Dorset | Don’t Forget this English County

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things to do in dorset, england

This is a guest post written by fellow travel writer Sammi Egan.

Dorset – The English County you Shouldn’t Forget to Visit

When I meet people travelling and tell them I’m from Dorset, I then usually have to explain where that is by saying it’s around 200 miles south of London, but not as far south as Devon and Cornwall. For that reason, I decided to compile a list of things that you should know about in Dorset.

Dorset is so small that it has no motorways, or cities. Old fashioned ideas about opening hours still exist in Dorset- for example, the pub I work in opens on a 12-2:30/6:30- 11 shift daily (except Sunday nights all year around, and Mondays in the winter) – as the villages often have less than a thousand people living there.

Recently the county’s dark skies were featured on BuzzFeed with @DorsetScouser’s awesome photos of the starry night’s sky.

Sherborne

Starting closest to me, I’ll begin with Sherborne. The town is home to less than 10,000 people and is famous for its quaint High St, named Cheap St, its historic Abbey and its two castles.

Yes, you read right, we have two castles; the first is a 12th Century fortification, built by a bishop and later acquired by Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter Raleigh was of course a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and was awarded the estate of Sherborne as a reward for the things he discovered and brought back from the New World. After acquiring what is now known as The Old Castle and trying to modify it, he decided to instead build a new one on its land which was then used as a deer park. The Castle has been extended and modified by the Digby family who have owned it since 1617. The Castle and its grounds have been open since 1969 and it is possible to get married there, or simply take a stroll around the beautiful gardens which were landscaped by Capability Brown. Each year the Castle holds a Fireworks display, and on the first bank holiday in May there is Country Fayre held in the grounds.

old sherbourne castle, dorset, england

Old Sherbourne Castle

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sherbourne castle, dorset

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sherbourne castle, dorset

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The Abbey was founded in 705 AD by St. Adhelm as a Saxon cathedral. It has served since as a Benedictine Abbey and nowadays is used as a Parish church, where many local children are Christened or where local people can get married- although it is hard to get in for a wedding service, and you have to prove your connection to Sherborne. The Abbey’s monks have not always had a harmonious relationship with the townspeople.  In 1437, tensions were so bad that a flaming arrow was shot through the stained glass windows causing an awful fire to rage through the church – if you visit you can still see some of the redness on the stone caused by the fire. The Pope had to resolve the conflict, and made the people pay for the repairs to what had once been their parish church.

sherbourne abbey, dorset

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Cheap Street has gained a bit of a reputation for itself, too, in recent years with the Queen of Shops Mary Portas taking a shine to the town and telling people they must visit the picturesque town.

Other claims to fame in Sherborne include the regular appearance of Orlando Bloom – he has family in the area – and Chris Martin of Coldplay went to school in Sherborne- it is rumoured he has a house here too.

Dorchester

Dorchester, Dorset’s County town is perhaps one of the oldest towns in England. Its roots stem way back to prehistoric times with Maiden Castle being one of the most powerful settlements in pre-Roman Britain. Another pre-Roman fortification North West of Dorchester is Poundbury, which is now essentially Prince Charles’ lego set – he designed and had the town built as it is today. The Romans named the town Durnovaria, and all around the town you can see Roman Ruins including an old Roman House near the County Hall and you can also see many of the relics in the County Museum.  To the south of the town centre you can see the Maumbury Rings, a henge work used by Romans as an amphitheatre, and later revived by Judge Jeffreys in the 17th & 18th Century as a place of execution.

Judge Jeffreys is also known as the Hanging Judge. He studied at Cambridge and was appointed Solicitor General to the Duke of York and knighted in 1677.  It was in 1685 when Judge Jeffreys came to Dorchester that he earned his reputation. He lodged at No. 6 West High St- which you can visit – today it is a restaurant called Judge Jeffreys.  At one time, it had a passage through to the Oak Rooms. The Oaks Rooms is where the Bloody Assizes were held – the Judge was dishing out punishments here for the failed rebellion by the supporters of the Duke of Monmouth.  Seventy-four of the 278 were executed, and all but 29 were jailed for their part in the crimes.  Judge Jeffreys days didn’t end well however – in 1688 when James II fled the country – he was thrown into the Tower of London where he died of kidney disease.

Another famous name you might recognise from Dorchester is Thomas Hardy. Born in 1840 and educated in Dorchester, he moved to London and eventually became a writer. You will know books such as “Tess of D’Urberville’s” and “Far From the Madding Crowd” – which incidentally is being remade into a movie which they have been filming in both Sherborne and Dorchester in the past few months. His book “The Mayor of Casterbridge” was almost entirely set in Dorchester. He has a statue in town, and does not have a monument outside of town (that is for an entirely different Hardy).

thomas hardy statue, dorset, england

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Coastline

Lastly, Dorset has some pretty awesome coastline. West Bay, most recently made famous in the ITV Drama Broadchurch, has been a TV set before even that with a television programme in the 90’s called Harbour Lights also based in the town. Weymouth is famous as the old fashioned Victorian seaside town complete to this day with penny- arcades and harbour-front fish & chip shops. Don’t forget to visit Lulworth Cove, you can do a short walk along the cliffs and view Durdle Door, too. It is a World Heritage Site, and is on the Jurassic Coast so you never know; you might find a fossil or two on your walk.

durdle door, dorset, england

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These are just a few of the attractions you can find in Dorset, so next time someone asks you about it, you can at least say you’ve heard of these ones. If you ever get a chance to visit, don’t forget to drop by some of these places.

Have you been to Dorset? What did you visit?

This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge [2014]. 

Yesterday’s – Costa Rica – 5 Unforgettable Adventures

Tomorrow’s – E..

atoz-2014-BANNER-910-900x74

Sammi is the author behind Wanderlustin’, a twenty something living in the UK trying to see as much of the world as possible. She’s been lucky enough to go abroad for family holidays when she was growing up, and since moving back to the UK has been attempting to see as many other places as possible. Apart from travelling she loves reading. She also has a secret passion for sports including football and rugby.

40 Comments

  1. Rosie Amber

    April 4, 2014 at 2:05 AM

    Big, big fan of Dorset, spent several years there and still go back when I can. Have given your blog a shout out from my A to Z post today http://rosieamber.wordpress.com/

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 4, 2014 at 7:12 AM

      Thanks Rosie! Sammi definitely put Dorset on my radar for the next time I’m in England 🙂

  2. Corinne

    April 4, 2014 at 2:51 AM

    Ashley, I would love to go…lots of camping available?

    • Sammi

      April 4, 2014 at 3:13 AM

      Hey Corinne,

      Yes lots of camping in Dorset, have a look at http://www.visit-dorset.com/accommodation/camping-and-caravan-parks to find some 🙂

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 4, 2014 at 7:12 AM

      I love camping as well Corinne and Sammi is your Dorset expert 😀

    • Tam @ TravellingBookJunkie

      April 4, 2014 at 9:12 AM

      Hi Corinne

      (Hope you don’t mine me jumping in with a suggestion Ashley/Sammi) if you decide to go camping have a look at Hamble as well. We stayed at a beautiful campsite, close to all the amenities and not far from the water with lots of local traditional pubs/cafes serving seafood platters etc. It is also close to all the major locations.

  3. rebecca

    April 4, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    Thank you. Now I am dying to visit!

  4. jenny@atasteoftravel

    April 4, 2014 at 7:43 AM

    Our friends in London are always saying that they must take us to Dorset. Now I can see why! So much to see and that coastline looks stunning!

    • Sammi

      April 4, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Jenny, definitely visit! You know you can get a train direct from Waterloo to Sherborne, or even down to Weymouth.

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 4, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      Hopefully you’ll get to go Jenny!

  5. Paris

    April 4, 2014 at 7:48 AM

    This post makes we want to visit Dorset! The castles and coastline look amazing.

  6. Christine

    April 4, 2014 at 7:54 AM

    WOW! What beautiful scenery!!! The coastline looks stunning.

  7. Kristin

    April 4, 2014 at 7:57 AM

    How beautiful! We’re planning a London trip and this makes me want to venture out past the city!

    • Sammi

      April 4, 2014 at 10:20 AM

      Definitely venture out further than London

      • Ashley Hubbard

        April 4, 2014 at 11:36 AM

        London is one of my favorite places in the world, but I hate that it overshadows the rest of England…there is sooooo much more to England than London 🙂

  8. Tam @ TravellingBookJunkie

    April 4, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    I love Dorset. Reading this wants me to book another trip down to the coast right now! Great D 🙂

  9. Ann

    April 4, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    I’ve never been to Dorset, but I’ve heard of it. Still, I wouldn’t have realized it was such a beautiful place.

  10. Calli

    April 4, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    Beautiful pictures! We just started watching Broadchurch (like literally two days ago) and although the show is awesome (and I now love David Tennant and get what all the fuss is about) I can’t get enough of the stunning shoreline and countryside. The UK is a place I can see us returning to again and again, hopefully next time we can make it out to this region!

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 4, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      I had never heard of Broadchurch until Sammi wrote this…I may have to check it out 🙂

  11. alison

    April 4, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    Any place with a coast line is good for me. Your photos give us such a nice overview of the area. Looks like a place i’d like to spend some time hiking!

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 4, 2014 at 10:38 AM

      Hiking does sound like it would be nice there Alison! Sammi, hiking tips? 😀

  12. Chris Boothman

    April 4, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    Always love reading posts about my homeland and in particular those destination spots on the south west coast which I always want to encourage folks to visit.

    I have actually only stayed in Dorset once, near Lyme Regis (Sammi I am sure you are aware of that part) and more frequently visited Torquay, Devon when I was growing up. But one thing that I will say that all these counties have in common (Dorset, Devon, Cornwall) is that they are beautiful in the heart of summer and you can’t beat the clotted cream in this part of the country!

    Awesome post and delighted that you featured this Ashley!

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 4, 2014 at 12:06 PM

      Thanks Chris – I don’t know much about the places you mentioned except Devon and I love Devon!

  13. Bailey K.

    April 4, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    Oh I would just LOVE to go there!

  14. RobRob

    April 4, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    Wow – Sherbourne and that beautiful Abbey are enchanting! I would love to wander through that countryside. Thanks to you and your guest writer for a great post.

  15. Nicky

    April 4, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    Dorset and the surrounding area looks wonderful. I love history and architecture. A trip to England and Ireland is on my bucket list, so I’m hoping one day. Thanks for sharing. Dorset is now on my bucket list as well. I didn’t know you were doing an A-Z feature. I’ll have to go and read the others.

  16. Leslie

    April 4, 2014 at 8:11 PM

    I’m falling in love with your blog! Can I come along with you on your trips? 🙂 I have never been to Dorset, but it’s certainly a place I would love to visit.

  17. Birgit

    April 4, 2014 at 9:14 PM

    great writing and love these pictures. It really makes me want to travel there

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  19. Fred Yummy

    April 5, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    I’ve always wanted to visit England (I always go to London and I’ve been to Wales, last year). Now I know where to start! This seems to be exactly the kind of place that I would like 🙂

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 6, 2014 at 9:19 AM

      I hope you get too! While London is one of my favorite places in the world, I do think it overshadows the rest of England.

  20. Jude

    April 6, 2014 at 5:29 AM

    Stopping by as part of the A-Z challenge and Dorset caught my eye as it is a favourite part of the country for me having spent several childhood holidays there on that lovely Jurassic coast! Nice to read about Sherborne too where I once had an (unsuccessful) interview for a job there!

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 6, 2014 at 9:01 AM

      Thanks for stopping by Jude! I’d really love to visit the Jurassic coast after reading what Sammi wrote 🙂

  21. Tui Snider @TuiSnider

    April 9, 2014 at 6:49 PM

    I have family in London… Perhaps I can persuade them to visit Dorset with me on my next trip over. I can certainly point them to your blog post. You make a great case to visit! 😀

    ~Tui Snider~
    @TuiSnider on Twitter
    My blog: Tui Snider’s Offbeat & Overlooked Travel
    I am also part of the #StoryDam team, a friendly writing community!

  22. Catherine Green

    April 10, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    Fabulous post! I have been to Bournemouth as a child, and my memories are of a place that has a whimsical charm and good old-fashioned appeal. I certainly plan to visit more of Dorset in the future, with Bognor Regis in mind (I think I read about it in the Borrowers books!)

  23. Michele

    April 12, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    Looks amazing, I have heard of Dorset before but was not sure what was there. We will have to try and check it out when we are over the way. Thank you

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