When you’re living in or visiting Great Britain, it’s easy to be lured to nearby exotic European destinations with the promise of cheap flights and even cheaper holiday frivolity at the other end. But you’d be a fool to ignore the gems of the Motherland when you’re on British soil. Be surprised and delighted by Dorset.
Much easier than a Ryanair flight to Ibiza and with more baggage allowance, take a drive to the English seaside instead. Our tip if you’re departing from London: Hire a car from Heathrow Airport and negate the horror of navigating your way out of the city, while avoiding premium city car hire prices. The simplest option is to take the Tube to Heathrow, pick up your hire car from one the competitive airport outlets and connect to the M25 Ring Road in no time, making your journey to the South Coast almost too easy!
The adventurous can swing by Windsor Castle and push onto Stonehenge in just under an hour and a half. From there it’s just a few country roads and charming villages – each with their own delightful pub – until you reach the stunning region of Dorset, the gateway to the Purbeck Heritage Coast. This region is arguably the prettiest part of the mesmerising Jurassic Coast (aka the English seaside on steroids – you will mistake the beaches for the Mediterranean, that is until you test out the water temperature).
Here are my tried and tested recommendations for the Dorset English seaside, passed down unto to me by real life English-men, who’ve been holidaying in this part of the world every year since their childhood.
Watch the sunset over the Dorset hills at The Scott Arms pub
A lively and picturesque gastro-pub, The Scott Arms has the greatest apple crumble in all of Dorset. We know because we ordered pudding in just about every pub in the region. Sit out under the sun in the pub’s rolling green backyard and enjoy a nice roast meal followed by pudding. With so much fresh air, your London lungs won’t know what hit them.
Take the train from Corfe Castle to Swanage
After you’ve wandered through the ruins of Corfe Castle and enjoyed a cream tea, taking the steam train to the charming Victorian seaside town of Swanage is a must. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as the train chugs along through the countryside – enjoy the ride. Note: This trip can also be done in reverse.
Walk the coastal track from Swanage to Worth Matravers
Why does anyone walk for hours under the hot English summer sun? For the promise of homemade pasties and cold lager of course! Not for the faint-hearted, this some 8 kilometre walk along the coastline is a stunning but challenging one. Any moderate to keen walker can cope; just pack a hat and plenty of water if it’s the middle of the day in summer. Start in Swanage and follow the South West Coast Path until your map directs you to turn inland to reach Worth Matravers, where you’ll find the Square and Compass shining like a mirage at the top of the hill. This pub has been here since 1776, so mind your head indoors – people were shorter back then. The front garden has delightful views of the coast and you can feel chuffed with yourself for walking all that way as you down your pint and tuck into delicious homemade pasties. For tired legs, a taxi back to Swanage is recommended.
Lulworth Cove and the Durdle Door
The quintessential picture of the English seaside, expect to see sailing boats, fluffy dogs playing in the sea and children splashing by the shoreline. Grab an ice-cream and sit and enjoy the lovely Lulworth Cove. Then put on your backpack with your swimmers, sunscreen and water and get ready to ascend the coastal walk to Durdle Door. Sure you can drive there, but the walk is simply stunning and it’s practically an English tradition. Ogle at the turquoise green water, pinch yourself and rub your eyes until you believe it’s real. This is England. Not the Mediterranean. Repeat. Of the two times I’ve visited the Durdle Door, each of them has been during the hottest parts of summer and after the long walk I wanted nothing more than to plunge myself into the water – just beware that even through its perfectly hot on land, the water is less tepid! Refreshing is a good word to describe it, as is breathtaking. This is still the English Channel people!
Old Harry Rocks
England is a beauty. And Old Harry Rocks evoke that wild, ethereal Kate Bush-esque mood. The dramatic drop from these rugged pinnacles is enough to make even the least afraid of heights person feel dwarfed and awe-inspired. The land along Old Harry is unspoilt, free from hordes of tourists. One can sit along the hilltop of Old Harry and quietly contemplate the wonders of life in-between English wildflowers swaying in the wind and wild rabbits hopping through the grass. After your stroll, stop off for a drink at The Bankes Arms Country Inn and continue to take in the soothing views of the sea, on clear day you can see as far as the Isle of Wight.
Don’t forget your fish and chips: Before you set back for London or onward on your road trip, stop for a classic meal of British fish and chips at Shell Bay Cafe on Ferry Road, located right by the ferry that connects the Isle of Purbeck to Bournemouth. This little seaside cafe is a winner.