- Hardy’s hills, coastal thrills
- Country life
- From beach to pub to cricket field
Dorset is a tale of two landscapes: the chalky downlands of Cranborne Chase and the Purbeck Hills, with their pretty villages and grand houses; and the wild, adventure-friendly Jurassic Coast, rebranded but untamed.
Uniting the two are this sunny county’s sunny disposition and approachable nature, not to mention a market renaissance that has Dorset’s bakeries, kitchens and restaurants catching up with its breweries and orchards. A single weekend down here can take you from ocean‑view hike to Bridport brasserie; from Iron Age hill fort to sailing lessons in Poole Harbour (the second largest in the world). Neither London‑on‑sea trendy, nor too remote for a quick getaway, Dorset’s resorts and countryside are favourites for natural beauty, fair weather and good old‑fashioned fun.
National Trust-owned Brownsea Island, the biggest of eight islands in Poole’s enormous natural harbour, is a Famous Five setting come to life, with no cars, no towns and no dogs allowed; instead, there are red squirrels, peacocks, pinewoods and heathland. There are great views of Studland and the Isle of Purbeck, and it’s no effort to get out and start walking, birdwatching (terns, herons, nightjars) or deer-spotting (+44 (0)1202 707744; www.nationaltrust.co.uk/brownsea).
- The number for the main taxi rank outside Bournemouth railway station is +44 (0)1202 556166. In Bridport, we recommend Beeline Taxis (+44 (0)1308 425555); in Dorchester, Pete’s Cabs (+44 (0)1305 251122).
- Tipping culture
- 10–15 per cent is the norm.
- Packing tips
- Bring a DVD of The French Lieutenant’s Woman to watch in bed: the adaptation of John Fowles’ novel was shot on location on the Cobb at Lyme Regis. Do pack beach paraphernalia: swimwear in summer; bucket and spade in spring/autumn; kite in winter.
- Recommended reads
- The aforementioned John Fowles novel; The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, all by Thomas Hardy (for ‘Casterbridge’, read Dorchester; ‘Shaston’ stands for Shaftesbury).
- Regional specialities
- Look out for Moores Dorset Knob biscuits, Dorset apple cake, Abbotsbury rock oysters from the Fleet, Dorset Blue Vinny cheese, Wolfeton cider, and local ales from Hall & Woodhouse (www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk). Lettuce soup was traditionally made to make the most of the county’s summer harvest glut, but Dorset producers are proudest of their lamb and seafood.
- Pound sterling (£).
- Time zone
- Dialling codes
- UK dialling code: +44.
- Do go/don't go
- Summer’s a shoo-in, with Dorset among the UK’s top five sunniest counties. May is wonderful for seeing the coastal-path flowers at their height. Winter can be forbidding for serious Jurassic hikes, but among the gentle beaches and resorts, the off-season coast is a treat.
Don't go home without...
… eating something from the sea at the Crab House Café in Wyke Regis (+44 (0)1305 788867), a no-frills former oyster depot that’s highly rated by professional foodies.