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Ten amazing places to visit in Dorset, England
Thomas Hardy, Dorset author
- Thomas Hardy: the life and the landscape that inspired his novels
This article explores the life of Thomas Hardy in his home county of Dorset, with original photographs of some of the places that influenced his writing.
A map of Dorset in England
Dorset is a small rural county on the south coast of England, noted for its idyllic countryside, rolling hills and beautiful coastline. Visitors to the area may be looking for a quiet country retreat, a holiday by the seaside, or maybe just a sightseeing tour of this picturesque county. Here are my top ten suggestions for a worthwhile visit, going from east to west.
1. Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour
Poole is a large town to the east of the county with a busy port and large harbour. Within the harbour are a number of small islands, including Brownsea, which is owned by the National Trust. Boat trips run regularly to the island, and include a short tour of the harbour. The island is perfect for a day trip, and is a self contained nature reserve that is home to the county's only red squirrel population and also many seabirds. It was also once the home of Lord Baden Powell who started the boy scout movement in the last century.
2. Corfe Castle
For a bit of real English history a visit to Corfe Castle is highly recommended. The ruins stand high on a hill in the village of Corfe, near Wareham, and can be seen for several miles around. Built originally for William the Conquerer after the Norman invasion of 1066 it served as a royal fortress for nearly 600 years until it was destroyed by the Parliamentarians in 1646. It has a rich and interesting history, and the local village and surrounding area are also very pretty.
3. Durdle Door
Durdle Door is one of the most picturesque features of the Dorset coastline, and is situated near Lulworth. The "door" is a natural limestone arch that protrudes out from the cliffs into the sea. The beach is mostly shingle there, and the water is beautifully clear, so popular in the summer for swimming and snorkelling.
4. Chesil Beach
Chesil is the longest shingle beach in Europe, stretching 18 miles from Portland to Bridport in the west, and is one of Dorset's natural wonders. At the eastern end it forms part of the narrow strip of land that joins the Isle of Portland to the mainland, and is separated from the land for a few miles by the Fleet, a brackish lagoon which ends at Abbotsbury, where the world famous swannery is. The western end of Chesil lies beneath the towering sandstone cliffs at West Bay in Bridport. The whole beach is quite magnificent, and any part of it is worth a visit.
5. Maiden Castle
Maiden Castle, near the county town of Dorchester, is an Iron age hill fort - the largest of its kind in Europe. It is a large ramparted hill with a long and interesting history. There is also evidence of later Roman occupation, and Dorchester itself is an old Roman town.
As the county town Dorchester is well worth a visit. The county museum there has lots of interesting historical artifacts including some beautiful Roman mosaics, and is a good place to find out more about the county's most celebrated literary figure, Thomas Hardy.
7. The Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic coast is now officially a world heritage site, recognised for its geological importance. It includes 95 miles of coastline from Swanage in east Dorset right into east Devon. Keen walkers can walk the entire length along the south-west coast path. Geologically it spans 180 million years of history, including the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, and is rich in fossils and geological wonders.
8. Abbotsbury and the Sub-tropical Gardens
Abbotsbury is a very pretty little village, with several tourist attractions including the Swannery, the Tithe barn and the sub-tropical gardens. The gardens are nestled in a sheltered valley, where many rare and exotic trees and plants seem to flourish.
Bridport is a small market town that hosts regular farmers' markets, and a busy street market on Saturdays, selling everything from local produce to antiques and crafts. There is also a thriving arts scene, with plenty of galleries and live music to choose from. The local beach and harbour are at West Bay, which is very popular with tourists.
10. Lyme Regis
Lyme is famous for its geology, and was the home of Mary Anning, the geologist who discovered the first dinosaur bones there. It was also once the home of the novelist John Fowles, who based his book The French Lieutenant's Woman in the town. The cobb is a long wall that runs alongside of the harbour, and featured prominently in the film of the book, as well as in Jane Austen's Emma . The museum is very good there, and walks along the beaches or around the fossil shops are recommended.
For more information on Dorset, visit http://www.visit-dorset.com/