Times are tough and purse strings are tied tight so what better way to still enjoy the holidays than embark on an adventure into Dorset’s countryside. The cost of an adventure park for a family is often way out of limits, but may be completely unnecessary!
Dorset is rich with treasure, surprises, secrets, mystery and legend that can all be discovered for free. Starting at or near a place of refreshment, it is possible to venture out into the landscape and experience the wildness of Dorset, without the cost of a family ticket! On the route discover magical trees, spiritual burials, rope swings and waterfalls. Climb high to find panoramic views and low into the dark, shadowy valleys. Splash in the rivers, in the waves or find the wildlife in the woods. Touch, feel and find the treasure in the landscape that would often be roped off in a museum. This is only a moment in time, this treasure could soon be lost or more may be found. The landscape is constantly changing with every season and development. There will always be new (or old) things to see!
Enjoy at your own pace, knowing the reward of a roasting fire, hearty meal or refreshing drink is not far away!
In the heart of Dorset is the Country town of Dorchester. With its two castles (the Military Keep and the ancient hillfort of Maiden Castle), the town sits on the banks of the River Frome in ‘Water World’.
Dominated by the flood plains of the River Piddle, Frome and Stour, and known to Thomas Hardy as The Vale of the Great Dairies, small hamlets mix with abandoned settlements, ruined churches, thatched castles, quarries and large country estates. Military activity rubs shoulders with war heroes and literary figures while the trees of Wareham Forest hide a number of ancient hillforts. The devil has his own stone while another hill fort hides an Obelisk. Martyrs changed the way we work, planning their actions under a giant tree, while the lands are bordered to the north by the medieval junction of the Dorsetshire Gap. The higher valleys create horseshoe hills, the flowing streams combining into the low dairy fields where they meet one of only two railways in the county. The Stour provided smugglers, both from the aristocracy and the local villages, with easy access to the wider countryside while the estates owned by MPs, businessmen (or women) and celebrities tuck themselves into the valleys surrounded by elaborate garden designs. The characters (past or present), leaving their legacy in the landscape we walk through today.
What Dorset is most famous for – The Jurassic Coast! Discover the dinosaur footprints fossilised into rock while they stood at a drinking hole. Unearth animals that have turned to stone and not seen the light of day for millions of years. Frequent the popular spots with ice-creams and arcades or find isolated bays the beaches cocooned by the folding rock. Swim in a swimming pool that has associations with James Bond or explore rock pools filled with starfish. Climb to the peak of the highest point on the south coast or walk the Cobb out into Lyme Bay. Visit sites used in many a movie as well as television show or walk under the arches of a Harry Potter-esque Viaduct. Circle the island of rock that is sinking into the sea, populated with a prison and a famous lighthouse. Discover one of Dorset’s natural wonders, the 17 mile Chesil Beach, with tales of ferocious storms and bouncing bombs, an abandoned village and St. Catherine’s Chapel, the patron saint of single ladies, still guiding and protecting those at sea from up high.
The growing towns of Bournemouth and Poole are the most developed areas of the county, all due to its own geography. The harbour of Poole was crucial throughout history and the little island of Brownsea sits at it entrance, populated with red squirrels and decorated with pottery of an industry long gone. The peninsula of Hengistbury Head protects Christchurch Harbour curving into the golden beaches, sandy cliffs and towering buildings sitting on the shoreline of Bournemouth.
The world of smuggling and piracy was a busy one along the Dorset coast. Find the caves where they stored the loot and the footpaths that they used to escape. Hear stories of tragedy and just plain bad luck all along the coast, the names of survivors, victims and heroes sometimes attaching their names to the coastal features for eternity. Under the waves are wrecks galore, sleeping peacefully in their watery graves. Inland is Corfe, one of Dorset’s most famous castles, while nearby is Lulworth on the edge of the military ranges. Deep in the woodland is a stone circle, the estate in which it sits a meeting place for Churchill and Eisenhower during the war. The sandy shore of Studland attracts many visitors but also hides another devils stone and the little Bramble Bay. Explore the low ground of a Nature Reserve, dented by German bombs, or climb high to a secret peak with views across the Southern coast.
The Spiritual Realm
Cranborne Chase was a hunting ground, designated and protected by William the Conqueror. This protection has meant little has changed. The hills were once covered in forest but slopes and valleys are now exposed and rich with ancient earthworks. The mysterious Dorset Cursus cuts through the landscape, a monument that puts Stonehenge to shame. Bronze Age burial mounds, that once shone in the sunshine and glowed in the moonlight, scatter the slopes. Remains of Iron Age settlement and the Roman Road of Ackling Dike are some of the best preserved in the county and still surprisingly prominent. The land was under the ownership of the Pitt-Rivers family, their estate to the north. The surrounding woodlands filled with not only the odd hillfort but also avenues of trees that were part of their garden design, now merging back into the forest. Uncover the tales of the residents looting a church and hiding the treasure, only for it to still require collecting! Find an estate that claims to have associations with a vampire, a tree that claims to have healing powers, another avenue of trees frequently found on Instagram and military action, from the Second World War, which still scars the landscape.
The Old Lands
The patchwork fields of the Blackmore Vale are dominated by the small streams of the upper Stour before the river cuts though the Dorset Downs into Water World. The river runs alongside the old Somerset and Dorset railway, now an all accessible trailway. The little streams are crossed by packhorse bridges, stone steps or fords providing the old bloodline between settlements. The hills of Okeford and Bullbarrow edge its southern corner with ancient earthworks on its slopes and the oldest tree in the county on its peak. Bulbarrow Hill even featuring is a chart toping song. Little settlements have grown out of the forest with many of the trees still lining the roads, while the towering hill forts of Hambledon and Hod survey from above. Further Hillforts of Rawlsbury, Dungeon and Dogbury, rise high above the hedge lined fields, topped with trees or exposing their wrinkly ramparts. Mills line the river, either as a museum, ruins or private homes. The legend of Lazy Lawrence haunts the orchards connected to each other by old medieval trackways that have faded back into the landscape.
The Wild Lands
Still buried in pockets of thick woodland, the wild lands are full of narrow lanes and Holloways, hidden tracks that have sunken into the ground. The hillforts of Pilsdon Pen, Coney’s Castle, Lambert’s Castle, Eggardon Hill and the highest peak in Dorset, Lewesdon Hill, circle the untamed landscape. Amongst the small little farmsteads, many still warmed by their thatched roofs and cheese lofts, are the ruined castles of Holditch, Marshwood and West and East Chelborough. The identifiable Colmer’s Hill sits near the coastline to the south while the slopes, enjoying the view, are decorated with many a vineyard. The peaceful and protected vale has attracted many a celebrity from men behaving badly to sustainably and, one of the most infamous characters of all, Martha Brown.
…and all this is just scratching the surface!