Dorset is a county in South West England that borders Devon to the west and Hampshire to the east. It is renowned for its historic gems, beautiful scenery, and lovely beaches. There is no shortage of elegant 18th-century houses and busy shopping streets in Dorchester. This is where Thomas Hardy, the famous novelist and poet, spent a significant portion of his life. In fact, he featured some of the villages and towns around him in his novels. There is also the fascinating Lyme Regis situated on the Jurassic Coast. This not only served as a setting for a film but is also home to its historic Cobb.
There are captivating castles in Dorset as well, offering a glimpse into the fascinating history of the county. The romantic Corfe Castle on the Isle of Purbeck is over 1000 years old and bursting with history and mystery. There’s also the Highcliffe Castle, a Grade I listed structure that was established sometime in the 18th century. Apart from the castles, there’s also the town of Poole which is renowned for its natural harbours and marine parks. There is so much to explore in Dorset, you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Dorchester; the county town of Dorset
Dorchester is a history rich town that is mostly associated with Thomas Hardy. It has Iron Age roots as evidenced by the nearby Maiden Castle. There is also evidence of the town’s Roman past found in the County Museum. Here, you will find Roman mosaics that accurately depict this side of the town’s history. Dorchester was the location where the deportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to Australia in 1834 took place. This was an event that was commemorated by erecting a statue in the town in 1986.
Today, Dorchester is an entrancing place to visit. Other than the Roman mosaics, the Dorset County Museum has so much more to offer. From collections of dinosaur footprints to original Thomas Hardy manuscripts. The Keep is another state of the art museum in the town. It offers an interesting perspective of the Dorset and Devon Regiments. It also offers breathtaking views of the town from the rooftop of the building. The Roman Town House is an ancient Grade I listed building in Dorchester. It is made of flint walls and beautifully preserved mosaics which you will definitely want to explore. The Maumbury Rings is another structure reminiscent of the Roman period that was used as an amphitheatre. Right now it is a public open space.
This picturesque seaside town in Dorset is known for its friendly and laid back atmosphere. Initially a small fishing village, Weymouth is currently a popular tourist destination offering multiple activities and interesting spots to explore. The sandy beach is the perfect place to take a relaxing stroll after a fun-filled day. Alternatively, you can go for a guided cycle ride or horseback riding as you admire the scenery around you. Children will love building sandcastles on the beach and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the sea.
The Weymouth Sea Life and Adventure Park is another great place to spend a relaxing day with your family. Both children and adults will enjoy the Turtle Sanctuary. Here, you can see terrapins and turtles. There is also the Fairy Penguin Island, where adorable fluffy penguins are the main attraction. You also get the opportunity to feed some of the creatures while you are in the park. You can also learn from the educative talks.
The Jurassic Skyline tower is a 53 meters tall structure. It has a passenger gondola that is able to turn a full 360 degrees. Experience breathtaking views from the tower where on a clear day, you can see as far as the Jurassic Coast.
Often referred to as an island, Portland is actually reached over a causeway from Chesil Beach. It is basically a 4.5 mile long and 1.5 miles wide tilted plate of limestone. It was heavily quarried in the past and used to construct buildings such as St. Paul’s Cathedral London and UN Headquarters, New York. From the elevated northern side of Portland, you can see across the Chesil, Portland Harbour, and Weymouth; all stunning areas in Dorset.
There are many activities that you can indulge in while you are on the island. Rock climbing on the limestone cliffs and quarries is popular with avid rock climbers. There is also angling, kayaking, snorkelling, and diving in the cool waters for those interested in water sports. The wind in Portland is also very favourable for kite-surfing.
Also worth noting are the 3 lighthouses in Portland, one of which is still functional today. The Portland Bill Lighthouse stands at a height 41 meters, distinguished by its red and white design. From the lantern room at the very top of the tower, you can see breathtaking views of the Jurassic Coast. This definitely makes climbing the 153 steps to get there worth it!
Jurassic Coast is famous for its rich heritage sites for prehistoric remains. It was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its outstanding geological features. It stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay, Dorset providing awe-inspiring scenes and views along the way. You can experience the well-preserved fossilized tracks of dinosaurs in Keates Quarry. Here you will also get to learn about the creatures that once lived and walked the region.
In the historic seaside town of Lyme Regis, enjoy a relaxing day with your family. The children can build sandcastles in Town Beach or splash around in the calm sea water. If you seek adventure, head to the Monmouth Beach to hunt for fossils and admire the beautiful layer of limestone.
Lyme Regis in West Dorset is also home to the iconic Cobb harbour which is steeped in history. Meryl Streep helped enhance the fame of The Cobb in the film “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”. Jane Austen also wrote a novel based on the harbour. Take a stroll along The Cobb for some breathtaking views along the coast as you immerse yourself in its rich history and romance.
Fans of the novelist and poet will enjoy exploring Max Gate. This is the Victorian house that he designed and resided in from around 1885 till his death in 1928. During his time there, he wrote some of his most renowned work. This includes The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure. While you are in Max Gate, you can view the hall, the drawing room, the dining room, and the garden. You can also view the room where he wrote some of his work.
Make sure to visit Hardy’s Cottage as well while you are in Dorset. It is a small, modest cob and thatch cottage where Hardy was born in 1840. The charming cottage was built by his great-grandfather, and mostly still in its original state. Only a few alterations having been made over the years. It was here that he worked on early novels Under the Greenwood Tree and Far From the Madding Crowd.
You will also enjoy walking around Dorchester picking out the buildings and places featured in some of his novels. One of them is the Corn Exchange that was featured in Far From the Madding Crowd. Not too far away, there is also the bar where one of his characters frequented.
The Yetties – Dorset Folk Group
The Yetties were one of England’s most popular folk groups. They took their name from the Dorset village of Yetminster which was their childhood home. Their obvious love of the West Country, it’s songs, stories and humour won them friends wherever they went. They turned professional in 1967.
Over the years, they recorded over 45 albums, most of which were a mixture of songs, poetry, and instrumental folk music. The Yetties also made a recording on Thomas Hardy’s fiddle and other instruments owned by the Hardy family. The group was made up of Bonny Sartin, Mac McCulloch, and Pete Shutler. They retired in 2011.
Getting to Dorset from London
Since the county of Dorset is in close proximity to London, you can easily travel there by bus, train or car. If you opt to travel by train, it should take you under 3 hours to get to Waterloo or Paddington. Depending on your location, you can use the South Western Railway, Great Western Railway, or Cross Country Trains. You can also travel by bus, which is the cheapest option. It will take you slightly over 5 hours to arrive. Driving is also a viable option, taking you 2 to 4 hours to arrive depending on traffic.
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