Ancient geological history meets quaint seaside retreat in this UK hub for weekend wayfarers, says Ashlee Starratt.
In our Insta-obsessed world, we’re always chasing the next click-bait selfie, seldom putting away our digital devices to marvel over those corners of nature we’re lucky enough to stumble upon. If we’re extremely lucky we happen to find those which no lens, save our own eyes, can take in – let alone capture for the masses. This is Mother Nature after all – and she doesn’t care about social media. #NoFilter.
One such corner of the world can be found on England’s jaw-dropping southwest coast. Dorset and its UNESCO-listed 152km Jurassic Coast is one of the most rugged regions in the lower half of Britain, with fossil-clad cliffs and rock formations giving way to striking azure waters that would be at home in the Caribbean.
A stone’s throw away from its equally well-known neighbours – Bournemouth and Southampton, Dorset is part of southwest England’s tourism hotbed with its stunning geography, rustic seaside charm, and voracious local foodie scene.
Just a two-hour train ride from London’s Waterloo Station to Gillingham Station in Dorset, it’s an easy locale for a weekend jaunt away from the urban crush. Fresh sea breezes, ancient cultural and geological history that you can literally trip over, and welcoming local markets, museums, and cultural attractions are reason enough to catch the early train and make a full day of it.
If you’re stopping over in Bournemouth, be sure to pack a picnic and hit the sand of Alum Chine – a Blue Flag beach with lush golden dunes that are the jewel in Bournemouth’s seven miles of pristine coastline beaches.
Moving onwards along your Dorset village trip-tych and a diversion to Dorchester’s Thomas Hardy Cottage is a must for the literarily-inclined. A pastoral thatched dwelling, it’s the place where Hardy was born in 1840 and where he wrote his masterpiece ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’.
Antique hunters can also explore the Wimborne Market in Bournemouth where you’ll find all manner of collectibles, bric-a-brac, and memorabilia among its many shop stalls – along with the day’s haul of fresh produce from local farms in the surrounding area.
And if an afternoon of traipsing cliffside trails and castle ruins has left you peckish, work off your appetite with some of Dorset’s most delicious dining, with all manner of locavore restaurants, inns, and cafés catering to every palate. If you’re stopping by the Thimble Inn in Dorchester, be sure to try one of their gourmet burgers, or local cod fillet with new potatoes while savouring gorgeous views across the Piddle Valley.
My favourite place- Hiding in plain sight along the unspoiled Jurassic Coast of Dorset, is the Durdle Door – the area’s most iconic landmark. Located on the Lulworth Estate, this majestic natural limestone arch is the result of centuries of waves battering the cliff-face until a ‘door’ was forged straight through the middle. It also has the honour of being named England’s first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and now ranks among other UNESCO wonders such as the Grand Canyon and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Make your way along its cliffside trails for the ultimate photo-op or wend your way down the stairs along its craggy slopes to the beach cradled between the cliffs for a swim (with many other eager tourists!)
Highlights- Book in a Jurassic Coast coach tour with a local geological guide who will take you hunting for fossils amid the region’s 185 million years of natural history, visit the brooding ruins of the 16th-century Corfe Castle, take a ride on the historic Swanage steam railway, wander the gardens and grounds of the 15th-century Athelhampton manor house, or marvel at the striking chalk formations of Studland Bay’s Old Harry Rocks.
Souvenirs- Fossil trinkets or seashells, locally-knitted tea towels, local honey and jam, Dorset cereals and tea.
Getting there- Oman Air offers daily service to London Heathrow. From the UK capital it’s a two-hour train ride from Waterloo Station to Dorset’s Gillingham Station.
Where to stay- There are numerous local B&Bs and small boutique hotels to be found between Dorset, Bournemouth, Poole, and Weymouth via booking.com, Trivago, Agoda and other sites. But if you prefer a room with a view why not give the Durdle Door Holiday Park caravan campground a go?
1. Take in the lush splendour of Bournemouth’s Victorian gardens.
2. Wander the white pebble beaches of Lulworth Cove.
3. Hit the shops and high-streets of Poole for some retail therapy.
4. Go fossil-hunting on Monmouth Beach.
5. Visit the medieval monastery at Christchurch Priory.