Historic Dorset Guide

by Ben Johnson

Facts about Dorset

Population: 745,000
Famous for: Jurassic Coastline, sandy beaches, Maiden Castle
Distance from London: 2 hours
Local delicacies: Apple cake, cream teas
Airports: Bournemouth
County town: Dorchester
Nearby Counties: Devon, Hampshire, Somerset, Wiltshire

Welcome to Hardy Country! Dorset is where Thomas Hardy was born, lived and worked, and many towns and villages feature in his novels. For example, the county town of Dorchester is Hardy’s Casterbridge in his novel, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’.

Literary connections do not stop with Thomas Hardy. Beautiful Lyme Regis on the south coast was the setting for the film, ‘A French Lieutenant’s Woman’ and is well worth a visit for its lovely setting, narrow streets, harbour and Cobb. Lyme Regis is set on the Jurassic Coast, famous for its fossils and a World Heritage Site.

The coastline is simply stunning. Here you will find Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, a spectacular natural limestone arch in the cliff at the end of the sandy beach. At the end of Chesil Beach you will find Weymouth, from where you can catch ferries to the Channel Islands. Waymouth was also the base for the sailing events at the 2012 Olympics.

Dorset is a county steeped in history, from the prehistoric to the modern day. Maiden Castle is the largest Iron Age hill fort in Europe and is situated just 2 miles from Dorchester. The Cerne Abbas Giant is an ancient chalk hill figure which is visible for miles around. No-one is sure exactly when the figure was originally cut, but it remains one of Britain’s best known chalk hill figures and is associated with fertility.

Visitors to Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck should not miss the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle, besieged by the Parliamentarians and then slighted during the English Civil War. Inland from the coast you will find the village of Tolpuddle, home of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, whose arrest and sentencing led to the foundation of modern day trade unionism. And Gold Hill in Shaftesbury must surely be one of the most recognisable streets in the UK. This steep cobbled street was featured in the 1973 “Boy on Bike” television advertisement for Hovis bread, voted Britain’s favourite advert of all time!

Next article