Studland Bay offers 3 miles of beautiful sandy beaches in the unspoilt surroundings of Studland Nature Reserve, a 3200 hectare area of heath land which is a haven for rare birds. The bay’s four main beaches include a National Trust visitor centre and a water sport equipment hire shop, both on Knoll Beach. Studland Bay is also home to Britain’s most popular naturist beach, which is located between Knoll Beach and Shell Bay. Whilst in the area, pop into the Square and Compass Pub in nearby Worth Matravers. You might also like to try some horse-riding at Studland Stables, for rides on the beach, in the forest, on the heath and along the coastal ridge – spectacular views!
Distance: 42 miles | Journey Time: 1hr 10 minutes
This is the place for water sports: scuba diving, kite surfing, kayaking, windsurfing and sailing. It will also become home to the London 2012 Olympic sailing events, hosted by the Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy, which also offers sailing lessons for all levels of ability. Recommended dining options with fantastic food and million dollar views include The Crab House Café, Café Oasis, and Quiddles.
Distance: 26 miles | Journey Time: 45 minutes
This near-perfect semi beach, having been carved out of the cliffs by the power of the sea, offers safe bathing in the sheltered bay, rock pools at low tide and endless diversions for the geologically inclined. From Lulworth Cove there is a popular 2km walk along the cliffs to the equally impressive Durdle Door, a natural arch of limestone rock that overlooks the cove.
Distance: 28 miles | Journey Time: 45 minutes
Weymouth’s status as a seaside resort was established over 200 years ago when King George III visited to ‘take the waters’. However, a fact that is likely to be of more interest to the kids is that Weymouth’s sand is renowned for being particularly suited to sand sculpture and, more importantly, sandcastle building. Second Wind, a water sports company offers Jurassic kayak tours, casteering (jumping/swimming/climbing and rock-hopping on a variety of natural routes), windsurfing tuition, Jurassic paddle-boarding, Weymouth sailing, and kite-surfing.
Distance: 22 miles | Journey Time: 35 minutes
Chesil Beach is an 18 mile shingle spit reaching from Portland Bill to Abbotsbury, wonderful for walking and bird watching, and a popular centre for windsurfing. Whilst in the area, visit the Hive Beach Café at nearby Burton Bradstock or the River Cafe in West Bay where the crime series Broadchurch was filmed.
Distance: 21 miles | Journey Time: 43 minutes
Great for exploring wildlife and geology along the Heritage Coast, with marine centre run by the Dorset Wildlife Trust. The sheltered bay allows swimming, diving and picnicking.
Distance: 40 miles | Journey Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
A pebbly beach with views of Golden Cap, the south coast’s loftiest cliff, and good fossil-hunting potential. Lunch at The Anchor Inn - a chocolate-box pub right on the beach under Golden Cap. Ideal for children who want to explore under the watchful eyes of their parents - it has a large outdoor dining area.
Distance: 18 miles | Journey Time: 35 minutes
A hidden gem previously used by pirates, with its own waterfall and charming pebbled cove with beautiful views towards Portland. The food and drink at the nearby Smuggler’s Inn is good.
Distance: 21.5 miles | Journey Time: 39 minutes
The National Trust's Montacute House is a Renaissance Manor House built of stone in 1588. It is filled with treasures and not only houses a fantastic exhibition of 17th textile samplers, it also has an arm of the National Portrait Gallery containing many Elizabethan paintings. 'Sense and Sensibility' was filmed here. The ashes of the celebrated American poet TS Eliot are buried in the church. Nearby, in Sparkford, is the Hayne’s Motor Museum. This prestigious Museum offers an excellent day out for everyone. With more than 340 cars and bikes displayed in stunning style, dating from 1886 to the present day, it is the largest international motor museum in Britain. The Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton has the largest collection of naval aircraft in the world and a real Concorde.
Distance: 14 miles | Journey Time: 23 minutes
Sherborne is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful towns in England. With its abundance of medieval buildings, Sherborne has much to offer visitors. A superb 1300 year old Abbey - an important early example of perpendicular architecture and burial place of two Saxon kings. Sherborne Abbey is one of only 18 churches awarded 5 stars in Simon Jenkins' England's Thousand Best Churches. The area also features picturesque Almshouse, two castles, and Cheap Street, lined with boutique shops, art galleries, delicatessens and coffee shops. Lunch at The Pear Tree, a lovely delicatessen and café.
Distance: 11.8 miles | Journey Time: 27 minutes
Travelling West from the hotel, head towards Beaminster , a town with a square of over 200 listed buildings, stopping off at Mapperton, famous for its sunken garden. Continue Forde Abbey, formerly a Cistercian monastery founded in 1141, renowned for its award-winning gardens and still privately owned. From there, travel to the quaint seaside town of Lyme Regis, a former home of Jane Austen and the town where ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ was filmed. There you can visit the Harbour Inn, Town Mill (cheesemonger, newly-opened micro-brewery, 2 art galleries, pottery, knitwear studio, ancient working flour mill and modern hydro-electric system) and Dinosaurland (the best collection of local Jurassic marine fossils, real Chinese dinosaurs and a 73 kg lump of dinosaur dung!) Lunch at the Mill Tea and Dining Room, or Lyme’s Fish Bar for the best fish and chips on the entire coast. Afternoon Tea at the Alexandra Hotel offers spectacular views over Lyme Bay from the garden and the conservatory.
Distance: 22.4 miles | Journey Time: 46 minutes
The entire village of Charmouth is a World Heritage site, and probably the best place to find the fossils constantly being exposed by the mudslides off the cliffs. Hammers are for hire (alongside the buckets and spades) from the smart heritage centre. Return to Bridport where you could lunch at The Bull Hotel. En route, visit the Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast. The view from here is, of course, spectacular.
Distance: 19.5 miles | Journey Time: 40 minutes
When Henry VIII dissolved the larger monasteries of England, he sold the lands forfeited from the Benedictine monks at Abbotsbury to the predecessors of the Ilchester family for whom Summer Lodge was built as a dower house. Abbotsbury, still owned nearly half a millennium later by the Ilchesters, is well worth a visit. Famous for its swannery, Abbey ruins, St Catherine’s hilltop chapel, tithe barn (now home to a children’s farm), and beautiful town crammed with pubs, coffee shops, antique stores and galleries, one should also visit the sub-tropical gardens and the 18 mile pebble barrier known as Chesil beach.
Distance: 16.1 miles | Journey Time: 32 minutes
Ideal for families and perfect for swimmers, Burton Bradstock has ample parking and is easily accessible from neighbouring Bridport. Wonderful cliff top walks can be taken from both ends of the beach. Whilst in this area, you might like to visit Whitchurch Canonicorum, where you will find the only saint’s relics in England in a parish church, as well as the burial place of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident, assassinated on Waterloo Bridge in 1978 by a KGB agent. Also buried here is Sir George Somers, (the real-life shipwreck who inspired Shakespeare to write the ‘Tempest’) colonizer of the American state of Virginia and the Caribbean island of Bermuda. The famous ‘Hive Beach Café is right on the beach and with a large outdoor eating area, you can take dogs and keep an eye on the kids as they play.
Distance: 16 miles | Journey Time: 30 minutes
The Teddy Bear Museum, with Edward Bear and his family of people-sized bears in Teddy Bear House. From the earliest antique teddy bears to today’s TV favourites. Tithe Children’s Farm is ideal for under 11’s and features lots of friendly animals that you can pet and feed at regular times. Abbotsbury Swannery is also worth a visit – one of the few places in the world where one can walk amongst swans. Corfe Castle Model Village, features life size soldiers, fairy garden, village punishment area, fossil corner, wildlife garden, giant games, and miniature museum. Swanage Railway offers a more intensive heritage steam and diesel timetable experience than virtually any other preserved railway. Monkeyworld assists governments around the world to stop the smuggling of primates from the wild. At the Monkeyworld Centre, refugees of this illegal trade, as well as those that have suffered abuse or neglect, are rehabilitated into natural living groups.
Take a boat to Brownsea Island, an old haunt of smugglers but now a nature reserve. Watch red squirrels, deer, and seabirds nose-diving into the sea, see spectacular views of Old Harry Rocks and the Purbeck Hills. Try out the new cliff top walk or the Smugglers’ Trail to the treasure chest on this car-free island where you can take your picnic anywhere. Have a ‘Famous Five’ picnic at Corfe Castle, Enid Blyton’s inspiration for Kirren Castle. Take a hamper and rug and find a grassy spot in the outer bailey or west bailey within the Castle.
The Wrackleford Estate is fortunate to have an exceedingly good reputation for the quality of their pheasant shoot. Wrackleford offers some four miles of Dry Fly Fishing on the River Frome. Southern Counties Shooting was founded in 1959 and is now the largest shooting ground in the country with over 450 fully automatic traps and is the Official Training Ground for the 2012 London Olympics.
Lawrence’s Cottage, Clouds Hill was chosen by him because of its proximity to Bovington camp where he was based. Bovington remains an army camp today and is also home to the world’s largest Tank Museum. Lawrence is buried in nearby Moreton. Lulworth is a short drive away, famous for its mock Jacobean Castle (where Emma Thompson’s ‘Nanny McPhee’ was filmed), horseshoe shaped harbour created about 10 000 years ago and of course, Durdle Door. A motorboat service will take you to Durdle Door by sea from where you can best observe this unbelievably beautiful coast line. Tyneham is also not far afield – a deserted and perfectly preserved village in a hidden valley.