Laura Cartledge follows in the footsteps of dinosaurs to discover more about a ‘county of contrasts’.
From the coastline to the countryside, castles to award-winning cuisine, Dorset has something for every taste and no matter what age I’ve been it’s always struck me as being magical.
The delights of going dinosaur hunting or devouring a cream tea has not faded, and while I used to visit as a young girl with my family it’s now my boyfriend and I who venture west.
Even now I discover surprises and our most recent visit saw us spend five days and four nights unearthing far more than fossils.
Our base for the week was 2 Appletree Cottage which I would describe as a home from home, but my home doesn’t greet me with a bottle of fizz or a box of luxury truffles.
From the moment we stepped through the door we knew our stay would be special.
The charming former estate worker’s cottage, believed to date back to 1866, balances character and convenience, nestled in Sixpenny Handley – a village so delightfully quaint it has its own waistcoat festival.
With countryside rolling in all directions you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, yet it is just a short drive from Shaftesbury, Salisbury and Blandford Forum making it the perfect base for exploring what the county has to offer…
Starting with the familiar, and the furthest away, our first stops are Lyme Regis and Charmouth.
The drive takes under three hours from my home near Chichester, with Salisbury offering the perfect place to stretch our legs and stare at the cathedral on-route.
Lyme Regis is famous for a range of reasons, not only is the ancient town mentioned in the Domesday Book, it also had a starring role in the film version of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion and John Fowles’ classic tale The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
The Cobb – the curved harbour wall – is arguably the town’s most iconic feature. A wander along it, with the waves splashing on each side, makes it easy to see why.
As we settle on a bench, eating a rhubarb pasty from the nearby bakery, watching the fishermen at work as their boats bob up and down it is easy to see why the area’s unique appeal has seen it named as the Pearl of the Dorset coast.
Charmouth, with its rugged cliffs and shingle beach, is a different sort of gem.
While our fossil hunting mission may have been fruitless you can’t help but be impressed with the nature here.
Today boasted everything a good day should – namely a castle, a steam train and fish and chips on the seafront.
Even the sunshine came out to celebrate as we roamed the majestic ruins of Corfe Castle and took in the views.
Balanced on its hilltop vantage point, a spot it has occupied since the 11th century, there is still a regal feel as it crowns the medieval village of the same name.
If there were a few more walls, and windows, I would quite happily have moved in.
Thankfully, for my partner at least, the sight of the steam train below was enough to stop my plans for a siege.
The preserved Swanage Railway, rebuilt and run by volunteers, boasts one of the most mesmerising routes running the six miles from Norden to Swanage.
A ‘freedom of the line’ ticket offers unlimited travel all day, and as the steam billowed above us the horn bellowed and it chugged into action I knew it was going to take quite something to shift me from my seat.
This is where the fish and chips came in, along with a wander around Swanage’s shops and an ice-cream on the prom.
Putting our rainy day plan into action saw us tick off a few places on our ‘to see’ list.
Midweek brings the market to Dorchester so we began the day there. It draws shoppers from far and wide so I would definitely recommend the nearby park and ride.
At £1 per car it leaves plenty to spend on more important things – like the stall holder’s abundance of fresh produce and baked treats.
Dorchester itself is not short of shopping opportunities, but for us the real attraction was the wealth of architecture.
The Town Pump is a central point, found next to the Corn Exchange and the impressive clock tower. Here you can find details of four walks which allow the culturally curious to discover more about the town’s past.
With the clouds looming overhead we didn’t risk it and instead headed for Sherborne, regarded as ‘one of the most beautiful towns in England’.
Clues to why it has got this reputation can be found around every corner. There aren’t many places I know that can claim two castles, an abbey and a reputation for art and antiques.
A quick call into Sturminster Newton Mill on the way back rounded off the day perfectly.
We didn’t just go to Weymouth because of the mouth-watering reviews of the Dorset Burger Company, but if we had it wouldn’t
have been a wasted journey.
Lucky for us the sheltered bay offered more than a hearty meal.
The beach was flanked by fine Georgian buildings, while a walk around the harbour saw us come to the quirky Brewers Quay.
An ‘antique and collectables emporium’ comes close to describing it, but it is so much more. Filled with furniture, an art gallery, auction house, retro and vintage wares, crafts and even a café we happily wiled away hours inside.
For an alternative view of the harbour a trip to Nothe Fort is a must, with its labyrinth of underground passageways, armoury displays and cinema screens the Victorian structure also brings the past to life.
Heading home was no reason to stop exploring.
Shaftsbury, which had its ‘gold hill’ immortalised in a Hovis advert, was the perfect location for our final morning.
The top of the hill not only boasts a brilliant little museum but a café with a view – which was all the excuse we needed to take our time over our first and only cream tea of the holiday.
Swans Yard, just down the high street, also offered lots to savour with a gallery, larder and fashion shops.
Back on the road and just over the border in Wiltshire we made for Old Wardour Castle.
Once one of the most ‘daring and innovative homes in Britain’ the lakeside ruins were the ideal place to look back on a wonderful week.
Charmouth, hosts fossil finding walk and events, visit www.charmouth.org
Corfe Castle, owned by National Trust, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/corfe-castle
Swanage Railway, for ticket prices, times and events, visit www.swanagerailway.co.uk
Sturminster Newton Mill, for opening times and admission costs, visit www.sturminsternewton-museum.co.uk
Dorset Burger Company, for the menu and more, visit www.thedorsetburgercompany.co.uk
Brewers Quay Emporium, Weymouth www.love-weymouth.co.uk
Nothe Fort, Weymouth, call 01305 766626 or visit www.nothefort.org.uk
Old Wardour Castle, owned by English Heritage, www.english-heritage.org.uk
Laura stayed at 2 Appletree Cottage which can be booked with Blue Chip Holidays from £227 for three nights and from £309 for a week. The cottage sleeps three, has parking, a fully equipped kitchen and a five star grading. For more information call 0844 7044987 or visit www.bluechipholidays.co.uk
Photos by Laura Cartledge and courtesy of www.visit-dorset.com
September 11, 2014 Travel and Lifestyle