Across the decades, Dorset has inspired artists, musicians, writers and film makers. And yet it has no cities or motorways. Maybe this is why Dorset has drawn so many to explore its highways and byways.

Its history is etched across breathtaking panoramic landscapes and UNESCO Natural World Heritage coastline; bosky holloways, bluebell woods and windswept heathland the inspiration for Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. This is where Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak fell in love in Far From the Madding Crowd. Mapperton House, near Bridport, the location for Bathsheba’s farm in the 2015 film.

In this ancient land you can scale one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in Europe, Maiden Castle. Explore the South Dorset Ridgeway, a ceremonial landscape as important as Stonehenge and Avebury, or follow the route of the Neolithic Dorset Cursus which runs across the chalk downland of Cranborne Chase AONB, renowned for its International Dark Sky Reserve status. Stargazing spots here include Knowlton Church, Compton Abbas and the Cerne Giant. The latter, a priapic figure brandishing a chalk club, is carved into the hillside overlooking the pretty village of Cerne Abbas.

Towns such as Sherborne with its beautiful abbey, Shaftesbury whose cobbled Gold Hill played a starring role in the 1970s Hovis Boy on a Bike advert, and Wimborne Minster with its chained library of rare books, offer fascinating treasures for the history buff.

The county town of Dorchester is home to the world-class Dorset Museum which has an extraordinary collection of art works by Dame Elisabeth Frink, created in her Woolland studio. It also showcases famous fossils finds from the Jurassic Coast such as the Weymouth Bay pliosaur.

For those who like visiting film locations, the Cobb harbour wall at Lyme Regis featured in Wonka (2023), as well as providing the setting for Louisa Musgrove’s dramatic fall in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, filmed here several times. And local fossil trailblazer Mary Anning recently had a statue erected to her on the seafront; the film Ammonite, loosely based on Anning’s story and starring Kate Winslet, was shot here in 2019.

Further along the coast, there’s the gently sloping beach of Swanage and its Pier of the Year, the sheltered natural harbour of Poole - famous for its wildlife, and Bournemouth - a buzzing seaside town with two universities. The seven miles of golden sands, stretching from the ‘platinum peninsula’ of Sandbanks to scenic Hengistbury Head, gives Bournemouth a South Beach, Miami vibe in summer. On the eastern edge of the county, Christchurch offers the tempting trio of the beach, the New Forest and the rivers Avon and Stour flowing into Christchurch Harbour.

When you have had your fill of the sights, take your tastebuds on a tour of Dorset’s impressive larder of award-winning food and drink - made, raised, landed and harvested here – including internationally renowned wines, cheeses, charcuterie, spirits and chocolate. Don’t leave the county before you have sampled a Dorset Knob spread with Dorset Blue Vinny – a gold medal winner from the World Cheese Awards!

5 Places to Visit in Dorset in 2024


The creator of the Famous Five series, Enid Blyton, spent many holidays on the Isle of Purbeck, often staying at Knoll House Hotel - renowned for its fabulous afternoon teas. Take the steam train from Swanage to Corfe Castle, said to have been the inspiration for Kirren Castle, to arrive like Blyton’s intrepid adventurers.;

Follow Thomas Hardy’s journey from the family’s thatched cottage in Higher Bockhampton, where he wrote Far from the Madding Crowd, to Max Gate the grand house he built in Dorchester, where he wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge. Dorset Museum has an entire gallery dedicated to this famous local writer and his family.;;

Located just outside Wimborne, this glorious country house and estate was once the seat of the Bankes family, after their previous home – Corfe Castle – was destroyed during the Civil War. Now owned by the National Trust, Kingston Lacy is a treasure house of extraordinary art with fabulous interiors inspired by Venetian palaces.

This award-winning sculpture park near Dorchester was recently awarded Botanic Garden Status, one of eight accredited botanic gardens in the UK. Within its 26-acres of wildlife-friendly grounds and gardens are sculptures by its owner Simon Gudgeon, as well as other artists. It hosts arts, wellbeing and food festivals as well as workshops and exhibitions.

Home to Dorset’s only colony of red squirrels, Brownsea inspired Whispering Island in the Famous Five adventures. Explore this magical island on foot, visiting the bird hides by the lagoon to marvel at the thousands of wading birds that come here to feed. Camping and glamping available. Ferries from Poole Quay.

Dorset Echo: Durdle Door on Dorset's Jurassic Coast. Photo: GJohnson2/iStock Editorial/Getty Images PlusDurdle Door on Dorset's Jurassic Coast. Photo: GJohnson2/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus

The Jurassic Coast 

Hunt for fossils or marvel at dinosaur footprints on Dorset’s UNESCO World Heritage coastline 

Dorset is the home of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Spanning 185 million years of geological history, it runs 95-miles from the Triassic red rocks of East Devon to the snowy white Cretaceous chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks at Studland Bay. Along this stretch of coastline are numerous geological marvels, such as Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, not to mention the chance of finding a fossil on the beach or walking in the footprints of real dinosaurs, ( 

Fossil Walks 
Trailblazing palaeontologist Mary Anning (1799-1847), who found the world’s first complete Plesiosaurus fossil in Lyme Regis, earned a living by selling the fossils she found on the local beach. A Blue Plaque on Lyme Regis Museum in Bridge Street marks the site of her fossil shop; the museum has an entire wing devoted to Anning and her finds. It also runs expert led Fossil Walks along the very beaches she scoured. 
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Chesil Beach 
This 18-mile-long shingle barrier beach stretches from West Bay to Portland. Wave action has sorted the pebbles from pea-sized upwards, working eastwards. Chesil Beach is the setting for the novel Moonfleet where, on starless nights, smugglers could tell where they had landed due to the size of the pebbles and the sound of the surf. 

Walking with Dinosaurs 
More than 140 million years ago, a group of Brachiosaurus were feeding on the shores of a lagoon near Swanage, when this area was covered in tropical forests and swamps. More than 100 fossilised dinosaur footprints from this gathering have been preserved in a flat layer of rock near Keates Quarry (accessed from Spyway car park). 

The Etches Collection 
The Museum of Jurassic Marine Life in Kimmeridge houses the finest single collection of Late Jurassic age fossils, all found locally in Kimmeridge Bay by Dr Steve Etches MBE. Admire toothy prehistoric predators alongside marine flora and fauna of 152-157 million years ago when the Jurassic Coast was a shallow, tropical sea teeming with life. 

Jurassic Highlights 
One of the best ways to experience the awe-inspiring geology and landscapes of the Jurassic Coast is from the sea. From this vantage point, the intricate incredible landmarks can be seen in all their World Heritage Site glory. City Cruises have sightseeing cruises along the Jurassic Coast, departing from Poole Quay and Swanage Pier. 

Dorset Echo: Great British StaycationsGreat British Staycations (Image: Newsquest)

This article appeared in the Great British Staycations magazine.

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