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A Cultural Guide to Dorset

Mark Towning

A gorgeous backdrop to many film and television productions (Broadchurch, anyone?), Dorset’s coast is a natural wonder. Discover more about the county’s natural beauty as well as its manifold ties to literature and history with our handy cultural guide.


Outdoors

Known for being a largely rural county, Dorset offers truly outstanding natural wonders. If you like the outdoors, then you’ll love the Jurassic Coast - a UNESCO world heritage site spanning 95 miles of coastline and 185 million years of history. The Jurassic Coast is also world famous for its fossils, of which there are an abundance.

Notable spots to visit along the coast include the Durdle Door, a fascinating limestone arch between St Oswald’s Bay and Man O’ War Cove. The quiet spot is a little secluded but can be reached by climbing down a series of cliffside steps. If mobility is an issue, Lulworth Cove is a little easier to reach and just as naturally beautiful.

Another sight that cannot be missed is Old Harry Rocks, a series of chalk formations on the Isle of Purbeck. Views of the coast from here are absolutely spectacular, and we suggest following one of the National Trust’s walking trails to make the most of it. In the same area, it’s worth visiting the nearby town of Swanage for its picturesque qualities. Also on the Isle of Purbeck, the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle are a must-visit for any history buff. The Corfe Castle also has a model building that will take you back in time to see how it looked in 1646.

The Jurassic Coast

The Jurassic Coast. Photo Credit: Kyle Taylor


Heritage

When it comes to heritage, Dorset has plenty to offer. The county is famously known for being the birthplace of Thomas Hardy, a poet and novelist whose many works are set in Wessex, the ancient kingdom that encompassed Dorset. You can visit Hardy’s Cottage where he was born and wrote many of his works, as well as Max Gate Thomas Hardy’s Victorian home in Dorchester, which he designed himself as a trained architect. Die-hard fans can walk the Hardy Way a long distance footpath that goes from Hardy’s birthplace to Stinsford, where his heart is buried.

Discover more of the local history at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. The museum houses many fascinating galleries, with subjects ranging from Jurassic and Ancient Dorset to archaeology, geology, wildlife and life in the Victorian era. Explore more local history and visit Badbury Rings, an Iron Age hill fort part of the Kingston Lacy estate - 8,500 acres of colourful countryside and a grand family home housing the UK’s largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts. Dorset is also home to the Cerne Abbas Giant an enormous chalk hill figure whose initial purpose and origin are shrouded in mystery.

Hardy's Cottage in full bloom.

Hardy's Cottage. Photo Credit: Tom Broster.


Family Fun

Where to begin? Between Monkey World, The Dinosaur Museum and Dorset Waterpark, there’s something for everyone! Young ones might enjoy The Teddy Bear Museum, the most adorable museum in the county. Older kids might favour The Tank Museum instead, the world’s best collection of tanks that tells “the story of armoured warfare from World War One to the present day”.

For family fun en plain air, the Abbotsbury Swannery is a truly unique experience, with the world’s only managed colony of nesting mute swans - established by Benedictine Monks in the 1040’s. If the place looks familiar, it’s because the Swannery was used as a location during the filming of Harry Potter! Brownsea Island is also a great spot to visit to witness animals in their natural habitats, and if you’re lucky you might get to see a rare (and endangered) red squirrel. If you visit Dorset in Summer, try to schedule around the Great Dorset Steam Fair, the largest outdoor event in Europe with a sea of attractions for all the family.

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