It’s always been difficult to hold on to power, but it’s much easier when there’s 10 feet of stone between you and the opposition. It’s this sound logic that has left its rather romantic mark on Dorset’s landscape. Though once synonymous with powerful kings, oppressive lords or gallant feats of defence, nowadays Dorset’s castles are more likely to evoke picnics, gardens, museums and hours of fun. To celebrate this wondrous heritage, all a short drive from both the picturesque Acorn Inn and elegant Summer Lodge, we’ve compiled a shortlist that will make anybody’s heart soar…
Built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 and surrounded by 42 acres of Capability Brown gardens, Sherborne Castle showcases lots eclectic styles that somehow work perfectly together. Visit to see an original Tudor kitchen, nationally important collections of art, and magnificent fossils from millions of years ago.
Sitting pretty on the hill that looms above the picture-perfect village of Corfe, Corfe Castle once guarded the main route through the Purbeck Hills. Famous for the defence of Lady Bankes, who protected the castle in numerous English Civil War sieges, the castle’s sad, stony ribs are the remnants of a gunpowder explosion the parliamentarians ordered after capturing Corfe. A top-tip is to visit the tea gardens; lovely in summer, it’s the best place to sit in the sun and get nostalgic.
One of Henry VIII’s strongest coastal forts, Portland Castle was built to protect England from French invasion, but was soon fortified by Elizabeth against the Spanish armada. Only four miles from Weymouth, most visit for the stunning sea views offered from its gun platform, the herb garden, and the delicious home-made cakes available in the Captain’s Tea Room.
If you’re wondering where the stone is, you needn’t bother. Maiden Castle is not a Norman keep, an Edwardian edifice or a Tudor bastion. Instead, it’s the finest and largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain. Ringed by giant earthworks (that encircle an area that’s equivalent to 50 football pitches) it would have once been home to roughly 200 families.
Grade-II-listed Nothe Fort is one of the best-preserved fortifications of its kind. Built by Victorians who wanted to defend Portland’s Harbour – which was fast becoming an important naval base – many children visit to undergo the WWII evacuee experience. Abandoned in 1956, lots of the original military installations (from ammunition tramways to original cannons and guns) remain in situ, providing hours of education and fun.
If seeing Dorset’s majestic strongholds has left you eager to visit a few in person, why not book the Acorn Inn or Summer Lodge, which in their own particular ways, present the perfect home from homes.