Dorset County was our first stop on our English road trip through the West Country, and though it would be nearly impossible to pick a favorite from the three counties we visited (Cornwall and Somerset came later on in the week), I’d have to say that I couldn’t have imagined a better way to begin our England vacation. Traversing the Dorset countryside, with its bright green, rolling hills dotted with flocks of sheep, and stopping at scenic points along the beautiful stretch of the Jurassic Coast was more memorable than I could have imagined prior to our trip. I would gladly return to the county of Dorset in a heartbeat if given a chance – I have a feeling we barely scratched the surface of all that this extraordinary region has to offer.
Below are some of the highlights from our trip, as well as a few helpful trip planning links and places we’d like to see if we are ever lucky enough to visit Dorset again in the future. If you think we missed anything, let us know in the comments so that we can keep it on our radar.
The 23-room yellow manor house, perched above Studland Bay, features a picture perfect view of Old Harry Rocks, the eastern most point of England’s Jurassic Coast from the backyard, restaurant, and many of the rooms. Read and see more about our stay at The Pig at this link.
A recommendation from Ben Pentreath’s blog that I’ll admit to initially selecting almost entirely because of the thoughtful, brightly colored interior, Brassica, located in the adorable town of Beaminster, turned out to be one of our top three meals from our entire week in England! The bruschetta, with its fresh tomatoes, radishes, and shaved pecorino, has set impossibly high standards for all bruschette to follow. My basil and walnut pesto orecchiette was the perfect light springtime dish, while Michael’s veal rump steak with black garlic and chips left him smiling from ear to ear. We were fortunate enough to dine on a quiet afternoon, which gave us the chance to speak with the delightful owner/chef duo, and were so impressed with how friendly they were – even recommending a number of places to check out in the immediate area.
The shop right next to the restaurant, Brassica Mercantile, is not to be missed either – if I could have fit the entire store in my suitcase, I would have.
I came across Mapperton while researching the Beaminster area and recognized it as the setting of the 2015 film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. (We ended up re-watching the film the week before we left for England, which I highly recommend doing.) Given its proximity to Brassica (they even have an on-site sister cafe), we knew that a post-lunch stroll through the 15 acres gardens that surround the manor house would be just what we needed after our deliciously filling meal.
When we began formulating plans for our English road trip, there were two “absolute musts” on my list – Cornwall and Durdle Door – and we ended up crossing Durdle Door off the list on the very first day of our trip. I’ve seen dozens of photos of the natural limestone arch, protecting the cliff-backed sandy beach over the years in all seasons and types of light, and Durdle Door looked magnificent in each one. I was a little afraid I would have the same hum drum reaction that I had to the oft-photographed McWay Falls in Big Sur, but thankfully, I was as enamored as I initially thought I would be. Make sure to take in the stunning chalk cliffs of Bat’s Head and Swyre Head, (just west of the arch), and the serenely beautiful Lulworth Cove is just a short trail hike eastward from Durdle Door.
The three chalk formations that mark the easterly most point of the Jurassic coast were not even on our radar when we made our reservation at The Pig on the Beach, but once we had done a little more research into the area, we were delighted to see that Old Harry, a classic Dorset must, was just over a mile walk from The Pig, and visible from the hotel. We made the trek out to the rocks not long after sunrise on our final morning in Dorset and were shocked to have the entire point to ourselves. The morning light reflecting off the chalk, against the blue skies, has left a lasting impression on me. Durdle Door sure receives a lot of the Jurassic Coast attention, but I think the views from the Handfast Point at Old Harry are just as awe inspiring.
You won’t get too far in researching any trip to the West Country without stumbling upon the South West Coast Path. Stretching 630 miles through Somerset and down to the coasts of Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset counties, the trail is the United Kingdom’s longest National Trail. Two days after admiring the view at Old Harry near one end of the path, we found ourselves walking the trail again, this time all the way in Southwest Cornwall. To think that we’d be able to walk from the former to the latter is fascinating, and I can only imagine how many incredible sites there would be in between. The South West Coast Path website is a treasure trove of information on this expansive trail, complete with a helpful app.
Although we think the above mentioned Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, and Old Harry Rocks are a few of the very must-see views in Dorset County, it seems as though the list could go on and on. We enjoyed seeing the stark ruins of Corfe Castle, an 11th century castle perched high up on a hill overlooking Wareham, from the road on the way to and from Studland, Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill was another sight we’d hoped to see but ultimately didn’t have time, and we sadly didn’t make it to West Bay.
Dorset, England Trip Planning Resources
We shared a few of our resources for planning our entire trip to Southwest England on this post, but here are the Dorset-specific links that came in handy while prepping for our Dorset getaway.
Finding Home in an English Harbor Town, by Jon Lee Anderson on Travel + Leisure
From Beaches to Bistros: Exploring England’s Somerset and Dorset Counties by Kate Maxwell on Conde Nast Traveler
Ben Pentreath’s blog + Instagram
Adam Partridge’s Instagram
On our Radar for Next Time
Photos by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.