are many shops selling what was part of the Jurassic coast. Samples of life from 50 million years ago harvested from nearby cliffs after being washed out of them by the action of the sea. Monmouth Beach to the west of the town and Charmouth further along still are the top places for collecting.
But be warned the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast can be very dangerous and subject to fall or slide without any warning.
Talking of danger how about entering the annual Stinging Nettle Eating competition at the nearby Bottle Inn at Marshwood. An eccentric and yet typical mad British thing to do whilst in the county!
The bay in which the town of Swanage resides makes this another great place to visit on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. The town is blessed with a preserved steam railway that now operates from there. It can even join to the main line at the nearby medieval walled town of Wareham.
Swanage has a warm feel and its cosy curving beach has been popular back to the days when the very first steam trains operated to the resort back in Victorian times.
Fairly typical shopping streets run away in two directions from the seafront. These offer a more traditional seaside type of fare. However, there are also some quirky shops and an excellent chocolate emporium to check out there too.
The town’s pier offers a nice vista back to the town and a place where you can catch a boat or fishing trip from. There is a café and museum on this 19th century pier.
Alongside there is an entrance to the Prince Albert Gardens and a place to start a walk in an easterly direction to Peverel Point.
Things to Do Like Walking Part Of The South West Coast Footpath.
Or another walk due south will take you to Durleston Country Park and National Nature Reserve. This expansive clifftop reserve has a visitors centre and even and astronomy centre.
A walk along to Anvil Point lighthouse is well worth it. Which is on the route of the South West Coast Path. From here head west to places like Kimmeridge and Lulworth Cove.
Swanage Railway has been under construction since the early 1980’s where it was brought back to life after being shut during the ‘Beeching cuts’ back in the 1960’s by dedicated group of rail enthusiasts. The facility runs many historical steam and diesel-powered excursions nearly throughout much of the year.
The line passes close to the village of Corfe Castle offering great views of the hilltop castle.
A Saxon hilltop town in the north of the county was once a place where gold coins of the realm were struck. Also, the place holding the remains of St Edward The Martyr who was killed at Corfe Castle. The former Benedictine Monastery was a key producer of coinage for the country.
Shaftesbury Abbey Museum holds the relics and the remains of the foundations of the abbey are part of the exterior and provide a pleasant area to walk around.
Saxon Hilltop Town That Is a Must to Visit
In recent history Shaftesbury was brought to notice when Ridley Scott produced a ‘Hovis Bread’ advert for television. Making Gold Hill, Shaftesbury one of the most famous streets within the UK. The steep cobbled hill lined with thatched and stone cottages is one of the most photographed places in the UK.
Shaftesbury has again more recently tried to raise its profile by planting thousands of snow drops around the town and every February there are carpets of the white flowers all over.
There is a fine museum to be found near to the top of Gold Hill and also a very popular café where you can enjoy a refreshing drink and snack with a perfect view of the iconic hill. Staying perhaps at the Grosvenor Arms Hotel in the town, a short walk from Gold Hill.
Another north Dorset town Sherborne has connections back to Queen Elizabeth and her once favoured explorer Sir Walter Raleigh who lived just on the edge of the town. Sherborne Castle was his home and in those grounds is another castle or rather now the remains of Old Sherborne Castle from medieval times. His own castle built in the 16th century was a more lavish affair full of fine art and furnishings with a very large garden and a giant serpentine lake. He lost favour with the monarch and his head too!
Sherborne School a leading private school in the town has had many famous pupils in its time. World War II ‘Enigma’ code breaker Alan Turing, actor Hugh Bonneville of TV’s Downton Abbey fame. Plus, four-minute mile record breaker runner Christopher Chatterway and recent deceased writer John le Carre (David Cornwell) were all once pupils too.
The golden coloured stone abbey sits at the centre of the town. It is said that King Alfred the Great went to school in the town. However, his brothers King Ethelbald and King Ethelbert were buried there 860 AD and 865 AD.
Sherborne Is Very Reachable By Rail
A busy market town with an affluent feel there are many places to dine and drink. Several quality hotels are to be found in the main centre too. Part of the rural area of the Blackmore Vale its annual ‘Pack Monday Fair’ has been held in the streets for centuries. With a direct rail link to London the town is very reachable from there for visitors.
Head 12 miles south from the town to the village Cerne Abbas to take in the sight of the huge figure carved in the chalk hillside on the edge of the village.
Blandford Forum is its proper name. Another market town this one also based in the north of Dorset. Lying on the River Stour. Which was a key crossing point of the north to south flowing river that reaches the sea at Christchurch.
The town has been associated with the Army, Royal Navy and Airforce in its time. But more recently the the Royal Signals Regiment has had an important communications training base on the edge of the town. From a tourism point of view there is a very interesting museum located there. However, as its inside an active Army camp photo identification for each adult is required to gain entrance.
A Georgian Gem Of A Town
Much of the town centre is Georgian. After earlier in 18th century fires decimated much of the town. It was largely rebuilt and is a near perfect example of Georgian architecture. Many town centre buildings date from that period and were designed by the Bastard brothers. Noted architects of that time. You can also catch up with the fashions of that time at Blandford Fashion Museum. To be found at Lime Tree House, The Plocks. And even take tea there too.
The Hall and Woodhouse brewery produces top beers like Badger beer so a place to stop off and purchase a taste of Dorset.
Located near to the town is the site of the largest steam fair. The annual Great Dorset Steam Fair is the World’s largest such heritage and cultural gathering. With over 2,000 exhibits including hundreds of working steam engines. The huge colourful festival celebrates how people lived, worked and played in bygone times in the years of steam.
Another steam related visitor attraction is to be found at Shillingstone where the North Dorset Railway are bringing back the former Somerset and Dorset Railway station back to life.
The countryside around the town has many ancient monuments such as Badbury Rings, Hod Hill Iron Age Fort and Hambledon Hill, which is also another hill fort. Hambledon is one of the best-preserved Iron Age hill forts in The UK. Acknowledged as one of the best-preserved Neolithic landscapes in Europe.
BRIDPORT AND WEST BAY
Small but often very busy this town has a thriving market and arty community. Which brings the town to life throughout the year. Running events like the ‘hat festival’ which has the whole town turning out in a riot of head gear for the day. Saturdays are busy most of the year with a market along three main streets in the town. Where you can buy exotic-food items or locally produced home cooked items and organic fruit and veg. Or pick up an antique chair or lamp as the traders seem to sell it all!
Stomping Dave Entertaining On Market Day
You may also get some local music and even a dance. With the likes of characters like ‘Stomping Dave’ who flat foot taps out rhythms on a board whilst playing the fiddle.
There are many independent shops in the town. Yet one shop that has been trading as family butchers for over 500 years! Balstons started trading when Henry VIII was ruling.
The seaside and harbour part of the town is West Bay. Made famous as ‘Broadchurch’ the town saw a series of murders solved in the ITV crime drama series of that name. Here are to be found those iconic cliffs used in the publicity shots and filming. However, another safety warning here. As these cliffs are unstable and since the series has aired, there have been over 10 cliff falls!
The harbour at West Bay is often full of colourful fishing boats. It’s very busy with the pea sized pebbles making up a beach under the cliffs. Running naked into the sea actor Leonard Rossiter as Reggie Perrin was filmed plunging into the water. For the 1970’s comedy series, The Fall and Rise of Reggie Perrin.
The Highest Point On UK’s South Coast
Numerous colourful painted food stalls are a feature of the harbourside. A perfect place for those seaside fish and chips! Being a still a section of the South West Coast Path it is also an ideal place to stop off and replenish. That is, before assaulting ‘Golden Cap’ to the West.
That is, before assaulting ‘Golden Cap’ to the West. The highest point along the whole of the South coast of England.
Colmer’s Hill on the western edge of the town is certainly an eye-catching feature too .