Dorset is a county on the south coast of England, in the West Country. Most of the county is agricultural with scattered historic villages and market towns with the Bournemouth-Poole-Christchurch conurbation in the county's south-eastern corner.
Towns and villages
Many of Dorset's towns and villages feature in Thomas Hardy's novels under fictitous names.
- 1 Dorchester – county town dating back to pre-Romans times and location of Thomas Hardy's "Casterbridge"
- 2 Blandford Forum
- 3 Bournemouth - Thomas Hardy's Sandbourne - the largest town in Dorset and a popular holiday resort
- 4 Bridport - Thomas Hardy's Port Bredy, a historic town that was built up on the rope-making trade.
- 5 Christchurch
- 6 Gillingham
- 7 Lyme Regis - Historic port and home to Mary Anning, geological pioneer who first identified Jurassic marine fossils in the local cliffs.
- 8 Poole
- 9 Shaftesbury
- 10 Sherborne
- 11 Swanage
- 12 Wareham
- 13 Weymouth – Thomas Hardy's Budmouth is the beach town that hosted the Olympic sailing in 2012. It is on the doorstep of the Jurassic Coast
- 14 Wimborne Minster – famed for its 'chained library'
- 15 Abbotsbury
- 16 Charmouth
- 17 Corfe Castle
- 18 Lulworth
- 19 Milton On Stour
- 20 Upwey
- 21 West Bay Originally known as Bridport Harbour - now a popular holiday resort.
Dorset is mostly rural, with a few large towns and many small villages. The county has a variety of landscapes, from steep chalk hills and wide clay valleys full of small dairy farms to the 50 mile Jurassic Coast world heritage site, popular with tourists and important to science. Over half the county's population live in the Bournemouth-Poole-Christchurch conurbation located in the south-eastern corner of the county.
Dorset has notable lesbian and gay activity in Bournemouth and Weymouth. Other towns have small but developing gay communities. Bournemouth has an annual Pride event.
- River Cottage — Beginning in 1999, television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall became a "Dorset downsizer", leaving the big city and aiming to become self-sufficient by growing his own vegetables and raising his own animals. Through watching him buy, sell, barter, and scavenge in suburban and rural locations all across Dorset, the series give insight into Dorset's easy-going alternative culture and economy.
Dorchester, Poole, Bournemouth, Weymouth and on a separate line Sherborne and Gillingham are connected directly to London Waterloo, taking approximately 2 to 3 hours. Dorchester, Weymouth and Sherborne are connected to Bristol and Bath, about 1½ hours away.
The A303 is the main route from London into the north of the county (and has Stonehenge half-way). The south of the county is connected to London by the M3 and M27, and to the Channel Tunnel by the M27 and A27. Both routes carry on into Devon and Cornwall. The A36 and A37 connect to Bath and Bristol.
The A35 between Dorchester and Bridport has spectacular views over the local countryside, as too does the coastal road (B3157) between Weymouth and Bridport. Both are probably most dramatic at sunset (driving towards Bridport) but are amazing at any time.
Much of Dorset is very rural, and though there are many bus routes, many do not have regular and often services, or may only run on market and pension days. The biggest bus company is called Wilts & Dorset which runs services to most of the major towns. Their main office is at Poole Bus Station, with satellite offices in some of the larger towns.
- Shaftesbury - charming town in north Dorset
- Corfe Castle ruined Norman castle in village of the same name.
- Jurassic Coast The of Dorset and East Devon, a World Heritage site
- Poole Harbour - the second largest natural harbour in the world (second only to Sydney), and the largest in Europe
- Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, Poole - A National Trust site, famous for its large population of red squirrels, and as the birthplace of the Scout Movement
- Cerne Abbas Giant, a giant figure carved into the side of a hill by removing turf to expose white chalk.
- The Isle of Portland and Portland Bill
- Wimborne Minster - a big church in a small town
- Studland Beach, near Swanage
- Bovington Tank Museum a very interesting tank museum.
- Tyneham Village - Deserted village near Corfe
- Swanage Steam Railway Swanage
- Abbotsbury Swannery - see the cygnets hatching from mid May to late June.
- Maiden Castle - the largest and most complex Iron Age hillfort in Britain
- Great Dorset Steam Fair is held at Tarrant Hinton near Blandford Forum. It's from the Thursday just before August Bank Holiday, to the holiday Monday.
- From Page to Screen[dead link] - the UK's only festival celebrating the adaptation of books to film. Annual in April.
- Melplash Agricultural Show - originated as a ploughing competition in Melplash, the show has since grown into a much wider celebration of rural industry and culture. Held in West Bay, Bridport.
- Bridport Food Festival - incorporating the Bridport Beer Festival. Annual in June.
Dorset has a number of local specialities including apple cake, cream teas and blue vinney cheese.
Perhaps the most unlikely local produce are chilli peppers; the Dorset naga variety was bred from the Bangladeshi naga morich and, averaging 1 million Scovilles, is one of the hottest chillies in the world. As well as fresh and dried peppers, local shops and markets sells chilli-based jams, relishes and condiments.
Some of the best local food comes from tea shops, cafes, fish and chip shops and pubs, Not all pubs serve food all of the time and the quality varies considerably.
If you prefer international or exotic flavours the towns of Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth will provide you with a good choice.
There are many breweries in Dorset. Hall & Woodhouse of Blandford is the largest brewing Badger Best Bitter, Tanglefoot and a variety of flavoured beers. Palmers of Bridport is the biggest brewers in the West of the County. Each of these breweries has a large number of tied pubs within the county. Other local beers often found in Dorset pubs come from Ringwood Brewery, Fullers, Marstons and Morland along with the well known international lagers.
It is possible to find locally made cider and scrumpy in some of the rural areas.
There is a vineyard at Horton north of Wimborne, but wine production in the county is low volume at best.
Dorset is typical of rural English counties in that there are lots of self-catering holiday cottages everywhere. Some of these are in towns, but most are in villages or attached to farms out in the sticks. Housing stock is varied, but many holiday lets use characterful older properties.
The main coastal resorts (Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth, Lyme Regis...) have dozens of hotels and guesthouses to suit all kinds of budgets and tastes, but these are less common inland and in smaller towns.
Campsites, especially for caravans and campervans, can be found all along the Dorset coast.