Dorset lies on the Jurassic Coast, an area of outstanding beauty and ancient rock formations.
Durdle Door, Lulworth © Rebecca Benney
Beyond this spectacular stretch of coastline is a land rich in unspoilt countryside, from the chalk downlands of Cranborne Chase to the rich dairy pastures of Blackmore Vale. Here you will find ancient hill forts guarding a land of magnificent gardens and great Abbeys. It is the third most popular county in England for overnight stays, with over two million visitors last year alone. Dorset has no cities or motorways and only a few large towns. The area is therefore mostly rural, with small market towns and villages dotting the landscape. In fact over a third of the county has been officially designated as an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It is the variety of rock formations in this region that give Dorset its unique and varied landscape. In 2001, 95 miles of the East Devon and Dorset coastline were designated a World Heritage Site, due to its wide variety of landforms and richness of fossils. Due to coastal erosion, the rock formations along the western coastline are ideal for fossil hunting. The area around Lyme Regis and Chesil Beach providing the best locations.
It was along the Dorset coastline that the English lover affair with the idyllic, brightly coloured, beach hut first began. First built by the Edwardians as simple huts either side of Bournemouth pier, in the early 20th century, they can now be found all along the south coast of Britain.
Dorchester, which has been the county town since 1305, is steeped in history, and was the inspiration for Thomas Hardy's Casterbridge. Locally quarried Portland and Purbeck stone is abundant in Dorset's old stone buildings. Old world thatched cottages are typical in this area, as are its many beautiful old manor and farmhouses, which are a reminder of its rich agricultural heritage.
'These places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood.'
Jane Austen (1815), "Persuasion"
|Dorchester - distance from London: 129 miles (207 km)|
|Devon, Hampshire, Somerset, Wiltshire|
|A35, A354, A37|
|Pilsden Pen, 909 feet (277 m)|
|Axe, Frome, Stout|
|Dorset Apple Cake - fruit cake
with apples, currants and mixed peel, sprinkled with
Blue Vinney - a crumbly blue cheese with a pleasant soft taste.
First recorded in 940 as Dorseteschire. West Saxon settlers who made their home near Roman Dorchester became known as the Dornsacre: "settlers near Dorn" (sacre or soete meaning settler or inhabitant).
Attractions & Theme Parks:
Adventure Wonderland | Farmer Palmer's Farm Park | Go Ape | Swanage Railway | Tank Museum
Castles, Museums & Heritage Sites:
Christchurch Castle | Corfe Castle | Hambledon Hill | Lulworth Castle | Maiden Castle | Portland Castle | Royal Signals Museum | Sherborne Castle | Sherborne Old Castle | Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum
Gardens & Historic Houses:
Athelhampton Hall | Clouds Hill | Compton Acres Gardens | Hardy's Cottage | Kingston Lacy | Knoll Gardens | Mapperton | Minterne Gardens | Red House Museum
Nature, Wildlife & Scenic Sites:
Abbotsbury Swannery | Bournemouth Oceanarium | Cerne Abbas Giant | Chesil Beach | Cranborne Chase | Monkey World | Purbeck Hills | Radipole Lake | Sea Life