We might be slightly biased, but Dorset truly is one of the most beautiful parts of the UK – so much so, part of the county is recognised as being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In fact, the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers around 40% of the county, from the coastline of Lyme Regis to Poole and inland as far as Blandford Forum.
So, if you’re joining us for a Dorset escape and are looking to explore the Dorset AONB, here are our recommendations:
The Jurassic Coast
Of course, no visit to Dorset would be complete without exploring the Jurassic Coast. The Jurassic Coast is England’s only natural World Heritage Site and is roughly 95 miles long. The formation of the coastline has helped to teach scientists a great deal about 185 million years of the Earth's history, covering the Mesozoic period which includes the Jurassic era – hence the name!
Fossil hunting on the coast has been a popular pastime for over 200 years and discoveries within Dorset have directly influenced our understanding of the Earth. Discoveries from Mary Anning (who hailed from Lyme Regis) in the 1800s changed scientific thinking forever and offered direct support to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The Jurassic Coast has some beautiful walks for those of you who want to stretch your legs while breathing in the fresh, coastal air. The South West Coast Path is a must and there are walks for all ages and abilities – you can find more details about the walks here.
The Dorset AONB and Jurassic Coast Trust have also combined on a project called Bus Stop Walks, offering a ‘hop on, hop off’ service along the coastal path, meaning you can rest those weary legs from the top deck on a bus, while still enjoying the stunning views that accompany the journey.
Exploring the countryside
Away from the coast, Dorset is steeped in history that is perfect for exploring on foot. Hambledon Hill is one historical monument that should be explored if you can. It is a Site of Special Scientific Importance (SSSI) and a National Nature Reserve – which is home to 28 species of butterfly!
Hambledon Hill is one of the best-preserved Iron Age hillforts in Britain and a significant Neolithic landscape (the Neolithic period was between 4300 BC down to 2000 BC, to give an idea of just how ancient this area is).
No trip to Dorset would be complete without investigating the Cerne Abbas Giant. Standing at 180 feet tall, this giant chalk drawing is the largest in Britain. And if you’re wondering how the giant got there or who he is, the story behind him is a mixture of fact and speculation, ranging from being a symbol of Pagan fertility to being a caricature of Oliver Cromwell.
If you are seeking a real taste of how stunning Dorset villages are, then the village of Milton Abbas is a must-visit. The chocolate box village is lined with thatched, white cob cottages which were first created in the 1770s.
From the village, you can follow ‘Monks Path’ for 10-15 minutes where you'll find the awe-inspiring Milton Abbey, which stands on the site of a Saxon church, with the current building having been completed during the 14th and 15th centuries, before being transformed into a private school in 1954.
And, if you know your TV adverts, then Gold Hill in Shaftsbury is worth a visit. The steep cobbled street was made famous in the 1970’s as the backdrop for the Hovis bread ad.
Where to eat
After exploring the Jurassic Coast, or other beautiful areas of the county, you will have surely built up an appetite – but where is good to eat?
The Salt Pig in Wareham is devoted to everything Dorset. James Warren started The Salt Pig in 2009 as a deli which would utilise the very best produce of the county, and his successes have continued ever since. In 2018, The Salt Pig Too opened in Swanage, which focuses more on evening dining using only the freshest and finest Dorset ingredients.
James’ commitment to utilising local ecosystems to produce outstanding produce was recognised when he was named ‘Food & Farming Hero’ in 2016. You can read more about James and his establishments on The Salt Pig website.
For those of you who are looking to enjoy the catch of the day, look no further than The Oyster & Fish House. Mark Hix serves a delectable menu only using responsibly sourced produce and British seasonal ingredients, with the majority of the fish coming from Lyme Bay itself.
The menu changes twice a day, depending on what fish have been caught, and Mark even makes use of bycatch from the fisherman – edible fish and seafood which is caught by accident and very often discarded. Bycatch contributes to a high amount of wastage in the fishing industry and can be harmful to the ecosystem if not dealt with properly, which is why The Oyster & Fish House use it as part of their ethical commitment.
If you’d rather unwind back at your holiday home and cook up a storm yourself, Felicity’s Farm Shop just outside of Lyme Regis can provide you with all the ingredients you will need. A former car garage, Felicity Perkin and her family have transformed the site into a foodie haven, stocking the freshest produce that Dorset has to offer – including pork from Bellair Haye Farm, which is run by Felicity’s brother, Tom.
There is also a takeaway café on-site, aptly named The Filling Station, which offers homemade cakes, pies, quiches and more.
All of the above make the most of local produce and leave as little impact on the environment as possible – the best places to visit if you are aiming to have a more sustainable holiday.
What about the dog?
Don’t worry, we’d never forget about your four-legged friend! You can book a dog-friendly holiday at Silverlake and take them on your adventures with you, so they can enjoy the walks along the coastal path – If you don’t want to leave the Estate, the dog can get involved in water-based activities on-site, as we have dog life jackets for all shapes and sizes!
If you’re looking for attractions to visit with your dog, you can find our favourite Dog-Friendly Attractions in Dorset.