Dorset is a gem of a county encompassing all that is best in rural England – rolling green hills, gorse-filled heaths, traditional Dorset cottages, woodland and hedgerows running down to one of the finest coastlines in England, including a World Heritage Site. The unspoiled coastline is ever changing over its 90 miles which take in dramatic cliff-top walks, safe beaches and seaside resorts with charming Dorset coastal cottages.
Starting in the east with the natural harbour of Christchurch and the fascinating Mudeford Spit the coast passes through Bournemouth, one of the country’s most popular resorts to Poole and one of the largest natural harbours in the world. It boasts five islands, including Brownsea Island – famous for its red squirrel sanctuary and as the birthplace of the Scouting movement, fabulous scenery, wonderful wildlife and exhilarating watersports. Poole’s premier beach is three miles of golden sand along the Sandbanks peninsula in Poole Bay and is regularly rated among the top beaches in the country in surveys.
Onto Purbeck Island – in reality a peninsula guarded by the spectacular ruins of Corfe Castle – the fabulous beaches of Studland Bay looking over to Old Harry’s Rock and the resort of Swanage. A visit to Lulworth Cove is a must. It is an almost perfectly circular bay with pebble shores flanked by high cliffs. A short, albeit energetic walk, along the coastal path leads to the natural limestone arch called Durdle Door, one of the most photographed and famous parts of Dorset’s coastline and two small, busy shingle beaches separated by the rock formation.
Weymouth is a mix of seaside resort and fishing port, beyond which lies the remarkable Chesil Bank, a unique shingle beach that stretches 15 miles from Weymouth to Bridport. Pebbles are graded from east to west – the largest at the eastern end. Fishermen coming ashore in fog are said to have been able to tell where they were from the size of the pebbles. Perhaps not the best beach for bathers, it is nevertheless a sight to behold and worth a visit. Those searching for the hotel featured in the novel On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan might be disappointed to know that it does not exist.
The pretty town of Lyme Regis is known as the Pearl of Dorset probably best known for The Cobb, a long harbour wall full of character and history. A narrow maze of streets and shops wind their way down to the ancient port with its spectacular sea views and safe, sandy beach. The Cobb has been a haven for shipping from the time it was built and made famous, more recently, as the location of the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons the book was written by the late, resident local author John Fowles. The beaches between Lyme Regis and neighbouring Charmouth are world famous for their fossils. This stretch of the coast has become known as the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, with excellent fossil-hunting opportunities for those holidaying along the Dorset coast.