The places listed below make ideal bases for exploring Dorset.
The Blackmore Vale
An unspoilt agricultural area ideal for farm stays, near Shaftesbury with its abbey ruins and photogenic Gold Hill.
An appealing riverside town close to the National Trust Kingston Lacy Estate, Cranborne Chase and Poole Harbour.
Take a boat up the River Stour, and stride out across the wild Hengistbury Head from this delightful town with its magnificent medieval priory church.
Beach polo in summer on Sandbanks, one of Britain’s finest stretches of sand, and Brownsea Island – a boat ride from Poole.
Isle of Purbeck
Stroll the peninsula’s heaths, enjoy an exhilarating horseride along Studland Beach, soak up the atmosphere of ruined Corfe Castle and take a nostalgic trip on the Swanage Railway.
Dorset’s historic county town lies at the heart of Thomas Hardy country near Maiden Castle, England’s largest Iron Age hillfort.
The Bride Valley
Idyllic rolling hills, woodland and thatched villages on the River Bride’s route to the sea; visit charming Abbotsbury and extraordinary Chesil Beach.
An ancient seaside town at the heart of the Jurassic Coast and prime fossil-hunting territory.
A tiny village showcasing a jumble of architectural styles, while naked and proud on a nearby hillside is the iconic Giant chalk carving.
Two castles, an abbey and an historic town centre perfect for pottering huddle at the edge of the Blackmore Vale.
General travel information is available at Visit Dorset, and Traveline is useful for journey planning; bus timetables are online at Dorset For You. Bournemouth International Airport links Dorset to other domestic and European airports, while ferries operate between Poole and Cherbourg. Coaches and trains connect Dorset to other English cities. South West Trains is the main rail operator servicing the area, with regular trains from London Waterloo to Gillingham, Sherborne, Dorchester, Axminster (for Lyme Regis), Weymouth, Poole and Bournemouth.
Local buses can be helpful, although services are limited in rural areas and may only operate on certain days of the week. The Jurassic Coaster bus is handy; it runs regularly along the coastline between Axminster and Poole, and stops at all the key places en route.
Information on walking is available at tourist information centres and online at Dorset For You from where you can download guides to some of the most popular trails, including the Wessex Ridgeway and the Stour Valley Way. The standout piece in Dorset’s repertoire of walks is the hugely popular South West Coast Path, which combines heritage, flora, fauna, geology and spectacular coastal scenery. The UK’s longest national trail, it runs for 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset’s east, tracing the coastlines of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset on the way.
The South West Coast Path website is extremely helpful for planning and its walk-finder tool can help you choose the right route for you. You can download a range of themed walks of varying lengths and levels of difficulty, including information about where to eat and drink en route. The path is easy to find from most coastal towns and villages or from the beach, and is waymarked by an acorn symbol.
Horseriding & cycling
Horseriders and cyclists can feel vulnerable on Dorset’s narrow hedgelined lanes but there are usually plenty of passing places to pull into out of anyone’s way. A network of bridleways provides interesting off-road options and is complemented by the Wessex Ridgeway, the North Dorset Trailway and the Castleman Trailway in the east of the county.
Suggestions for cycling routes and cycle hire are given in each chapter, and suggested horserides and stables are mentioned where applicable. The British Horse Society (BHS) is the best resource for horseriders and provides a list of riding establishments offering trekking, instruction, etc. The BHS and www.dorsetforyou.com provide lists of accommodation where both you and your horse can stay. On a second BHS website you will find suggested rides and more lists of equestrian establishments.
Some Dorset beaches are ideal for memorable horserides along the sand, in particular Studland, and also certain beaches around Christchurch. From the east of the county you can ride into the New Forest, while North Dorset offers excellent riding through woodland and open countryside, including in remarkable spots like the Iron Age hillfort on Hod Hill.
In recent years electric bikes have become all the rage in Dorset. Jurassic Electric offers guided electric bike tours of the south and west of the county.
North Dorset – the Blackmore Vale, Cranborne Chase & Sherborne
Dorchester & the Piddle & Frome valleys
The Marshwood Vale & West Dorset
Weymouth & the Southern Coast
Isle of Purbeck
Poole, Bournemouth & the east
The accommodation listed below is by no means exhaustive; rather, it is my selection of places to stay, with no fee having been paid by the businesses concerned. I have selected a variety of accommodation options covering a range of budgets and styles, including campsites, B&Bs, self-catering and luxury boutique hotels. Each has been selected because I feel it is special in some way, perhaps for its location or historical connections, and because it aligns with the Slow Tourism ethos.
Prices change regularly, so are not included but I have tried to give an idea as to whether a place is an upmarket option or more suited to the budget-conscious. Some accommodation providers keep their prices consistent all year but many, especially those by the coast, charge peak rates in July and August.
North Dorset – the Blackmore Vale, Cranborne Chase & Sherborne
Many of North Dorset’s farms offer true countryside breaks, with good B&B and self-catering accommodation. Staying on a working farm can be a great way to get a feel for the area, which was built on the agricultural industry. There are also some enticing upmarket country house hotels and plenty of pubs. North Dorset receives fewer visitors than the coast and so tends to be less expensive, although Sherborne can be pricey. The Blackmore Vale is relatively central for exploring the rest of Dorset, so makes a good base.
10 Castle Street Castle St, Cranborne BH21 5PZ; www.10castlestreet.com. An exclusive, members-only hotel in a village setting in the Cranborne Chase. Members receive preferential rates as well as invitations to events and special interest clubs, such as wine buying or bridge, and discounts with partner businesses. Non-members are able to stay by becoming passing members. The Palladian exterior is a suitably grand introduction to what lies inside, where you will find impressive artwork and sumptuous furnishings. There are nine superb rooms, each with its own character and price. There’s also two 2 restaurants – 1 members only and the other open to the public. At the time of writing a spa was planned. Dog friendly.
Castleman Hotel and Restaurant Chettle DT11 8DB; www.castlemanhotel.co.uk. This Queen Anne manor house in the eccentric and peaceful village of Chettle retains its character and has not been overly modernised like so many are. There is something very authentic about it and the service, in keeping with the rest of the hotel, is pleasantly old fashioned. The 8 en-suite rooms are spacious and tasteful, and there is a good restaurant.
Crown Inn Crown Rd, Marnhull DT10 1LN; wwcrowninn-marnhull.co.uk. This thatched, 16th-century pub on the outskirts of Marnhull appeared in Thomas Hardy’s writings as ‘The Pure Drop Inn’. Outbuildings house 6 spacious en-suite rooms, 1 of which has disabled access. The B&B packages represent good value for money.
Eastbury Hotel Long St, Sherborne DT9 3BY; www.theesastburyhotel.co.uk. A 22-room hotel on one of Sherborne’s quieter streets, within walking distance of the shops, castle and abbey. Many of the building’s Georgian features have been preserved and, as a result, it has plenty of character. Each room has its own individual style, with the rooms in the extension having a more modern feel. There is a pleasant walled garden, a good restaurant and, importantly, a car park.
Grosvenor Arms The Commons, Shaftesbury SP7 8JA; www.thegrosvenorarms.co.uk.A boutique 16-room hotel in the centre of Shaftesbury, which has been refurbished in recent years and offers a high standard of accommodation and a lovely, country atmosphere. There is a range of rooms, some of which are exceptionally spacious. A good restaurant, relaxing bar and courtyard area enhance the appeal. One of the more upmarket options in the Shaftesbury area. Dog friendly.
Museum Inn Farnham DT11 8DE; www.museuminn.co.uk. In the centre of the village of Farnham in the Cranborne Chase is this highly regarded gastropub with 8 en-suite rooms (either around a courtyard or in the main building) and an 8-bedroom thatched self-catering cottage. The most elegant and expensive room is known as ‘The General’s’ and has a 4-poster bed. The décor throughout evokes a shooting lodge; dogs are welcome in some rooms.
Plumber Manor Sturminster Newton DT10 2AF; www.plumbermanor.co.uk. Upmarket accommodation in an elegant country house belonging to the Prideaux-Brune family. In the main house are 6 comfortable en-suite rooms; converted outbuildings contain another 10 rooms. Facilities include a tennis court, croquet lawn and popular restaurant. Dogs are allowed in 4 rooms. One of North Dorset’s more expensive options.
Glebe Farm Ashmore SP5 5AE; www.glebefarmbandb.co.uk. Tucked away in an old farmyard opposite Ashmore pond is this contemporary and architecturally striking farmhouse with 2 en-suite B&B rooms. Tessa Millard is a likeable hostess and very knowledgeable on the local area, having lived here for many years. The location is peaceful and being in the highest village in Dorset there are expansive views from the rooms and breakfast room. The rooms are equipped with super-king beds, TV, fridge and Wi-Fi. The Aga-cooked breakfasts use produce from the farm, and Tessa can also provide dinner, including local game in season. Tessa is happy to accommodate guests who bring their own horses in summer; she has ridden all her life and can provide guidance on riding in the Cranborne Chase.
Loose Reins Ridgeway Farm, Shillingstone DT11 0TF; www.loosereins.co.uk.This Western riding stables offers the chance to explore the Blackmore Vale on horseback, and if you wish to stay there is some lovely accommodation on-site. The accommodation is designed to evoke the life of a pioneer in America, either in wooden cabins or canvas lodges. They are thoughtfully designed, full of character and extremely cosy. Dog friendly.
Todber Manor Manor Farm, Todber DT10 IJB ; www.todbermanor.co.uk. Offers coarse fishing lakes, self-catering cottages and a small campsite for Caravan Club members. Farm buildings have been converted to 8 comfortable self-catering cottages. The fishing facilities are extensive, with well-stocked lakes and a large tackle shop. No pets allowed in the cottages. Reasonably priced.
Whistley Farm Milton-on-Stour, near Gillingham SP8 5PT; www.whistleyfarm.com. Tim and Debbie Allard offer exceptional self-catering accommodation on their peaceful farm in the Blackmore Vale. The 2 3-bedroom Scandinavian-style wooden lodges are beautifully furnished and maintained, and overlook attractive lakes where guests can fish. A converted barn provides a gorgeous 2-bedroom getaway with all mod cons, including woodburner, and high-quality fixtures and fittings, as well as far-reaching expansive views. The Allards like to spoil their guests, and their philosophy is to put as much care into furnishing and maintaining the accommodation as they would their own home. Footpaths criss-cross the farm, meaning you can explore the countryside without turning the key in your car. There is also a 4-hole pitch-and-putt golf course. Dogs are welcome in one of the lodges. Very good value for money, and will appeal to all, including families.
For those looking for camping and glamping, head to https://www.campsites.co.uk.
The Ark Naish Farm, DT9 5LJ; www.honeybuns.co.uk. Quirky accommodation in a vintage caravan at the farm where Honeybuns Bakery has its base. The caravan’s interior is a cheerful celebration of all things vintage. Guests have use of a kitchen, their own bathroom a short walk from the caravan, and a firepit. Honeybuns makes sustainability and protection of the environment a priority.
Inside Park Fairmile Rd, Blandford Forum DT11 9AD; www.theinsidepark.co.uk. A great option for lovers of camping and the countryside. The campsite is open from April to October, and is set within 14 acres of park- and woodland on a farm. The site facilities are far more elegant than the average, being within an 18th-century stable and coach house. There is an outdoor play area, games room and shop, as well as 6 miles of signed walks through the farmland, where you are likely to encounter local wildlife. Pet-friendly. Reasonably priced.
Stock Gaylard Yurt Holidays Stock Gaylard Estate, Sturminster Newton DT10 2BG; www.stockgaylard.com.Luxury yurt camping from April to September on the 1,700-acre Stock Gaylard Estate, which includes an 80-acre deer park. Expect abundant wildlife and plenty of peace and quiet. Local furniture maker James Ross crafted the yurts from ash trees grown on the estate. They are grouped in 3s: 2 for sleeping and 1 with a kitchen, so you need to book all 3. Accommodation is also available in shepherd’s huts and even a double-decker bus. Solar power minimises the impact on the environment. Guided nature walks available. You can eat the estate’s venison and have organic food boxes delivered to your yurt. Not your average camping experience so expect to pay substantially more than at a typical campsite.
Dorchester & the Piddle & Frome valleys
Dorchester is a handy base if you are travelling by public transport, but there are also some lovely out-of-the-way villages with good accommodation that will really allow you to experience what this unspoilt area has to offer. Cerne Abbas is one such place and well positioned for exploring Dorchester, Sherborne, the Blackmore Vale and even the coast. For those with an interest in Hardy, Higher and Lower Bockhampton will appeal. The Landmark Trust lets out two beautifully restored properties in this area, Wolfeton Gatehouse and Woodford Castle.
Fox Inn Ansty, near Dorchester DT2 7PN; www.foxinnansty.co.uk. There are 11 comfortable en-suite rooms in this popular pub. In a handy location for visiting the Blackmore Vale and Dorchester areas, and it has a good restaurant.
New Inn 14 Long St, Cerne Abbas DT2 7JF; www.thenewinncerneabbas.co.uk. A characterful 16th-century coaching inn in the centre of the village, with 12 elegantly renovated rooms and 2 suites. One of the more expensive options in the area.
Abbots B&B 7 Long St, Cerne Abbas DT2 7JF; www.abbotsbedandbreakfast.co.uk. Offering 5 clean and comfortable en-suite rooms in the centre of the village. Owner Nicola Wilkes is highly professional and welcoming, and takes great care over the accommodation and tea rooms below. Rooms are nicely furnished and equipped with Wi-Fi, TV and tea- and coffee-making facilities. The breakfast, served in the tea rooms, is excellent and uses good-quality, locally sourced produce in generous proportions. Represents very good value for money.
Abbots Court East St, Winterborne Kingston DT11 9BH; www.abbots-court.co.uk. Jez and Niki, owners of the highly successful Tickled Pig restaurant in Wimborne Minster, opened this B&B in a secluded Victorian farmhouse set in 5 acres. The 7 beautifully finished rooms are named after their favourite breeds of pig. The food is excellent; evening meals are offered as well as breakfast. Many of the ingredients are from just outside the door, in the large kitchen garden. Pigs and chickens roam the grounds, and guests are free to wander too.
Little Court 5 Westleaze, Charminster DT2 9PZ; www.littlecourt.net. This upmarket B&B in an attractive Edwardian house in the Lutyens’ style is around 1 mile from Dorchester. The extensive grounds are a particular feature and there is a pool and tennis court. The 8 en-suite rooms have plenty of character.
The Old Mill West St, Bere Regis BH20 7HS; www.theoldmillbereregis.co.uk. A converted mill houses 4 attractively furnished en-suite rooms. It has the character of an old building but feels clean, modern and fresh on the inside. The breakfast room is where the mill wheel used to sit, and the glass panel in the floor showing the mill stream below is a clever reminder of the building’s former use. A shepherd’s hut and field camping are also available. A colourful, mixed flock of chickens in the garden provide the eggs for breakfast.
Westwood House 29 High West St, Dorchester DT1 1UP; www.westwoodhouse.co.uk. A Georgian town house in the centre of Dorchester with 7 attractive en-suite rooms. There is no parking and the rooms are spread over 5 floors so it pays to travel light.
Dorset Resort Bere Regis BH20 7NT; www.dorsetgolfresort.com. Located south of Bere Regis, you can take advantage of 3 9-hole golf courses, coarse fishing lakes and an indoor bowling green here, and non-golfers are welcome too. It has 12 spacious and well-appointed Swiss chalet-style wooden cabins (sleeping up to 8), each with sauna and fireplace, in a secluded setting backing on to woodland: deer sightings are common. No pets.
Wolfeton Gatehouse Dorchester DT2 9QN; www.landmarktrust.org.uk. The Landmark Trust lets out the gatehouse of the privately owned medieval Elizabethan Wolfeton House. It is a stately building full of character and the guesthouse sleeps up to 6 people. Wolfeton House, but not the gatehouse, is open to the public between June and September.
Woodsford Castle Near Dorchester DT2 8AS; www.landmarktrust.org.uk. An unusual thatched castle, which dates from 1370. The castle was in the same family for 600 years, until it was taken over by the Landmark Trust, which now lets it out. The castle sleeps 8 and dogs are allowed.
Green Valley Yurts Longmeadow, Godmanstone DT2 7AE; www.greenvalleyyurts.com. Now this is my kind of camping! At the southern end of the village of Godmanstone, on the A352, Heather and Roy have set up 6 gorgeous yurts on the family farm. Both Heather and Roy have creative backgrounds, in textiles and photography respectively, and it shows in the charming way they have decorated the interiors. Each has a woodburner, a barbecue pit and soft furnishings handmade by Heather. Little touches like lanterns and marshmallows for toasting on the fire make all the difference. Guests have use of a well-equipped communal kitchen area and shower block, complete with a bath, board games and blackboard wall for the children. The River Cerne, which is a gentle stream here, runs along one side of the field. There is a vegan café on site. The yurts are of varying sizes; the largest sleeps up to 7 and the smallest up to 4. You will need to bring your own linen. Well located for walks around the Cerne Valley, visits to Dorchester and the coast.
The Marshford Vale & West Dorset
The West Dorset coast has an abundance and variety of accommodation. If you are after peace and tranquillity during the summer months, consider looking beyond Lyme Regis for a place to lay your head. The area between Burton Bradstock and Abbotsbury has some good, quieter options. There are also some nice places to stay inland, including some good B&Bs.
Acorn Inn 28 Fore St, Evershot DT2 0JW; www.acorn-inn.co.uk. This 16th-century coaching inn has a warm and welcoming feel in the main areas but the 10 en-suite rooms are finished in the style of a luxury hotel, which is perhaps unsurprising as it shares the same owners as Summer Lodge. In the evenings, guests and locals enjoy the bar and restaurant. Reasonably priced.
Anchor Inn Seatown DT6 6JU; www.theanchorinnseatown.co.uk. This pub is in a location that is hard to beat – a few yards from the beach at Seatown. There are just 3 en-suite rooms, which are spacious, contemporary and have sea views. The restaurant is good but gets very busy in summer.
Bridge House Hotel 115 East St, Bridport DT6 3LB; www.bridgehousebridport.co.uk. A family-run 3-star hotel in a Georgian building on the edge of town. 10 cosy en-suite rooms. Pet-friendly. No à la carte restaurant but light meals are available. Prices are mid-range.
Fernhill Hotel Charmouth DT6 6BX; www.fernhill-hotel.co.uk. An AA 3-star hotel between Lyme Regis and Charmouth with 10 rooms, including a studio for families. It isn’t in a village and there isn’t a great deal within walking distance, so a car is helpful.. The owners pride themselves on their friendly service and their focus on local and green living, and have won a Green Tourism gold award for their efforts. They employ local staff and source local produce for their restaurant. There is an emphasis on relaxation and health, with an outdoor pool, holistic therapies and wholesome, homemade food. Guests also have access to 36 acres of woodland and fishing ponds. Unusually for this area, there is plenty of parking.
Hensleigh House Hotel Lower Sea Lane, Charmouth DT6 6LW; www.hensleighhouse.co.uk. A small, friendly hotel around 300 yards from Charmouth Beach. There are 8 simple but comfortable en-suite rooms and a conservatory restaurant serving breakfast and cream teas. The hotel has parking and Lyme Regis is a short bus ride away. For the budget-conscious this is a great option. Pet friendly.
Manor Hotel Beach Rd, West Bexington DT2 9DF; www.manorhoteldorset.com. Located 400 yards up the hill from West Bexington Beach. This 16th-century manor house is now a hotel with 13 individually decorated en-suite rooms, most of which have sea views. The building was extensively refurbished in 2011 but retains many original features. The rooms are upstairs so not suitable for those with limited mobility. Has a cosy bar and restaurant, and beer garden with sea views. One of the more upmarket options in the immediate area.
The Ollerod 3 Prout Bridge, Beaminster DT8 3AY; www.theollerod.co.uk. A very inviting combination of history and modern comfort. The 13 rooms of this 13th-century former priest’s house and converted stables are full of character and finished to a high standard, some with 4-poster beds. Cosy sitting rooms and pleasant gardens add to the atmosphere. The restaurant specialises in local produce prepared with Asian flavours. Pet friendly.
The Seaside Boarding House Cliff Rd, Burton Bradstock DT6 4RB; www.theseasideboardinghouse.com. Luxurious accommodation in a stunning, peaceful seafront location. All 9 rooms have sea views and are decorated with superb attention to detail. There is an excellent restaurant.
Summer Lodge Country House Hotel Restaurant and Spa Summer Lane, Evershot DT2 0JR; www.summerlodgehotel.co.uk. A very elegant 24-room hotel in the heart of this lovely village. The property was home to the Earls of Ilchester from 1789 and retains the feel of a fine country house or shooting retreat thanks to luxurious furnishings and artwork featuring handsome horses and gun dogs. As well as rooms and suites, the hotel offers sophisticated self-contained cottages in the village. In 1893, Dorset author and architect, Thomas Hardy, designed an extension to the house, which now contains the drawing room. You can indulge yourself in the spa, which has a range of relaxing treatments, an indoor pool and sauna. The gardens are beautifully maintained – one guest told me she planned to spend the day admiring the hotel’s garden rather than pay to visit a garden open to the public. The service is excellent and there is a very good restaurant. One of Dorset’s most upmarket hotels, so expect to pay accordingly.
Abbey House Church St, Abbotsbury DT3 4JJ; www.theabbeyhouse.co.uk. Guesthouse accommodation in a historic building overlooking the millpond and the Tithe Barn, with 4 en-suite rooms and 1 with separate private bathroom, all decorated in country style. One of the rooms has a sitting area – handy for longer stays. The garden has good views of St Catherine’s Chapel. Reasonable value for money.
Abbotsbury Tearooms and B&B 26 Rodden Row, Abbotsbury DT3 4JL; www.abbotsbury-tearooms.co.uk. A 17th-century cottage in the village centre, on the corner opposite the turning to the swannery. The 3 en-suite rooms are thoughtfully decorated in a country style. Owner Lyn, who has lived in Dorset all her life, makes every effort to ensure her guests are content. The gardens are the perfect place to sit on a summer’s evening after a day exploring the coast. Good value for money.
Dorset House Pound Rd, Lyme Regis DT7 3HX; www.dorsethouselyme.com. A first-class B&B in a beautifully restored Georgian house close to the town centre. Lyn and Jason Martin have decorated each of the 5 rooms individually with high-quality fittings and furnishings; some of the rooms have sea view. The large, communal breakfast table means you can share stories with fellow travellers. The breakfast is outstanding, with plenty of healthy, freshly cooked and locally sourced options. Guests can relax in the gorgeous sitting room, or on the veranda. Sustainability is at the heart of their ethos.
Sea Fret B&B Coast Rd, Puncknowle DT2 9DQ. Standing alone on a hill on the coast road near Swyre, this B&B has stunning views of the sea, seen to full effect from the upstairs sitting room, which is glass on all sides. The 2 ground floor bedrooms are suitable for those with limited mobility. Owners Elizabeth and Tony Edwards are extremely friendly and accommodating, while their small alpaca herd provides added interest. Small pets are welcome. One of the most reasonably priced B&Bs in the area.
Donkey Lane Cottage 60 Donkey Ln, Burton Bradstock DT6 4QB; www.burtonbradstockcottages.co.uk. A pretty thatched cottage in the centre of the village, owned by the renowned Hive Beach Cafe. Beams, stone walls and an inglenook fireplace provide plenty of character. There are 2 bedrooms: 1 double and 1 single. The garden is a bonus on sunny days.
The Dorset Hut Nettlemoor Farm, Fishpond Bottom DT6 6NW; www.thedorsethut.co.uk. A cosy wooden lodge for couples, nestled in the beautiful countryside of the Marshwood Vale. The interior features reclaimed wood. It feels secluded but the coast is within easy reach. Dog friendly.
Symondsbury Estate Symondsbury, Bridport DT6 6HG; www.symondsburyestate.co.uk. Ten self-catering cottages and houses of varying sizes, all finished to a high standard. There are also 3 double en-suite rooms available that aren’t self-catering. There is a good café on the estate and a shop selling estate and local produce.
Valley View HQ Lime Kiln Lane, Uplyme, Lyme Regis DT7 3XQ; www.valleyviewhq.co.uk. Luxury self-catering in rural Uplyme, close to Lyme Regis, Dorset/Devon countryside and the Jurassic Coast. Beautifully converted and spacious high-spec barn sleeps 8 in 4 en-suite rooms; annexe sleeps 2. Also DIY livery/stables, a working pottery, an artists’ studio and a nature reserve, with a number of themed breaks arranged.
Washingpool Farm North Allington, Bridport DT6 5HP; www.washingpool.co.uk. Converted farm buildings provide 2 comfortable holiday cottages on this family-run farm on the outskirts of Bridport. Guests are welcome to wander around the farm and see how it is run. The large farm shop on site means you can stock up easily on local produce, and there is a coarse fishing lake.
Crafty Camping Holditch TA20 4NL; www.mallinson.co.uk. As well as woodland workshops, this rather special venue also offers adults-only glamping. The accommodation comes in various forms: yurts, bell tents, a tipi, a shepherd’s hut and even an incredible treehouse. All of the accommodation is carefully finished and there are extra little comforts like king-sized beds, a sauna and Wi-Fi.
Downhouse Farm Downhouse Lane, Higher Eype DT6 6AH; www.downhousefarm.org. A 380-acre organic farm on a hillside with spectacular views of the coast close to the South West Coast Path. Quirky, simple accommodation is available in 2 shepherd’s huts and a modern pod. The lack of electricity means you can truly disconnect from everyday life, but you do have access to a basic shower and toilet nearby. Wholesome food is served in the café, including a hearty breakfast. You can bring your own barbecue and cook up some organic meat from the farm, or head to the local pub for dinner. Access is down a very narrow lane. Dog friendly.
Golden Cap Holiday Park Seatown DT6 6JX; www.wdlh.co.uk. A well-equipped campsite in an outstanding location around 100 yards from Seatown Beach, which is nestled between cliffs. The views of the surrounding coastal farmland are absorbing. On the west side of Seatown is Golden Cap and the campsite is a good starting point for the walk up to the hightest point on Britain’s south coast. As well as caravan and tent pitches, there are modern, well-appointed static caravans for hire. There is a pub opposite the campsite and a shop at reception.
Highlands End Holiday Park Eype DT6 6AR; www.wdlh.co.uk. Quietly located on a hill above Eype, this site has views of the coast. Caravan holiday homes and camping are available. Extensive facilities include a bar/restaurant and indoor pool (payable for campers). Prices are typical of the area, with a hefty supplement in peak season. Eype Beach is dog friendly, even in summer.
Mangerton Mill Mangerton, Bridport DT6 3SG. Peaceful camping behind the 17th-century working mill, alongside the river. Just 10 caravan sites available. Trout fishing is available in a lake on site, and the mill has a tea room. No website at the time of writing.
Weymouth & the Southern Coast
Accommodation in Weymouth is typically of the cheap and cheerful variety; there are innumberable B&Bs and guesthouses along the seafront.
No 98 98 The Esplanade, Weymouth DT4 7AT; www.no98boutiquehotel.com. On the seafront in the centre of Weymouth, this boutique hotel has 9 contemporary-styled rooms, many with sea views. There is no restaurant for evening meals but there are plenty within walking distance.
Smugglers Inn Osmington Mills DT3 6HF; www.smugglersinnosmingtonmills.co.uk. In a quiet spot right on the South West Coast Path, this pub with rooms is perfectly located for walkers . It has 4 reasonably priced, comfortable en-suite rooms and a decent restaurant.
Beach House 51 Chiswell, Portland DT5 1AW; www.beach-house-bandb.co.uk. This B&B backs on to Chesil Beach at the Portland end and is close to the National Sailing Academy. The attractive house was built in the 1800s. Of the 6 rooms, 5 have en-suite bathrooms. Not luxurious but quite comfortable. Slightly below average B&B prices.
Le Beeche Stanley St, Weymouth DT4 7JB; www.dhcottages.co.uk. A modern, ground-floor 2-bedroom apartment close to the beach.
Old Higher Lighthouse Portland Bill DT5 2JT; www.oldhigherlighthouse.com. The location is what makes these 2 self-catering cottages special – in the grounds of the disused lighthouse, which is now a private residence. As you would imagine, the cottages have splendid sea views. The pretty gardens with barbecue, outdoor heated pool and jacuzzi are a bonus in the summer months. Guests also have access to the lighthouse tower observatory for seagull’s-eye views. A relatively inexpensive option.
Old Lower Lighthouse Portland Bill DT5 2JT; www.portlandbirdobs.org.uk. Basic, hostel-style accommodation for up to 24 people in a former lighthouse, now a bird observatory, and its annex. Also a self-contained cottage for 4. Aimed at birdwatchers, naturalists and walkers, and those on a tight budget.
Higher Moor Farm Nottington, Weymouth DT3 4BW; www.highermoorfarm.co.uk. Tent and caravan sites plus camping pods and bell tents. There is a farm shop on site, children’s play areas (including an indoor games barn) and in high season a bar and pop-up wood-fired pizza oven.
Rosewall Camping Osmington Mills DT3 6HA; www.weymouthcamping.com. Grass pitches for tents and campervans at Osmington Mills. Ideally located for an overnight stop while walking the South West Coast Path; horseriding and coarse fishing also available.
Isle of Purbeck
For many visitors to the Isle of Purbeck, Wareham will be their first stop, but not necessarily their base because it doesn’t feel as if it’s in the Isle of Purbeck proper. Corfe Castle is a peaceful and picturesque place to stay, right in the centre of the peninsula and allowing easy access to all the local attractions. Swanage, like many British seaside towns, is crammed with guesthouses and hotels of varying quality, but is a handy place to stay if you are travelling by public transport. Studland is a quieter option and within easy reach of the Sandbanks ferry, although accommodation is limited. The whole of the Dorset coast is busy in summer, but in Lulworth Cove the overcrowding is exacerbated by the single road in and out. As well as the enormous campsite at Durdle Door, the Lulworth Estate has cottages for rent (www.lulworth.com).
Limestone Hotel & Restaurant West Lulworth BH20 5RL; www.limestonehotel.co.uk. In the village, a 10-minute walk from Lulworth Cove. The walk up from the car park is steep, but its elevated position means there are good views of the Purbeck Hills. A comfortable, small hotel, decorated in country house style.
Mortons House Hotel 45 East St, Corfe Castle BH20 5EE; www.mortonshouse.co.uk. A 16th-century manor house in the centre of the village, which has been converted into a cosy 21-room hotel. The hotel’s atmosphere is nicely old-fashioned, with plenty of character features, including an elegant wood-panelled drawing room. The restaurant serves a good breakfast, and the hotel is accessible to those with limited mobility.
Pig on the Beach Manor Rd, Studland Bay BH19 3AU; www.thepighotel.com. One of a group of hotels, this one occupies an 18th-century house in an enviable position overlooking the bay and Old Harry Rocks. Stylish accommodation from four-poster rooms to a shepherd’s hut; it has a trendy feel to it and attracts a ‘cool’ crowd. There is a decent restaurant that uses ingredients from the kitchen garden or other local producers.
The Priory Church Green, Wareham BH20 4ND; www.theprioryhotel.co.uk. A historic and characterful 16th-century priory with gardens running down to the River Frome. The 17 rooms vary in size and are in either the main building or the boathouse close to the river; accommodation is homely and comfortable. It is close to the town centre and there is a good restaurant. The terrace and gardens invite you to sit and watch the river traffic.
Purbeck House Hotel 91 High St, Swanage BH19 2LZ; www.purbeckhousehotel.co.uk. A 38-bedroom 3-star hotel within the atmospheric, castle-like building George Burt built as his home in 1875. Rooms are either in the original Victorian building or Louisa Lodge, which was built in 2003.
Bindon Bottom Main Rd, West Lulworth BH20 5RL; www.bindonbottom.com. An imposing Victorian stone house with 5 elegantly furnished en-suite rooms, each with their own character and some with lovely countryside views. Nice touches include the organic toiletries in the bathrooms and the owners’ efforts to run an environmentally sustainable business; a ground floor room is suitable for those with limited mobility. An upmarket B&B option but realistically priced.
Challow Farmhouse B&B Sandy Hill Lane, Corfe Castle BH20 5JF; www.challowfarmhouse.co.uk. This luxurious B&B is in a quiet location on the edge of the village and within walking distance of Corfe Castle. Accommodation is either in the main house or in 1 of 2 attic rooms in the converted barn. The rooms are finished to a very high standard, their elegance perhaps reflecting owner Kate’s years living in London. Breakfast and afternoon tea can be taken in the very pretty and peaceful garden. Kate endeavours to minimise her business’s impact on the environment by using clean energy and water from the well in the grounds. Reasonable value for money.
Swanage Haven B&B 3 Victoria Rd, Swanage BH19 1LY; www.swanagehaven.com. Just 300 yards from the beach and a pleasant 800-yard walk along the seafront to the town centre, this is not your average suburban B&B. Thoughtful touches like contemporary décor and complimentary Chococo chocolates make the 7 en-suite rooms feel a little bit special, plus you can luxuriate in a hot tub in the garden or indulge in spa treatments. Breakfast is homemade and locally sourced, right down to the eggs produced by the hens in the garden, and has earned the B&B a ‘Direct from Dorset’ accreditation: there is even a licensed bar. No children. Prices are reasonable.
Bronte Cottage Church Green, Wareham; www.dhcottages.co.uk. This cottage dates back to around 1845 and is centrally located, close to the quay. Nicely decorated and has a courtyard garden. Sleeps 5 plus a baby.
Clavell Tower Kimmeridge; www.landmarktrust.org.uk. You get astonishing sea views from this pretty, circular tower, right on the South West Coast Path. Dating from 1830 and leased by the Landmark Trust, it is available to let as a romantic retreat for 2, for short breaks or a week. Parking is 180 yards away, at the foot of the cliff. Book well in advance; it isn’t cheap.
Elm Villa Wareham; www.dhcottages.co.uk. A spacious Victorian terraced house that has been beautifully renovated. Centrally located. Sleeps 6 (plus a baby) in 3 bedrooms.
Middle Cottage Kingston; 01929 481547; www.dhcottages.co.uk. A delightful, terraced cottage in the tiny village of Kingston near Corfe Castle. Oodles of character and beautifully furnished. Has expansive views of surrounding farmland. Sleeps 5 plus a baby.
Durdle Door Holiday Park Lulworth Cove BH20 5PU; www.lulworth.com. A huge and very popular campsite on the Lulworth Estate above Durdle Door, with direct access to the coast. Uninterrupted sea views and easy access to coastal walks. Cabins, touring sites and tent pitches available. Dogs are allowed. It may be a little dearer than some campsites but the location is hard to beat.
Tom’s Field Camping Langton Matravers BH19 3HN; www.tomsfieldcamping.co.uk. Field camping from March to October in a peaceful and picturesque location surrounded by stone walls and a short walk from the village. There are a couple of basic cottage-type options. There is also a shop on site.
Wareham Forest Tourist Park North Trigon, Wareham BH20 7NZ; www.warehamforest.co.uk. A popular and well-equipped campsite on 43 acres within Wareham Forest. The park is open all year, has a heated swimming pool and easy access to the forest’s walking and cycling trails.
Poole, Bournemouth & the east
Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch have an extensive range of accommodation from self-catering apartments and cottages to upmarket hotels. The coastal region is very busy in summer, although Christchurch is slightly quieter than the Poole and Bournemouth conurbation. Brownsea Island is a very special place and a National Trust cottage is available for rent there. Staying in rural East Dorset allows you to be within easy reach of the coast without being in the thick of it.
Christchurch Harbour Hotel & Spa 95 Mudeford, BH23 3NT; www.harbourhotels.co.uk. Modern 4-star hotel overlooking the harbour. The 64 rooms, some with harbour views; all are beautifully decorated and have little touches of luxury. There are 2 restaurants, both with water views, and a spa.
Haven Hotel Sandbanks BH13 7QL; https://www.fjbhotels.co.uk/haven-hotel/. The Haven is 1 of 3 hotels in Sandbanks owned by the same group. This 4-star hotel’s best features are its location on the tip of the Sandbanks peninsula and the presence of a spa. The 84 rooms are modern and comfortable, and most have a balcony with sea view. The pool and restaurant also overlook the sea. Relatively expensive, especially in summer.
Hotel du Vin Thames St, Poole BH15 1JN; www.hotelduvin.com. A boutique hotel in a handsome Georgian building in Poole Old Town, offering 38 stylish en-suite rooms finished to a high standard. There is a French bistro here and plenty of other restaurants within walking distance.
Langtry Manor 26 Derby Rd, East Cliff, Bournemouth BH1 3QB. Reputedly built in 1877 by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, for his mistress, Lillie Langtry, this is now one of the most upmarket hotels in the area. The rooms are elegantly furnished and have a luxurious and romantic air. This is a couples’ retreat rather than a family hotel. Rooms with four-poster bed and spa bath cost considerably more than standard rooms.
Number 9 9 West Borough, Wimborne Minster BH21 1LT; www.number9wimborne.co.uk. Accommodation in 3 elegant rooms above the restaurant. Other local businesses had a hand in creating the rooms, in particular the paint and wallpaper company Farrow & Ball, which decorated them. Thoughtful touches like organic bedding and towels and organic toiletries from Neal’s Yard in Gillingham make it feel a little special.
Weston Cottage 6 Macaulay Rd, Broadstone BH18 8AR; www.westoncottage.org.uk. This B&B north of Poole has an organic focus. The 4 en-suite rooms are comfortable and well-equipped.
524 Pamphill Green Cottage Little Pamphill Green BH21 4EE; www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk. A delightful semi-detached 2-bedroom thatched cottage tucked away in a quiet part of the Kingston Lacy Estate. There is a cosy sitting room with wood-burning stove, dining room and kitchen. Reasonably priced, but the cost rises steeply in summer.
The Black House Mudeford Spit BH6 4EW; www.theblackhouse.co.uk. The location is the outstanding feature of these holiday apartments, right on the water at Mudeford. The 4 apartments are simply furnished and have modern kitchens.
Deans Court Cottages Wimborne Minster BH21 1EE; https://www.deanscourt.org/the-cottages. Accommodation is in a peaceful location on the Deans Court Estate in 2 self-catering cottages, a shepherd’s hurt or a yurt. The cottages date from the 18th century and have plenty of character. All of the accommodation is nicely presented. It’s an easy walk into town.
National Trust Cottages Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour; www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk. Brownsea Island is a magical place to stay, and is transformed once the day visitors have left. There are 2 historic cottages are available for rent near the quay: Agent’s House has 3 bedrooms and a garden with views of the lagoon, while Custom’s House is on the waterfront and has 2 bedrooms. There are regular ferries during the day, but none in the evening. Expensive for self-catering but certainly memorable.
Round Island Cottages Poole Harbour; www.roundisland.co.uk. Self-catering accommodation in a special location, on a privately owned island in Poole Harbour. The 3 cottages are simple but fully equipped, 1 sleeps 8, 1 sleeps 7 and the other 6. No pets. Reasonably priced given its location.
Grove Farm Meadow Holiday Park Stour Way, Christchurch BH23 2PQ; www.meadowbank-holidays.co.uk. On the river and the main road into the town centre, this offers touring pitches and very good quality on-site vans with modern interiors and everything you could need. Coarse fishing is available for a small fee. There is a shop, a launderette and a games room. Good value for money.
Wilksworth Farm Caravan Park Cranborne Rd, Wimborne Minster BH21 4HW; www.wilksworthfarmcaravanpark.co.uk. An exceptional caravan park in the grounds of a Grade II-listed building recorded in the Domesday Book and once owned by Henry VIII. In a quiet setting, it offers pitches for tents and caravans, and the Olde Cart Shed serves meals and snacks. Other facilities include a pool, games room, tennis court and children’s play area. Pet-friendly. Reasonable value for money.