I am lucky enough to live on the Jurassic Coast with 96 miles of truly stunning coastline to explore, stretching from Old Harry Rocks in Poole, Dorset to Exeter in East Devon.
Not one bit of this coastline is the same, offering exceptional natural beauty as well reading like a book into the past, revealing the history of the earth across 185 million years as a near complete record of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
With almost all of the area’s highlights being outdoors, it’s also a very affordable place for a break in the UK and I can highly recommend staying in a cottage in one of the many pretty seaside towns and villages that Dorset has to offer.
Here are ten reasons why Dorset should be on your travel list in 2018.
1. Try your hand at fossil hunting
Fossil hunting is a fun activity for all the family and Charmouth and Lyme Regis are perfect for beginners. One of the best times to visit is during the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival in early May where they organise walks, talks, theatre, music, comedy, exhibits and lots of hands-on science with experts from all over the country.
Don’t despair if you cannot visit that weekend as the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is open all year round, offering the chance to see Attenborough’s Sea Dragon, an incredible ichthyosaur fossil, as well as running guided fossil walks for your chance to find and take home your very own Jurassic Coast fossil.
For those that don’t want to get their hands dirty, Kimmeridge Bay has visible ammonites set in rocks lining the shore, offers the chance to take out a glass bottomed kayak to view fossils and wildlife beneath the waves and in the village itself you can visit the Etches Collection, a lifetime collection of fossils lifetime Steve Etches from the local area on the Jurassic Coast.
2. Follow in the footsteps of David Tennant and Olivia Coleman and discover West Bay’s Broadchurch
West Bay is a small harbour town in West Dorset whose dramatic landscape was central of the drama of Broadchurch; the stunning red sandstone cliffs, the rolling sea and the beach are all key elements of the story with West Bay providing the memorable backdrop for the picturesque coastal town of Broadchurch.
You can choose to explore at your own pace on foot, or there are several Broadchurch related tours which take you to see the Police Station, Newsagents, death cliff and more!
If you head east along the shingle beach, you can gaze in awe at paragliders who use the lifting warm air currents to get the best view of the changing landscape beneath them. Once you reach the end of the sandstone cliffs you find the stunning coastal village of Burton Bradstock which is home to the popular Hive Beach Cafe.
You can sit outside on the terrace all year round which offers stunning views of Lyme Bay and Chesil Beach, or under canvas awnings if the weather’s bad, and enjoy a huge platter of seafood, including lobster, crab, langoustines and scallops, or choose fish from the counter, which has all been caught in the very waters in front of you.
Head 15 minutes up the road to Little Bredy and see the fictional Axehampton House and the infamous waterfall that featured so heavily in the final storyline.
3. Visit the iconic Durdle Door
Eroded by the power of the waves over time, Durdle Door is a magnificent limestone arch which is one of the Jurassic Coast’s most photographed and iconic landmarks. If you are a keen photographer, it makes the perfect location for some night photography as the lack of light pollution offers the most spectacular views of the Milky Way above.
Don’t just stop at Durdle Door, the southwest coast path takes you to one of world’s finest examples of a cove.
Lulworth Cove is a popular tourist destination thanks to its white pebble beach and crystal blue waters. For the kids, low tide reveals wonderful rock pools teeming with sea creatures, perfect to be caught and examined and if you walk round the top of the cove, you will find the fossil forest – the petrified remains of a cypress forest.
4. Visit the traditional seaside town of Weymouth and Portland
The traditional seaside town of Weymouth is a must visit as it offers a huge number of activities and attractions for people of all ages including incredible sand sculptures, traditional Punch and Judy shows and the Jurassic Skyline which stands 53m above the town offering 360° of the Jurassic coast, Weymouth Bay and Nothe Fort.
Or you can just relax on the wide sandy beach in the shadow of the Osmington white horse, a figure depicting King George III carved into the limestone of Osmington Hill, which can be seen for miles around.
Once you have had your fill of all the seaside delights, Portland is the perfect location to explore.
The National Sailing Academy in Portland was the setting for the 2012 olympics and the Portland Stone Olympic sculpture offers spectacular views over Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon.
If you head farther south, Portland Bill is the southernmost point of Dorset. One of its most popular attractions is Portland Bill Lighthouse which has been standing majestically for the past one hundred and eleven years at a height of 41 metres (135 ft). I highly recommend taking 153 steps to the top to witness the magnificent views of the coastline, in both directions, out of the picture-book windows.
5. Visit Channel 4’s ‘Village of the Year’ finalist: Beer
Okay, so it is just over the Dorset / Devon border but it is well worth a visit. Follow the brook down through this picturesque seaside town, to find some seriously beautiful coastal views thanks to Beer’s shingle beach and the white chalk cliffs which surround it. Set on the beach is an impressive fishing fleet of luggers, used in drift netting, long lining and crabbing. If you are lucky, you may even see them launch straight from the beach into the sea.
Other attractions locally are the enormous Beer Quarry Caves which have produced Beer Freestone, used in the construction of many cathedrals throughout the UK and the world, include Westminster Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.
For garden lovers and railway enthusiasts of all ages, Pecorama offers a perfect day out for all the family. The Beer Heights Light Railway is a must as it operates a mile long railway track through their nine acres of grounds offering stunning views over Lyme Bay.
6. Explore the coast by boat
As much as we love exploring the Jurassic coast on foot, seeing it from the sea is a real sight to behold. You can clearly see the changes in the rock formations of the cliffs, which are also home to a huge range of birds including Guillemots and Puffins who nest there. If you are lucky, you might even spot our own local Dolphin pod, who have been spotted all along the Jurassic coast and often come alongside boats to say Hello.
There are many boat tours available all along the coast from RIBs to pleasure cruisers, yachts to glass bottomed kayaks but one of my favourites is the City Cruise Jurassic cruise which runs from Poole to Swanage. The trip takes you past Old Harry Rocks to the seaside town of Swanage and allows you to disembark and explore the town, take the steam train to see Corfe Castle’s breathtaking ruins before heading back again.
If you have time, Swanage is also the location of Durlston Country Park which is home the great globe of Swanage, one of the largest stone spheres in the world and a real sight to behold.
7. Dorset is Brilliant for bird lovers
There are a few RSPB nature reserves along the Jurassic Coast and all offer something different to see.
Arne, situated in Poole Harbour, remains one of the few places in the UK where all six of the UK’s native reptiles can be found. Radipole lake in Weymouth counts Kingfishers, otters and water voles amongst its residents and Abbotsbury is home to the world’s only managed colony of nesting mute swans which is a real sight to see, particularly in the spring when the cygnets hatch.
8. Dorset is home to one of the most famous streets in England
Head inland and stand on the ancient cobbles of Gold Hill in Shaftesbury. It is one of the most famous streets in England having been made famous in the much-loved “Hovis” advert.
Rural Dorset has lots of offer visitors with stately homes, water mills and country walks by the mile.
Another thing Dorset does well are its traditional fayres and festivals. Some of our favourites include the Dorset Knob Throwing Festival (it’s a round biscuit), Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, Great Dorset Steam Fair, its numerous food festivals and Bournemouth Air Festival.
9. Home to the best beach in the UK
Trip Advisor has ranked the best beaches in the UK, Europe and the world for 2018 and Bournemouth Beach claimed the number one spot for the UK and fifth in Europe overall.
Bournemouth is a popular tourist destination and its main claim to fame is the 11 miles of golden sand running from Sandbanks in Poole to Hengistbury Head and Mudeford Spit, famously home the most expensive beach huts in the country.
Bournemouth Beach is home to many attractions including the Rockreef and the Pierzip, Bournemouth Oceanarium and many fabulous restaurants including Urban Reef and West Beach. The beach also hosts Bournemouth Air Festival each year and there is something about relaxing on the beach and watching planes roar overhead.
10. Dorset is home to some interesting attractions
From Bovington Tank Museum to Monkey World, Dorset is home to some great attractions which offer brilliant days out for all the family.
One of our favourites is Moors Valley Country Park as it offers a huge play trail, the Highway Rat trail, a light-gauge railway, Go Ape and miles and miles of woodland walks and cycle tracks to explore.
For National Trust members, the beaches of Studland are a must-visit, whether you choose to go kayaking in the shallow water or just explore the dunes. Kingston Lacy House offers beautiful gardens which come to life in the spring, right the way through to Autumn and visit Hardy’s Monument for some stunning views over the Dorset countryside
For a bizarre, but fascinating day out a visit to Tyneham is a must. Tyneham village was evacuated in 1943 during WWII and has been deserted ever since. The Church and School have exhibitions about the village and villagers and its a short walk to the stunning Worbarrow Bay.
This post has been written in collaboration with Wyke Dorset, who have been providing holiday cottages in Dorset for over 30 years.
They offer a wide-selection of properties across Dorset – whether it’s a cosy cottage for two or a large house that is ideal for family and friend get-togethers.
Wyke Cottages are part of the Original Cottages family which started as an idea at the dining table of a family cottage, in the heart of Norfolk. They are now the UK’s largest, family-owned, independent holiday cottage company with 25 brands, 400 members of staff, and more than 4,300 different properties.
Have you visited Dorset before – where is your favourite place to visit?