DORSET


D
orset is a place of many faces. Its numerous accolades of extraordinary natural beauty can be explained by the variety in its landscape – fronted by coastline and lush with hills and countryside, it is a beautiful place to experience all these environments without having to travel across counties.


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Much of Dorset’s attraction can be attributed to its natural gorgeousness as well as its renown as a place of archaeological wealth, with the Jurassic Coastline being the most famous place to view natural landmarks that document the area from the Triassic period. It's not just a pretty face.


A tinge of whimsy is added with Dorset’s long association with famous authors, namely Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, and especially the latter. Those curious of the basis for the county of Casterbridge in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ need not look further than Dorchester, Dorset. In fact, many of the characters in his writing are set up in recognizable places within Dorset, if one were curious enough to look for the echoes.


Dorset at the South of England is close to other historical counties. Visitors can take a day trip to the east and visit Hampshire, or to the north and see Somerset. The charismatic combination of beach and green vales remain more or less pristine thanks to Dorset’s small population.

 

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Points of Interest:   1. Shaftesbury  2. Sherbourne  3. Cerne Abbas  4. Dorchester  5. Lyme Regis  6. Abbotsbury  7. Weymouth  8. Isle of Portland   9. Lulworth Cove  10. Corfe Castle  11. Poole  12. Wimborne Minster  13. Bournemouth

 


Shaftesbury streetscapeShaftesbury (pop. 6,670) was founded by Anglo-Saxon nobility and rose to become a town of some importance, and was home to an abbey that was said to have held an actual relic – the body of the English king turned saint, Edward the Martyr. The abbey encasing it, Shaftesbury Abbey, was the richest Benedictine nunnery in England during the 9th century.

Shaftesbury itself is pleasantly situated – 220 meters above sea level affords opportunities for lofty views and cool weather. While English tourists might not appreciate yet more whistling winds and fog, visitors often love the effect of clouds engulfing the town while the lower-lying regions seem unaffected. The views that span out into the distance – verdant hills dotted with brown houses, valleys, lines of trees, whole villages off in the distance – are splendid and worth the trip if only for the district's photogenic nature.

Gold Hill of Shaftesbury has attained some fame after being featured in advertisements for Hovis Bread as the quintessential cobbled English pathway. Cottages line the path as it did in the advertisements, emanating an old-time charm. Shaftesbury is beautiful both looking into it and gazing out.

 UK SW England Shaftesbury Abbey ruinsShaftesbury Abbey unfortunately fell onto hard times thanks to the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VII, resulting in the wrecking of the abbey buildings. This destruction was a double loss; at that time, it had brought pilgrims from all over as a central pilgrimage site and without the abbey, the wealth of the town itself seemed to wane. The opulence of the abbey now only survives through archive illustrations and images on seals. Its original magnificent spires will have to be left to the imagination. Nevertheless, the area has been excavated and in its place is the Shaftesbury Abbey Museum and Garden where visitors can take a peek at the remnants of this once-glorious holy place. Stonework, carvings and statuary are all on display, along with a lovely old-fashioned garden filled with medicinal herbs and culinary spices.

 


UK SW England Sherborne Abbey WikipediaFirst known as‘clear stream’ (scir burne) by the Saxons, Sherborne (pop. 9,350) became the capital of Wessex. Its importance was further defined when King Ethelbert and King Ethelbald, two of King Alfred’s brothers were buried within Sherborne Abbey, a gorgeous old gothis building that changed hands between the Diocese, the Benedictine monks and finally Sir John Horsey after the Dissolution that brought the demise of so many abbeys and the riches of history they brought with them.

Sherborne Abbey fared rather better than many other abbeys in the area. Once it was bought by the unfortunately named Sir John Horsey, rather than demolishing the structure, he had it turned into a church. Its architecture reflects its glory days when it was once known as the cathedral of Dorset, with a mix of styles that hark back to the Saxon era to the Perpendicular fashion of the 1400s. There is much to admire both inside and outside, even the archways are elegantly sculpted, detailings on reredos are incredible, and the sculpture that adorns the High Altar is simply breathtaking. To venture the abbey, guided tours are available at certain times; but those who wish to without it or who wish to partake in worship are free to do so.

One of the more unusual attractions of Sherborne are its castles – the New Castle and the Old Castle. Sherborne Old Castle was built by the 12th century Bishop of Salisbury and Chancellor of England, Roger de Caen, as a defensive palace. It fell during the English Civil War, leaving only ruins of its former glory. The gatehouse still stands to welcome visitors into the maw of the once-fortress, where picnickers are welcome to lay out their feasts on the smooth green grass of the castle grounds.

The new castle, or simply Sherborne Castle, was built by none other than Sir Walter Raleigh. Riding through Sherbourne, he apparently became so besotted by the ruins of the old castle that he convinced the queen to lease the ground to him. When his attempts to modernize what little that was left of the old castle did not go well, he decided to build instead his own lodgings in the form of an elegant mansion complete with turrets and a modern brick façade. The rooms are fully furnished in rich baroque taste, with full suits of armour and coat of arms decorating the halls and walls. Visitors are encouraged to explore by themselves, with room stewards to handle queries and guidebooks with a full history and castle layout.

Sherborne town itself is full of historical buildings, providing a vivid backdrop to the larger attractions. One of the quainter buildings is and old mansion that was converted into a school – just like in the English books of old!




A small, almost tiny English village nestled in a valley of the River Cerne, Cerne Abbas (pop. 732) has a big history. Once a powerful force due to the existence of the Cerne Abbey built by Benedictine monks, all that is left of the glory days after Henry VII – that famed destroyer of Abbeys – had carried out his Dissolution was the Church of St Mary.

The church remains more or less as it was in the 15th century, but a lot of what made up the village has changed since then. Always a small village, Cerne Abbas has had its times of ups and downs. Mostly up, especially when it was known for its fantastic beer and multitudes of public houses. Although now only a few of these remain, a lot of the old charm has remained, making Cerne Abbas one of Dorset’s most beautiful tourist areas.

Drawing of Cerne Abbas Giant WikipediaThe small size of the village allows a lot to be accomplished by merely walking, and footpaths all over the village make it even easier to get from watering hole to another. A walk can even get you to the Rude Man (or the Cerne Abbas Giant), a huge figure of a sexually aroused man mysteriously carved from the chalk bedrock of the hillside. Many urban legends and quaint beliefs surround this large naked man, among them that women who wish for fertility or marriage should spend a night alone within the outlines, and couples who wished for children should take it as a lovemaking spot.

 

 

 




Grey's Bridge, Dorchester

Starting out as a Roman village with some Stone Age history, Dorchester (pop. 16,200) went on to become a bustling market town in the Middle Ages, with at least several markets a week going on. It maintained this at a consistent level, bar a few rebellions and battles with the king, and came out into the 20th century as a small but prosperous town. The fame of Thomas Hardy, who was born there and used it as a reference in his books, caused it to be forever linked to the tragic characters and the name of Casterbridge. In more modern time, Dorchester is both a tourist spot and a hub for light industries.

A good place to start an exploration of Dorchester is the County Museum. Built specifically to house artifacts and remnants of the history of the town, the museum acts as a guide through the important bits of local history – information about the Iron Age to the most famous writer it has produced, Thomas Hardy. Their collections are quite thorough, as this is no village museum merely keeping up appearances as they have specialist sections within the museum itself: from Mummies to Teddy Bears. Many of their displays are of historical and international importance, especially their archaeological, historical and fine art collections.

Dorchester city centreIf you are still interested in loading up on historical facts before taking the actual tour, another museum to drop by is The Keep Military Museum. Covering the Dorsetshire and Devonshire Regiments of the military, this museum contains artifacts, weapons, uniforms and stories brought back from the war. For something a little more exotic, drop by the Tutankhamun Exhibit where an accurate replica of the boy king’s tomb allows you to immerse yourself in the splendour of a royal Egyptian burial and maybe discover a little more about the mysterious King Tut.

Once you have loaded up on information, the next step is to take it outside. One of the more popular spots around Dorchester is the Maiden Castle with its deceptively demure name. An Iron Age hill fort that dates back to a settlement four to six thousand years ago, it was a place of defense and burial, used by each incoming civilization as the original was displaced and overrun. Its history and structures are explained on panels throughout the tour of the fort, which is accessible by car or bus and is only a couple of miles from Dorchester proper.

Not to be outdone in the Henge department, Dorchester has its own set of Neolithic era leftovers – the Maumbury Rings. Although not a collection of huge stone columns standing around, the rings are earthworks that has played roles throughout the civilisations of Dorchester; as a Neolithic settlement, a Roman amphitheatre and an artillery fort in the English Civil War. The area itself is a beautiful, verdant place and is worth the short walk there.

If you want to experience the Dorchester markets, there is a Farmer’s Market every Saturday and Wednesday is the regular market day in town. At the Dorchester Market, be prepared to buy all sorts of properly tourist things – handmade crafts, antiques and earthy county food. 

 

 



Lyme Regis

A combination historical legacy site and tourist hotspot would best describe the beaches of Lyme Regis (pop. 4,410). It has been awarded a World Heritage Site status for its lively dinosaur fossil discoveries and Jurassic formations, and is known locally as The Pearl of Dorset. The Cobb harbour has been immortalized in both Jane Austen’s Persuasion and the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

This beautiful beachfront and coastline town has remained quite clean, mostly due to its popularity and therefore need to ensure a sparkling reputation as well as its role as a scientific site that needs to be preserved. Families would enjoy the beach activities, as Lyme Regis has different events lined up for every month to please the visitors. There is also a church, St Micheal’s, as is befitting an English village and the fascinating Lyme Regis Museum, built on what was once the home of fossil finder extraordinaire Mary Anning.

Abbotsbury Swan LakeMany of Abbotsbury’s (pop. 505) buildings have not changed much in the last century – stone cottages with thatched roofs still line the paths and the gardens are still trim and well kept. The population is small for a village of this size, and it flourished under the aegis of the Abbotsbury Abbey until the 16th century thanks, of course, to Henry VIII. The Abbey was destroyed, but not before it left the legacy of the swannery and a piece of archway as a reminder. One of the nobility set up a garden in the 17th century, and from there grew the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens.

Abbotsbury has a lot to offer in one village – there is the charm of the historical cottages, the parish church of St Nicholas dating back to the 14th century, an Iron Age remnant called the Abbotsbury Castle and outdoor activities for the family.

Of the last, the Swannery, Subtropical Gardens and Children’s Farm are a triple threat that cannot be ignored. Although the swannery started out as more or less a swan farm to provide the monks with meals, today it is a tourist attraction that allows visitors a closer look at the majestic creatures who have become accustomed to human presence unlike the wild swans who are likely to peck your eye out if you look at them cross eyed. The gardens had a similarly unglamorous start in life: as the kitchen garden of the Countess of Ilchester who had taken up residence at the castle. Since then it has blossomed into a sprawling 20 acres of gorgeous plants, including their famous camellias and magnolias.

 

 


 

   

Weymouth boatsWeymouth (pop. 48,300) had its greatest age of notoriety in the 14th century, when this seaside town played the part of the docking point for the ship that carried rats from the continent – the rats that would be the carriers for one of the darkest times in English history: The Black Plague. It is said that the British population was reduced by half by the end of the terrible whirlwind that tore through the country.

In the 16th century and after though, Weymouth redeemed itself by providing men and a port for English ships against the Spanish and in the English Civil War. It was also the point of embarkation for many of the Allied forces heading towards Normandy for the consummation of D-Day.

Nowadays, Weymouth is a picture perfect seaside town, with a gorgeous esplanade gazing out toward the Weymouth Bay and well-kept beaches. The stunning coastline has proven to be more than a tourist attraction, as they are also part of the Jurassic Coast, that, while it may not start spurting tyrannosauri at any moment, still plays an important role for archaeologists.

Visitors can choose to stay at one of the many beds and breakfasts and hotels prepared for the influx of holiday tourists, or they can choose to rent Victorian cottages for that extra feeling of homeliness. A walk in any directions should bring you to lovely beach, the old restored Victorian fort, gorgeous views from the Nothe Fort, the Weymouth Harbour or a market to indulge in some local produce.

Weymouth is also the proud host of many waterborn activities. From diving to windsurfing, Weymouth is prepared to entertain you. An added incentive for the waterlovers is the fact that it will be a host for the 2012 Olympic sailing events – giving you a truly world class opportunity when you visit.

 

 


Chesil Beach pebblesThe name Portland (pop. 12,400) is one that is pretty common and each would like to lay claim to being the originator, but Portland, Dorset, beats them all hands down by force of history- it was the first 'Portland'-  as well as sheer uniqueness – it is not even really a village, but a pseudo-island. It forms the south east end of Chesil Beach, a massive limestone area nearly 5 miles long, from where the famous Portland Stone was quarried, and location of Ian McEwan's Booker Prize winning novel On Chesil Beach. The pebbles of Chesil Beach are also quite wondrous.

The so-called Isle is not a modern invention, with the famous limestone being put into use since the 16th century and evidence of Roman occupation scattered throughout the area. A lot of mining used to go on, and the crown had a vested interest in itIt is more or less a regular village, with a railway and roads that lead out to Dorset with only occasional flooding in extreme cases.
Portland Bill lighthouse
Once on Portland itself, the first thing to do is to explore the surrounding area and admire the gorgeous seascapes, coves, cliffs and harbour. You may not be in such a unique situation again – the peaceful environment of an island holiday combined with the regular workings of an English village. Hiking and rock climbing, riding and walking, and even water sports at the Portland Harbour are all activities that Portland is geographically prepared to offer.

There’s also the famous lighthouse that has directed ships away from the dangers of the Portland coastline for three hundred years. The lighthouse is open to curious visitors looking for a view.





Durdle Door, DorsetLulworth (pop. 766) is made up of several aspects, most notably the Lulworth Cove. Other attractions in the vicinity would be the Lulworth Castle and the rather awesome but less awe-inspiringly named Durdle Door (map-#1).

Lulworth is one of the most spectacular natural beach formations you will see. It is a near perfect circle of water, formed by the thick arms of the land that narrow down right at the tips to create an opening that is small in comparison to the size of the cove itself. Tourists in general love the place for its clean pebbly beaches (as long as it isn’t peak season) and isolated clear waters reminiscent of those at more exotic destinations.

The cove (map-#2) is very popular among the geology crowd – students, amateurs and professionals alike come to admire the remnants of the Jurassic coast. For those with more rigorous activities in mind, the cove offers kayaking, fishing and cycling, as well as motorboat rides onto the cove.

Durdle Door looms like the neck of some terrifying sea creature, perpetually frozen in an arc as it feeds from the depths of the blue waters. Although it is a feature of the Dorset Jurassic Coast, it is not a petrified fossil. It is in fact a massive limestone arch, and if you want to get closer to it, would require a motorboat to get close to. But it is well worth the short trip to see the giant up close.