Wanderer at Large: Hampshire & Dorset – A Dorset Drive

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area south-west of London that includes the counties of Hampshire and Dorset.

Thomas Hardy’s Cottage, Bockhampton

A Dorset Drive

There so much to see and do if you get a day to spend in Dorset. However, you really do need a car, as the best places are spread over a large area.

There’s plenty of picturesque villages, but probably the most renowned is Shaftesbury, once home to England’s largest monastery founded by King Alfred in 888. Gold Hill is the setting of one of the most famous British television commercials, the one with the kid freewheeling downhill on a bicycle to advertise Hovis bread.

There are many historic homes to visit, too. The best include:

  • Clouds Hill: the home of the Lawrence of Arabia, that fascinating character who emerged from the WWI Middle East campaign.
  • Thomas Hardy’s cottage: home of the great Wessex writer at Bockhampton.
  • Athelhampton: a superb medieval hall built in 1485, restored with a neo-gothic interior décor inspired by the Houses of Parliament and award-winning gardens bordered by the fantastically named River Piddle nearby.
  • Kingston Lacy: an Italianate mansion and relic of the Grand Tour (see more here).

But it’s outdoors where Dorset’s sun really shines. There’s Corfe Castle, a romantic ruin high on the cliff tops, with the dramatic beauty spot of Lulworth Cove nearby. Both featured as backdrops in the classic Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks. There’s the Cerne Abbas Giant: a mysterious 180ft tall hillside chalk carving of a man ‘standing to attention’ belived to be an ancient symbol of fertility; and there’s Maiden Castle, an impressive iron-age earthwork that forms a defensive hill-fort.

But if you’re looking for the kind of outdoor day-trip that will keep the kids energised and interested, we can recommend no better experience than a visit to the ‘Jurassic Coast’. Formations of rock up to 185 million years old rock can be found along a 95-mile western stretch of the Dorset shoreline. It’s like one giant geological fun-park. Now recognised as a World Heritage site in its entirety, it’s famous for the countless prehistoric fossil discoveries that have formed the collection of many a natural history museum.

If you want to further cultivate the kids’ enthusiasm for fossil-hunting, head for the local museum in Bridge Street, Lyme Regis. It stands on the site of the former home and fossil shop of Mary Anning. In the early 1800s, Mary Anning helped her father collect fossils along the Dorset coast and sell them to tourists. Mary’s father died when she was 12, so she began to build up her own collection. Fossil collecting was like stamp collecting, but was gradually transformed as the importance became understood. She was soon consulted by experts.  Until her time, it was widely believed that animals did not become extinct; but were still living somewhere in an unexplored region of the earth. Mary Anning found the first complete skeletons of the Ichthyosaur, Plesiosaur and Pterosaur. She was the first woman member of the Geological Society.  She also inspired the tongue-twister: She sells sea shells on the sea shore. Mary Anning’s grave is nearby in St Michael’s Church, which features a stained-glass window that commemorates her life, paid for the Geological Society.

Indoors, outdoors, ancient and modern, Dorset does it all.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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