In the south of the UK, Dorset is a stunningly beautiful county. Read our guide to its world renowned coast, the first in a series of articles about Dorset.
Located on the UK’s south coast, Dorset is one of the country’s most beautiful counties (if not the most beautiful). It has pristine beaches and rugged coastal beauty; patchwork countryside and wild rural landscapes; contemporary towns and historical towns; gorgeous chocolate box villages and scenic highlights that you’ll be rubbing your eyes to believe.
Dorset also happens to be where we live (and living in Dorset is a definite antidote to those ‘coming home from holiday blues’). We love Dorset so much that we say to each other on a ridiculously regular basis ‘we can’t believe we live here’.
Dorset is a popular choice for UK ‘staycations’. It is also becoming more and more popular as an international holiday destination, whether as part of a longer trip to the UK or as a holiday in its own right. There’s so much to see and do in Dorset that we’ve created a series of articles to help you plan a trip to this incredible place.
For ideas on how to use your annual leave to get even more time for exploring places like Dorset read How to Maximise Your Annual Leave.
IN THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES…
- Dorset’s Coast
- Dorset’s Towns (coming soon)
- Dorset’s Cultural & Event Highlights (coming soon)
- Dorset’s Countryside & Conservation (coming soon)
- Dorset’s Historical Highlights (coming soon)
- Things Children Will Love (& Adults Too) (coming soon)
#1 Explore Dorset’s Beaches
Dorset has almost 100 miles of coastline, stretching from Highcliffe in the east of the county to Lyme Regis in the west. And one of the best things about Dorset’s coast? No matter what your preferred beach type, you’ll find it in Dorset!
Want to go to the best beach in the UK? Go to Bournemouth Beach, voted the ‘Best Beach in the UK‘, the ‘6th Best Beach in Europe‘, and the ‘20th Best Beach in the World‘ by Tripadvisor’s 2019 Travellors’ Choice list. The best wide sandy beaches tend to be found in the east of Dorset, from Highcliffe to Poole (which includes Bournemouth Beach).
Want a beautiful sandy beach with the traditional British seaside town bucket ‘n spade experience? Head to Weymouth Beach. Want secluded coves? Explore the likes of Dancing Ledge and Chapman’s Pool. Want a beach in a nature reserve with a designated naturist area? Explore Studland Bay. Elsewhere, the magnificent shingle of Chesil Beach was immortalised by Ian McEwan in his novella On Chesil Beach, whilst Lyme Regis provides one of the settings for Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
As you go through this article you’ll read more about Dorset’s beaches.
You now know how incredible Bournemouth’s beaches are but what else do you know about Dorset’s largest town? Do you know what connection The Beatles, the Oscars, Jack the Ripper, and Frankenstein have to Bournemouth? To find out, read 10 Interesting Facts About Bournemouth You (Probably) Didn’t Know!
#2 Go Fossil Hunting on the Jurassic Coast
You’ve heard of Jurassic Park, but have you heard of the Jurassic Coast? The Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 95 miles from Dorset into East Devon and showcasing 185 million years of our planet’s history. In fact covering the Triassic and Cretaceous Periods, as well as the Jurassic Period, the majority of the coastline is in Dorset, stretching from Studland up to the Dorset/Devon border.
The Jurassic Coast is a hugely diverse and beautiful landscape underpinned by incredible geology of global importance.https://jurassiccoast.org/what-is-the-jurassic-coast/
As well as being outstandingly beautiful, the Jurassic Coast is a great place to hunt for fossils. And it’s easy to spend hours doing so, especially if you’ve packed a picnic! A truly excellent resource to help you plan your time on the Jurassic Coast is the Jurassic Coast Trust’s website.
#3 The South West Coast Path (Explore the Jurassic Coast on Foot)
The South West Coast Path is the longest walking trail in the UK, stretching for 630 miles. The Path starts (or ends) at South Haven Point in Studland, Dorset and ends (or starts) in Minehead, Somerset, taking in the coastlines of Devon and Cornwall in between. The Path is identified on signs along the way by an acorn.
The path covers the entirety of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Whether you set off walking in one direction and cover the path in a linear fashion, or whether you plan circular routes, the South West Coast Path is epic. Seriously, that is one of the best words to describe it.
The Dorset section of the Path offers an incredibly diverse experience. Beaches, grassland, high cliff walking, woodland, it has it all over an undulating landscape. Some parts are strenuous, others easy. One thing is for certain, you will never be bored!
The South West Coast Path website has everything you need to plan a walk. The accompanying book is an excellent resource, breaking the entire path into sections and containing information about transport links, refreshments, and places to stay along the way. We also highly recommend taking an OS Explorer map with you (the ones with the orange covers). OL15 and 116 are the ones you need for the Dorset section of the Coast Path.
If you want to walk some of the South West Coast Path in South Cornwall read our two articles below for suggested walking routes:
#4 Explore the Jurassic Coast from the Sea
If you’re anything like us you’ll find it impossible to see the Dorset coast and not yearn to get out onto the water. Experiencing the coastline from land is one thing, experiencing it from the sea is something else. Seeing the spectacular coast from a different perspective is truly breathtaking. To see millions of years of the Earth’s history etched clearly into the rocks certainly helps you to gain perspective! There are many opportunities throughout Dorset to explore the Jurassic Coast in different ways. Swim, sail, kayak, boat trips, even coaststeering.
Talking of getting out on the water, Dorset’s magnificent coastline and beaches make it an excellent place for watersports. Although some people do surf, windsurfing and kitesurfing are particularly big in Dorset. If you want to try either for the first time you’ll find watersports academies offering lessons and Poole is one of the best places to learn. Try, for example, The Watersports Academy, Poseidon Kite School, or Poole Windsurfing.
Throughout Dorset you’ll find opportunities to do a whole host of other watersports, such as, stand up paddleboarding, coaststeering, kayaking & canoeing, sailing, scuba diving, snorkelling, wake boarding, surfing, and jet skiing.
#6 Explore Hengistbury Head
Hengistbury Head is a headland jutting out into the English Channel between Bournemouth and Christchurch/Mudeford. In terms of archaeology and geology, it is a site of international importance and is designated an Ancient Monument. Excavations have unearthed evidence that there have been people at Hengistbury Head going back 12,000 years.
There are great walks around and over the headland with stunning views across to the Purbecks and the Isle of Wight. As well as access to a lovely beach, there’s a visitor centre with interactive exhibits and planned nature events, a road train, and a café selling THE BEST white chocolate and honeycomb flavoured ice cream!
#7 Walk Out to Old Harry Rocks
Together with Durdle Door (see #9 below), Old Harry Rocks is one of the most photographed places on the Dorset Coast. Marking the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast, the landmark is managed by the National Trust and the nearest car park is at South Beach, Studland.
The easy 1-mile walk from South Beach along the cliffs of Handfast Point to get to the formation is stunning and is part of the South West Coast Path. Marvel at the views over Poole Harbour towards Bournemouth and Hengistbury Head in one direction and towards the slope of Ballard Down in the other.
Although the chalk formations are known collectively as ‘Old Harry Rocks’, Old Harry is in fact the single stack (the second from the left in the photograph above). Old Harry used to have a wife, Old Harry’s Wife (it’s probably about time she had her own name!). She stood alongside Harry until 1896 when erosion caused her to tumble into the sea and now all that is left of her is the stump to the left of Harry.
Have you heard of the The Needles of the Isle of Wight, the chalk formations in the sea which look very similar to Old Harry Rocks? Over 10,000 years ago the two formations were actually part of the same line of chalk hills. The hills eroded away during the last ice age, leaving Old Harry’s Rocks and The Needles behind.
#8 Dorset’s Coves & Bays
As well as having miles and miles of wide sandy beaches, Dorset has gorgeous secluded coves and bays. Some of them require effort to get to and so are the perfect choice in the height of the summer when the main beaches get crowded. Our top three favourite places, all on the Jurassic Coast, are listed below.
Worborrow Bay, to the east of Lulworth Cove and a mile’s walk from Tyneham Village. The Bay is managed by the Ministry of Defence and so access is limited to when the Lulworth Range walks are open, thus making it a great place to visit if you’re trying to get off the beaten track.
Mupe Bay is another place that can only be accessed when the Lulworth Range Walks are open. It’s situated between Lulworth Cove and Worborrow Bay and requires determination to get to (which may be an understatement!). Mupe Bay is accessible from the South West Coast Path, but from a very steep and tricky section. It’s another section of the coast that very few people visit, but well worth the effort.
Dancing Ledge is an easier place to reach, but will still give you that ‘off the beaten track feel’. Langton Matravers is the closest village and the Spyway car park is the most convenient place to park. For a unique experience, swim in the small pool that was blasted into the rock around a hundred years ago for pupils from local prep schools to use. It’s a bit of a scramble down the cliffs to get to but it is one of those ‘pinch yourself to see if it’s real’ experiences.
The National Trust website details a 3.5 mile moderate circular walk which is phenomenal. How could you not want to do a walk entitled ‘Scratch Arse Ware and Dancing Ledge Walk‘?!
#9 Durdle Door
Durdle Door is the unofficial poster boy for Dorset. The natural limestone arch, created around 10,000 years ago, is one of the county’s most photographed places. If you look out to sea you can see isolated limestone stacks, evidence of an older coastline.
Durdle Door’s arch and beach are on the Lulworth Estate and part of the Jurassic Coast. There are various car parks nearby, although they can get very busy in the summer months. There are a number of steps down to Durdle Door and it is a fairly challenging ascent and descent. Although as with everything else mentioned in this article, totally worth it!
#10 Fish & Chips by the Sea
If you’re on the coast, one of the most pleasurable things you can do is to have a meal whilst looking out to sea.
One of our all time favourite things to do is to eat fish & chips by the sea. Fish & chips is so synonymous with the British seaside that the two have become inextricably linked in the nation’s memory. The unmistakeable smell of salt and vinegar mingled with the fresh sea air evokes many happy childhood memories. If you’re visiting Dorset from another country this is the one the thing you MUST do.
One of the best places to have fish & chips by the sea is in Weymouth, West Dorset. This quintessential ‘bucket & spade British seaside town’ has a number of places dotted along the golden sandy beach where you can buy battered fish and melt in the mouth chips, drench them in salt and vinegar, and sit by the sea to eat them with a small wooden fork.
In East Dorset, the view from Evening Hill in Poole towards Sandbanks and Brownsea Island is an opportunity to see the coastline from a completely different perspective.
It’s tough to beat the end of a glorious summer’s day by the sea. That feeling of being relaxed and happy as you listen to the sound of the water gently lapping and feel the cooling breeze after the warmth of the day. If you get fish & chips from TJ’s in Lilliput and then eat them at Evening Hill whilst watching the sun go down you’ll know what pure bliss feels like.
It’s hard to do justice to Dorset’s spectacular coastline but we hope we’ve provided you with a good overview of things to do on Dorset’s Coast. Let us know in the comments below about your experiences of the Dorset Coast.
Dorset’s official tourism website is www.visit-dorset.com.
If you like this article and want to know more about places to visit on the UK’s south coast you must read ‘A Guide to the Perfect Week in Cornwall‘.