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Dorset - The author’s take
Going Slow in Dorset
Dorset's rolling hills are perfect for exploring on foot © Terry Yarrow, Shutterstock
Dorset does Slow very well indeed – its quintessentially English rural landscapes, bountiful local produce, even the lilting Dorset accent has an unhurried, lullaby quality.
I should mention from the outset that this is not your typical travel guidebook. It doesn’t attempt to cover every aspect of the county and analyse all the accommodation and eateries. Instead, it is a personal look at what I love about Dorset, highlighting the elements that I believe encapsulate Dorset-ness and the Slow approach. There are, of course, many more places that fit the bill than I could squeeze into this book, so I must apologise to those that don’t get a mention. I am always open to suggestions and you can send me your ideas via Bradt Travel Guides.
In our fast-paced lives, where multi-tasking and time-saving devices are key to survival, the notion of travelling slowly and mindfully may seem unnatural but it is the perfect antidote to a hectic existence. This is one of a series of guides that builds on the Slow Tourism and Slow Food movements and encourages readers to take the time to explore an area thoroughly and at a relaxed pace, finding out what really makes it distinctive, rather than racing around and ticking off attractions from a glossy brochure. Slow Tourism involves seeking out special landscapes, engaging with local people, savouring the area’s produce and discovering local culture and heritage; this book invites you to do just that.
Dorset does Slow very well indeed – its quintessentially English rural landscapes, bountiful local produce, even the lilting Dorset accent has an unhurried, lullaby quality. As I was wandering the county explaining that I was writing a book called Slow Dorset, the response was frequently,
‘Hmmm, I suppose we are pretty slow around here’, accompanied by an enigmatic smile. It occurs to me that my parents and I, like many Dorset folk, lived in accordance with the Slow ethos but without giving it a label. We bought our meat fresh from a farm in the village, our milk from the local dairy, and our Christmas turkey from Mr Cox in Stour Row; collecting sloes, elderflowers, blackberries and mushrooms was an annual ritual, and homemade sloe gin in time for Christmas was one of the resulting treats.
My parents didn’t go out to work – our home was their livelihood – and most of our friends were in the same position. Villagers out for a walk or farmers passing in their tractors used to drop in for tea at any time – weekdays and weekends did not have the same meaning that they do for so many of us now, where we work flat out and it seems only two out of every seven days actually belong to us. That is one of the things I like about going back to Dorset; many of our friends have managed to keep that lifestyle going – they can still manage their own time, they know how to go slow. While they may have had to swap milking cows for running holiday cottages because of the decline in farming, they are still happy to stop for tea and a chat on a Wednesday afternoon.
A wise Dorset countryman, one of nature’s gentlemen, once said to me in his broad West Country accent ‘I like cities, I do.’ I had known him for many years and had barely heard of him setting foot outside his native Blackmore Vale, so I was shocked by this pronouncement. He continued, ‘I’ve never been to one but I like them because they keep all the idiots in one place.’ Without wanting to insult the majority of the population, I concede he has a point – a lack of large cities is one of the intrinsic qualities that makes Dorset distinctive and ideal for Slow Travel.
The fossil-rich cliffs of the Jurassic Coast are a Dorset icon © Lukasz Pajor, Shutterstock
As I chatted with Dorset friends about the places I had seen and things I had done in my quest for suitable material for this book, many of them said, ‘I’ve never been there’ or ‘I never knew that.’ I hope that locals as much as visitors will find this book helps them to become better acquainted with the county and encourages them to view it with the enquiring mind of an amateur sleuth, seeking out what makes Dorset Dorset. One local lady wrote to me while I was researching Slow Dorset, ‘I feel sure your book will be in great demand among the many of us who treasure our country ways and heritage’; if that is the case, I couldn’t ask for more.
It was a magical place for a childhood – I spent hours making camps, picking blackberries, riding ponies and fishing in our stretch of the River Stour, always accompanied by an assortment of pets, including a sheep named Perky.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in the tiny North Dorset village of Stour Provost and, as the first child born there for 25 years, I’m told my arrival was quite an event. It was a magical place for a childhood – I spent hours making camps, picking blackberries, riding ponies and fishing in our stretch of the River Stour, always accompanied by an assortment of pets, including a sheep named Perky. In those days the village was the domain of dairy farmers and farm workers, and the odd self-appointed squire; it was all rather Vicar of Dibley. The school run had to be timed with military precision to avoid being stuck behind the cows crossing the lane for milking; on a Saturday, the hunt would come charging over the hill, resplendent in their pink, hounds baying; village cricket and the church flower rota were serious business; and the pub was where all the big decisions were made. I have spent my life surrounded by colourful Dorset characters, some of the most genuine people you could wish to meet, and I was delighted to interview a few of them for this book.
Being based in Australia for the last few years, I’ve been returning to Dorset as a visitor with a new-found appreciation for its history, landscapes and culture; and writing this book gave me a reason to delve into corners of the county I didn’t know particularly well. For instance, I’d never really appreciated the Jurassic Coast – my memories of it were of school art trips and being made to sketch Durdle Door from a windy cliff top. Returning there while researching this book I could see why our scatty art mistress thought the limestone arch a worthy artistic subject and I felt immense relief marvelling at it, photographing it and not having to draw it – art was never my strong suit.
I must confess I was once one of the protective Dorset folk who referred to visitors as ‘grockles’, lamented the summer influx of ‘townies’ and bemoaned ramblers trampling over our land, but having returned home with fresh eyes and written this book, I can’t wait to share it with anyone who wants to experience Slow Dorset.