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Touring Dorset

Thomas Hardy's cottage by Barbara Ballard Literature lovers will recognize that Dorset was the stand-in for Thomas Hardy’s Wessex country novels (along with parts of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, and Wiltshire). You can visit the thatched cottage where he grew up at Higher Bockhampton and his last home, Max Gate at Dorchester, both under the care of the National Trust. For further information on Hardy, stop at the county museum in Dorchester, which also has information on Maiden castle and local fossils.

Dorchester’s Mayor of Casterbridge house still stands, as does the half-timbered house known as Judge Jeffrey’s Lodgings. There is a 19th century town hall, a 17th century inn and houses, and the Old Shire Hall, which dates from 1797.

Swanage seafront by Barbara Ballard St Aldhelms Head (St Alban’s) is a headland near the quarry town of Swanage. From its 352 foot height there are views north to the Purbeck Hills and east to the Needles. Swanage is the harbour from which marble and stone were shipped for Westminster abbey and Lincoln, Exeter, and Salisbury cathedrals.

Dorset has one of the largest natural harbours in the world at Poole. The port has been in use since long before the 12th century. It was used by ships to carry fish to Spain and Portugal. It is now popular with both yachters and heavy good vehicles. Museums include the Guildhall in a 1761 building, Scalpen’s Court—a Tudor house, and the Waterfront on High street, which tells the story of Poole’s maritime history.

Chesil Beach by Barbara Ballard Portland is known for its white limestone quarry; a museum gives the details and the history of the island. Portland castle, on the waterfront, was one of Henry VIII’s fortifications against the French. It’s perfectly preserved. There’s a Tudor kitchen, an audio tour and a picnic ground. Chesil Beach, near Portland, has a visitor centre where geology and other natural phenomena are explored. Glass bottomed boats offer trips for peeks at the underwater world. There's even a lighthouse to climb for stunning views over the coast.

Lyme Regis cannon courtesy Suffolk cam Film buffs will recognize the port of Lyme Regis as the setting for ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’. Tours of the town are offered. The main street is lined with late Georgian houses and old inns. The museum has a collection of lace. The stone breakwater, called the Cobb, curves for 600 feet along the waterfront.

Abbotsbury Swannery by Barbara Ballard Garden visitors will want to head to the town of Abbotsbury. Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens occupy a 20-acre hollow near the sea. The micro-climate supports oleanders, tulip trees, palms, myrtles, and much more. Also outside the town is a swannery, founded more than 600 years ago by a group of monks. The swans return to the meadows each year to nest.

Kingston Maurward garden temple by Barbara Ballard Another Dorset garden worthy of a visit is Kingston Maurward Gardens. The 18th century parkland setting shows off a rose garden, herbaceous borders, formal ‘Edwardian’ garden rooms, and a national collection of penstemons and salvias. There are lakeside walks, a plant centre, and animal park.

Lulworth Cove by Barbara Ballard Outdoor enthusiasts may choose to walk the south-west coast path. Along the way they can see the Durdle Door, a natural stone arch at Lulwoth cove. Lulworth cove, a natural horseshoe shaped harbour created 10,000 years ago is a paradise for butterflies and other fauna. It is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty) and part of the heritage coast. Its interesting geologic strata provide an area for geologists to study. There’s a heritage centre with exhibitions on the history of Lulworth, clifftop walks, beach explorations, and guided boat trips.

Lul;worth Castle by Barbara Ballard At Lulworth estate are an animal farm, park, and castle. The castle is a 17th century hunting lodge restored after a 1929 fire by English Heritage. Features include a reconstructed dairy, kitchen, laundry rooms and wine cellar. The Chapel of St Mary's, in the grounds of Lulworth Castle, is considered one of Dorset’s finest pieces of architecture. Lulworth Castle House, a different building stands in the park. Inside is a collection of furniture and pictures.

Corfe Castle by Barbara Ballard Swanage Steam Railway by Barbara Ballard Medieval Corfe castle is one of Dorset’s easily identifiable landmarks. Sitting on a steep hill overlooking the attractive village of the same name, the ruins dominate the surrounding landscape. Built in William the Conqueror’s time, it guarded the passage through the Purbeck hills. King John kept Eleanor, his daughter, a prisoner here. During the civil war the castle was twice besieged. Under the charge of Lady Bankes, wife of the Lord Chief Justice of England, the castle withheld attacking Parliamentary forces until the bitter end. A museum in the village gives full details. Swanage Steam Railway runs from Swanage to Corfe Castle.

The attractive village of Milton Abbas was home to an abbey. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the village used it as a parish church, and a house was built in the grounds. In the 18th century Lord Milton built another house, knocking down the remaining abbey buildings. The staterooms have plasterwork ceilings and white marble chimneypieces. The abbey church is made up of an aisled presbytery, crossing with tower, and the transepts.

Shaftesbury's Gold Hill by Barbara Ballard The market town of Shaftesbury is famous for its Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street of 16th-18th century houses, presenting a picture postcard view. Footings of Shaftesbury Abbey, a former Benedictine abbey survive.

Sherborne Historic Buildings by Barbara Ballard Sherborne is an active market town with many buildings of interest including the Almshouse of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, the 15th Century Conduit House and The Julian, an early 16th Century house originally the hospice of St Julian of Norwich.

Sherborne church ceiling with fan vaulting by Barbara Ballard At Sherborne, the parish church was part of Sherborne Abbey before its dissolution. Built of ham hill stone, its interior is worthy of a visit to view its outstanding fan vaulting. There is also a Norman tower arch, Saxon doorway, and Lady chapel. Sherborne Boys school, founded in 1550, takes advantage of other old abbey buildings for its own use.

Antique shoppers will enjoy hunting for bargains in Sherborne’s antique dealers’ centre. Purse Candle manor and Sanford Orcas house are part of the town’s attractions. The tourist information centre puts on daily historic walks during the summer months.

Sherborne New Castle by Barbara Ballard Sherborne Old Castle gatehouse by Barbara Ballard Sherborne New Castle was built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 in the grounds of the ruined Sherborne Old Castle. It has been the home of the Wingfield Digby family since 1617. Inside are collections of art, furniture and porcelain, while outside is a lake and landscape gardening created by Lancelot Capability Brown.

17th century (altered in the 19th) Kingston Lacy is the home of the Bankes family. It was once a royal estate. Paintings and works of art are of note. The walls of the Spanish room are hung with gilded leather. The staircase is made of Carrara marble. The estate is the site of the Badbury Rings, an iron age hillfort.

Maiden Castle courtesy Steve's Ancient Sites Maiden Castle dates from an earlier time—around BC 800, but work continued until BC 60. The Neolithic hillfort’s massive earth ramparts rise 60 feet above the landscape and reach for three miles. It is considered to be the finest earthwork in Britain. Rome conquered the castle in AD 43, killing all the inhabitants.

Athlehampton Hall by Barbara Ballard Athelhampton is an early Tudor home, constructed in the 1480s of creamy limestone, It was added to by the Victorians. The great hall’s roof is of special note as is its linenfold panelling. Other attractions include Pugin and William Morris wallpaper and fabric and a collection of antique furniture and glasses.

Highcliff Castle courtesy Frank Riddle of Hampshire cam Another Dorset home of note is Highcliffe castle, built in 1830 to mimic the Romantic and Picturesque style of architecture. A visitor centre, exhibition and gift shop are located in five of the unrepaired rooms. Parnham House, at Beaminster, is a Ham stone house with furniture dating back to Elizabeth I. Note the many gables and chimneys. The house currently serves as a home for the John Makepeace furniture workshops.

Mapperton House by Barbara Ballard Mapperton Garden topiary by Barbara Ballard Mapperton House is one of Dorset’s oldest manors, having been around since the Domesday Book. Although Tudor parts remain it has been much altered since. Mapperton's Garden is a registered Grade II garden. It too dates from different periods in history. There’s a secret garden and countryside walks to enjoy.

Forde Abbey gardens by Barbara Ballard Forde Abbey’s gardens are considered one of England’s top ten. The 30 acres contain old walls, lawns, ponds, borders, statues, a kitchen garden, and trees of note. The medieval abbey belonged to the Cistercians but became a private home in 1649. Inside are the famous Mortlake tapestries, a collection of furniture, and paintings. The great hall retains its original panelled ceiling, and the grand staircase demands attention with its spectacular plaster ceiling and carved banister.

Cerne Abbas giant by Barbara Ballard The village of Cerne Abbas has old inns, 16th century houses, and a house which was once an abbey. The village church was a gift from the monks. Rebuilt of Ham stone in the 15th century, it contains a 16th century statue of the virgin and child.

The Cerne Abbas giant stands 180 feet tall and carries a 120-foot long club. No one knows for sure the date or origin of this chalk figure carved into the hillside.

Bere Regis’s 500 year old St John the Baptist church is worth a visit. Its roof is considered the finest wooded parish church roof in the county. Blanford Forum has a market place, almshouses, a stone bridge, and an 18th century town hall.

The harbour of Christchurch has a priory to discover, a castle keep, and views over the water. Nearby Moreton Church is the burial place of T.E. Lawrence. The church itself is worth a visit as is Wimborne Minster in Wimborne. Its foundations date from 1043. Another church worthy of a visit is St Martin’s in the village of Wareham.

Dorset Attractions

For opening times and full details of attractions see the Attractions section of our website.

Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens
Bullers Way, Abbotsbury
Tel. 0 1305 871 387
See photos and more information in our article at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens
Web: Abbotsbury Tourism

Abbotsbury Swannery
New Barn Road, Abbotsbury
Nr Weymouth DT3 4JG
Tel. 0 1305 871 858
Web: Abbotsbury Swannery

Athlehampton House
On the A35, 5 miles north-east of Dorchester
Tel. 0 1305 848 363
For photos and more information in our article at Athlehampton House
Web: Athelhampton House

Bennetts Water Gardens
Chickerell, on the B3157, 2 miles west of Weymouth
Tel. 0 1305 785 150
Web: Bennetts Water Gardens

Brownsea Island (NT)
Island in Poole Harbour
Tel. 0 1202 707 744

Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre
Lower Sea Lane, Charmouth, DT6 6LL
(three miles from Lyme Regis)
Tel. 0 1297 560 772
Web: Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre

Chesil Beach Centre
Portland Beach Road
Tel. 0 1305 760 579
For photos and more information see our article Portland and Chesil Beach

Clouds Hill Cottage
Wareham, Dorset
Tel. 0 1929 405 616

Corfe Castle (NT)
Corfe village
Tel. 0 1929 481 294

Corfe Common
Tel. 0 1929 480 609 (National Trust Education Office)

Dorset County Museum
High West Street, Dorchester
Tel. 0 1305 262 735
Web: Dorset County Museum

Forde Abbey (HH)
Four miles south-east of Chard, just off B3167
Tel. 0 1460 22190
Web: Forde Abbey

Gold Hill Museum
Gold Hill, Shaftesbury
Tel. 0 1747 852 157

Hardy’s Cottage
Higher Bockhampton
Tel. 0 1305 262 366
For photos and more information on Hardy see our article at Thomas Hardy’s Dorset

Highcliffe Castle
Rothesay Drive, Highcliffe, Dorset
Tel. 0 1425 278 807
Web: Highcliffe Castle

Higher Hyde Heath
Dorset Wildlife Trust
Tel. 0 1305 264 620

Kingston Lacy (NT)
Wimborne Manor village
Tel. 0 1202 883 402

Kingston Maurward Gardens
Tel. 0 1305 215 003
See photos and more details in our article at Kingston Maurward Gardens
Web: Kingston Maurward Gardens

Langton Matravers Museum
St George’s Close, Langton Matravers
Tel. 0 1929 423 168

Lulworth Castle and Castle House
Tel. 0 1929 400 352
See photos and more information in our article Lulworth Castle and Park

Lulworth Heritage Centre
Lulworth Cove
Tel. 0 1929 400 587

Lulworth Park
Parkland at Lulworth Cove near heritage coast and Durdle Door
Tel. 0 1929 400 587
See photos and more information in our article Lulworth Castle and Park
Web: Lulworth Park

Lyme Regis Philpot Museum
Bridge Street, Lyme Regis
Tel. 0 1297 443 370
Web: Lyme Regis Philpot Museum

Lyme Regis Watermill
Mill Lane, Lyme Regis
Tel. 0 1297 443 579
Web: Town Mill

Mapperton House and Garden
Located on minor road off B3163
Signed from Beaminster
Tel. 0 1308 862 645
See photos and more details in our article at Mapperton Garden and Mapperton House
Web: Mapperton House and Garden

Max Gate House
Alington Ave, Dorchester
Tel. 0 1305 262 538
For photos and more information on Hardy see our article at Thomas Hardy’s Dorset

Military Museum of Devon and Dorset
The Keep, Bridport Road, Dorchester
Tel: 0 1305 264 066

Minterne House and Gardens
Minterne Magna, Dorchester
Tel. 0 1300 341 370
Web: Minterne House and Gardens

Morden Bog National Nature Reserve
Wareham Forest, 1.5 miles from Wareham

Nothe Fort Museum
Barrack Road, Weymouth
Tel: 0 1305 766 626

Poole Museum
4 High St, Poole
Tel. 0 1202 262 600

Portland Bill Lighthouse
On the southern tip of the Isle of Portland
1.2 miles south of the village of Easton
Tel: 0 1255 245 156
For photos and more information see our articles Portland Bill Lighthouse and Portland and Chesil Beach

Portland Castle
Castletown, Isle of Portland
Tel. 0 1305 820 539

Portland Museum
217 Wakeham, Portland DT5 1HS, signposted off A354
Tel. 0 1305 821 804

Radipole Lake Nature Reserve
RSPB Visitor Centre
Swannery Car Park, Weymouth
Tel. 0 1305 778313

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
East Cliff, Bournemouth
Tel: 0 1202 451 858

Shaftesbury Abbey Museum and Garden
Park Walk, Shaftesbury
Tel. 0 1747 852 910
See photos and more information in our articles Shaftesbury and Shaftesbury Abbey

Sherborne Abbey
Abbey Close, Sherborne
Tel. 01935 812452 (parish office)
See photos and more information in our article Sherborne Abbey
Web: Sherborne Abbey

Sherborne Almshouses
Trendle St, Sherborne
Tel. 0 1935 813 245
For photos and more information see our article Sherborne Almshouse
Sherborne Museum
Church Lane, Sherborne
Tel. 0 1935 812 252
Web: Sherborne Town

Sherborne New Castle
Cheap St, Sherborne
Tel. 0 1935 813 182
For photos and more information see our article Sherborne New Castle
Web: Sherborne Castle

Sherborne Old Castle (EH)
In grounds of Sherborne Castle, Sherborne
Tel. 0 1935 812 730

St Catherine’s Chapel
.5 mile south of Abbotsbury, off B3157
Tel. NA

St Mary’s Church
St Mary’s Street, Weymouth
Tel. 0 1305 781 505
Web: St Mary’s Church

Studland Beach and Nature Reserve (NT)
On south-west coast path
Tel. 0 1929 450 259 (National Trust Purbeck Estate Office)

Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre
Swanage, on town square, off High St
Tel: 0 1929 421 427
Web: Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre

Swanage Pier
Swanage Bay
Tel. none given
Web: Swanage Pier

Swanage Steam Railway
Swanage, Corfe, Norden rail stops
Tel. 0 1929 425 800
See photos and more information in our article at Swanage Steam Railway
Web: Swanage Railway

Tank Museum
Tel: 0 1929 405 096

Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum
TUC Memorial Cottages, Tolpuddle, near Dorchester
Tel: 0 1305 848 237

Tudor House
3 Trinity Street, Weymouth
Tel: 0 1305 779 711/812 341

Wareham Quay
Tel. 0 1929 552 740 (Tourist Information Centre)

Wareham Town Museum
Town Hall, East Street, Wareham
Tel. 0 1929 553 448

Water Pumping Station
Sutton Poyntz Pumping Station, Weymouth
Tel: 0 1305 832 634 for individuals; 0 1225 526 327 for groups

Waterfront Museum
4 High Street, Poole
Tel. 0 1202 262 600

Weymouth Museum
Brewers Quay Complex, Hope Square, Weymouth
Tel. 0 1305 777 622

Dorset Tourist Information Centres

Abbotsbury Tourism Ltd, West Yard Barn,
West Street, Abbotsbury DT3 4JT
Tel. 0 1305 871 130; Fax 01305 871092

Blandford Forum
1 Greyhound Yard, Blandford Forum, DT11 7EB
Tel. 0 1258 454 770

Westover Road, Bournemouth, BH1 2BU
Tel. 0 845 051 1700

47 South Street
Bridport, DT6 3NY
Tel. 0 1308 424 901

49 High Street, Christchurch, BH23 1AS
Tel. 0 1202 471 780

11 Antelope Walk, Dorchester, DT1 1BE
Tel. 0 1305 267 992

Lyme Regis
Guildhall Cottage, Church Street
Lyme Regis, DT7 3BS
Tel. 0 1297 442 138

Enefco House, Poole Quay, Poole, BH15 1HJ
Tel. 0 1202 253 253

Tourism Officer
Tel: 0 1929 557 258

Purbeck Information & Heritage Centre
Tel: 0 1929 552 740

8 Bell Street
Shaftesbury, SP7 8AE
Tel. 0 1747 853 514

3 Tilton Court, Digby Road
Sherborne, DT9 3NL
Tel. 0 1935 815 341

The White House, Shore Road, Swanage
BH19 1LB
Tel. 0 1929 422 885

Holy Trinity Church, South Street, Wareham
BH20 4LU
Tel. 0 1929 552 740

The King's Statue, The Esplanade
Weymouth, DT4 7AN
Tel. 0 1305 785 747 (24hr Ansaphone in operation when T.I.C. unmanned)
Open: April-Oct, 9.30am-5pm, daily, Nov-March, 10am-4pm, daily; closed Dec 25, 26 and Jan 1.

Wimborne Minster
29 High Street, Wimborne Minster, BH21 1HR
Tel. 0 1202 886 116

Sherborne Town web: Sherborne Town

Photos: Photos by Barbara Ballard, except for Highcliffe Castle and Lyme Regis cannon courtesy Frank Riddle at Suffolk cam, and Maiden Castle courtesy Steve's Ancient Sites

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Some of our Dorset Articles
Athelhampton House and Garden
Sherborne Castle
Mapperton House
Enid Blyton
Sherborne Almshouse of SS John
Sherborne Abbey
Thomas Hardy’s Dorset
Shaftesbury Abbey
Riding the Swanage Steam Railway
Portland and Chesil Beach
Portland Bill Lighthouse
Lulworth Castle and Park
Hambledon Hill
Minterne Gardens and House
Other England Articles Kingston Mauward Gardens
Mapperton Garden
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens
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