London Diary – Easter Weekend in Dorset!

Apr 22, 2017

Easter weekend is one of two longer public holidays in UK, lasting from Good Friday to Easter Monday, it is an extra-long weekend. We were some of the many taking road trip this past Easter weekend, and Dorset was the destination.

Stunning coast that is part of Jurassic Coast, lovely interior of rolling hills and valleys, charming towns and villages, Dorset has plenty to wow visitors. Its literary link to Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy had been the reason for my choosing Dorcester and vicinity this time.

Fine weather was definitely icing on the cake. Spring floral abounds and you can’t miss the large patches of Rap seed and Gorse field here and there.

We stayed at Little Court in Charminster, a small village on northwest outskirt of Dorcester. It is a charming house with lovely garden and peaceful surrounding. Little Court served good breakfast. I belive I had the best scrambled eggs there, rich, creamy and moist to perfection. Nearest restaurant is Sun Inn, a nice pub several minutes away on foot. For more options, Dorcester is minutes away. We tried on the first night Duchess of Cornwall, hotel plus pub in a beautiful building located in Docester’s new neighborhood of Poundbury. Both the neighborhood and pub are pleasant.

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Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door

Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door never fail to impress. First time we were there was summer of 2014 but we did not walk the coastal path in between. Back this time, we again had beautiful weather, took up the walk and fully enjoyed the scenery and people watching along the way.

Being Easter weekend with fine weather it was busy, but not more so than summer of 2014. Quite a number of families there with young children. While it is relatively easier to get to the beach at Lulworth Cove, it takes effort to safely down the narrow steps to reach the beach at Durdle Door. Some children played at the beach, with sand bucket, shovel or other beach day paraphernalia, others flew kites on the fields. It was lovely to see children and adults alike having fun.

The two attractions are 1 mile apart from each other and there is parking lot at each end. You pay for parking per car but no other admission charge. There is however more service options at Lulworth Cove, where there is the pretty Lulworth village, a visitor center, cafes and shops. We parked at Lulworth Cove, picked up some Cornish beef pasty and sausage roll from the Coffee Shop next to the visitor center and had a nice picnic at Durdle Door before heading back.

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Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis is a picturesque seaside town on the hill. Its water front area, featuring promenade, garden, and beach, was lively with visitors and holiday makers alike. Towards the western end is its harbor. Famously known as the Cobb, it owes its fame to being featured in novels like Persuasion and French Lieutenant’s Woman. From the Cobb, you enjoy lovely views of the town, sea, and Golden Cap, the highest point of south England.

Jane Austen holidayed in Lyme Regis herself. We did a Jane Austen tour with Literary Lyme. It was a 1 hour walk starting from the black metal anchor on the water by Rock Point Inn. The tour stayed mostly close to the seaside and ended at the Cobb. The material was interesting enough but the delivery and commentary by our guide was a bit of a lack luster.

The Spittles is a National Trust owned natural area located on the hill top northeast of town where you can look down to a nice picture of Lyme Regis. It is free to the public.

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Stonebarrow Hill and Golden Cap on Lagon Hill

East of Charmouth, a town east of Lyme Regis, there is Stonebarrow Hill, also National Trust owned natural area on the clifftop. There is ample parking at this site. Follow the path to the cliff, you’ll be rewarded by beautiful views, including that of Charmouth and Lyme Regis further west. Parking is free here and there is no charge to do the walk.

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Further eastward is Logan Hill. Another National Trust owned natural area on the clifftop, parking here is a minimal of 50p and there is no charge for taking the walk. A short walk will take you to Golden Cap where another set of stunning views await.

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Hardy Country

Dorset, where Thomas Hardy was born and lived most of his life, is Hardy’s inspiration and in turn most of his novels are set in towns and villages of Dorset. Hardy Trail is a circular route that features all of them. Thanks to my neighbor and friend Carole, I was armed with a detailed guide to the trail. Although we did not get to visit all featured destinations, I thoroughly enjoyed those I visited.

Higher Bockhampton/Stinsford/Lower Bockhampton

Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet 10 minutes north east of Dorcester. The cottage built by his grandfather and father is now a National Trust property open to the public. In addition to the cottage itself, surrounding area has been preserved as natural area for a peaceful walk. Higher Bockhampton is featured in Hardy’s novel as Higher Mellstock.

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Stinsford is a cute little hamlet few minutes south.  While Thomas Hardy is interred at Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, his heart was and some of his family were buried at St Michael’s Church in the village. Stinsford is Mellstock in Hardy’s novels.

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Lower Bockhampton is another small hamlet a few minutes southeast of Stinsford. Thomas Hardy was believed to be one of the first pupils at the Old School.

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Nestle between Stinsford and Lower Bockhampton is the grand house of Kingston Maurward House, featured in Hardy Novel as Knapwater House, and is now property of Kingston Maurward College.

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All 3 hamlets are atmospherically quiet, no sign of hustle and bustle at all.

Dorcester

Dorcester, Dorset’s county town and heart of Hardy country, is an interesting mix of new and old. Poundbury, west of the town, a recent urban extension to the town, is a pleasant neighborhood with handsome buildings and wide roads.

High East and West Street along with Trinity Street are where you’d find many historic buildings and sites featured in Hardy novels, The Dorset County Museum, St Peter’s Church, The King’s Arm’s Hotel, The Corn Exchange and the Antelope Hotel, etc. Trinity Street is a pedestrian only street lined with shops, restaurants and more historic buildings. Dorcester itself is featured as Casteridge in Hardy novels.

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Maxgate House east of town is Thomas Hardy’s former home from 1885 to 1928. It is now a National Trust property and house museum open to the public. It is a comfortable house that had seen many distinguished guest, including Edward VIII when he was Prince of Wale. As you learnt about the novelist and his great work, the man and his life, the not so great ending for his first wife Emma came into light. Humans are so full of contradiction!

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Thomas Hardy’s statue can be found on the corner of The Grove and High West Street.

Hardy’s Monument

This is however a different Thomas Hardy, a Royal Navy officer, Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, 1st Baronet GCB (5 April 1769 – 20 September 1839).

The monument is built on top of the hill in Portesham. The monument itself is average, the far reaching panoramic view atop of the monument is very fine indeed.

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Abbotsbury

Abbotsbury is one of the prettiest little villages I’ve ever seen. Arriving just before the last light of the day faded away, it was a charming picture of idyllic serenity. Although the only people around were a few last minute tourists like us, we were in good company of many sheep, a few pheasants, a swan and a flock of ducks.

Abbotsbury is also home to its well-known Swannery and Subtropical Garden. Alas we missed them this time.  St Catherine’s Chapel located on top of a hill is supposed to offer an advantage view of the village and surrounding area. We didn’t hike up to the hill this time. Luckily you can also get a great view of the village on B3157 approaching the village from the west.

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Weymouth

Weymouth is not far south of Dorcester. We made a brief stop at its water front and were pleasantly surprised by the flat, long stretch of beach, an unusual but impressive sight, the long row of buildings lining the beach front is equally impressive. After that we drove by the old harbor which was quite lively, with music wafting out of pubs and pub goers spilling out on to the street.

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Osmington White Horse

Intrigued, we drove to a look out on A353. If you want to get up and close, it is possible to do so by foot.

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Corfe Castle

Castles, ruins and treasure hunting are my husband’s fantasies and Corfe Castle fitted the bill perfectly.

With Corfe Castle towering over, the Village is picturesque and evocative in equal parts. The castle itself is impressive even in its ruined state. A National Trust property, we as members benefited a free entrance. You have to take a walk through the ruin and get close up to its various parts to appreciate its former glory and the political intrigue behind its destruction.

Being a tourist hot spots, there are nice restaurants and shops in the village center. Dinner at Grey Hound Inn was great. I had Crab Gratin with kale and mash potatoes and it was very good. I’d rate it a gourmet pub.

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England 2014 (4)-Jurassic Coast

Great Brittan has some of the most stunning coasts in the world and Jurassic Coast is one of them. A 95 mile long sea shore spanning from county Dorset to county Devon, it is not only stunningly beautiful but also home to rocky cliffs that are 185 million years old and England’s first UNESCO designated natural World Heritage site. Even more interestingly, color scheme of the scenery transforms along the way, while the oldest rocks on the west are of deep clay red, the youngest on the east are of chalk white. Naturally, it is a rich ground for fossil hunting. And between its eastern end at Studland, Dorset and western end at Exmouth, Devon, it is studded with charming sea towns and villages.

Planning for this holiday, I discovered the impressive network of foot paths (walking routes) that exists in England. Apart from the local routes of shorter distance, South West Coast Path (a.k.a. SWC) is a 630 mile long route that crosses Somerset, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, and the majority of it falls on the coast with striking sea sights, and one that we crossed path with multiple times. Jurassic Coast on its entirety is part of SWC, there are itineraries covering the whole 95 miles by foot. It is a tempting option, one that would allow the fullest exploration of the coast and places in between. Alas, it mostly likely would take almost my entire vacation to complete. I settled for covering in one and half days these highlights, Old Harry’s Rock near the eastern end, Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, Coastal Drive from Wyemouth to Bridport, Lyme Regis and Orcombe Point at the western end.

My attack plan was to stay the night before near Old Harry’s Rock at Swanage and second night at Exmount which is where Orcombe point is located. It was a long day with a lot of rushing and we pretty much fast forwarded through the Costal Drive (Weymouth to Bridport), with one momentary stop in Lyme Regis. But we did make it to Old Harry’s Rock, Lulworth Castle, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and everything was every bit as splendid as I had hoped it to be.

At Swanage, we stayed at Clare House, a nice Bed and Breakfast. Although we did not have time to explore the town itself, driving through yielded a good impression. Dianne, Scottish, and Alan, English own the place. It was a few days before Scottish Independence Vote and I asked Diane about it. She said staying together is better for the economy. When the result was out, we were in Fowey. I was happy to find out England and Scotland would stay together. It would have been said to see the little island split up.

Old Harry’s Rock

The closest car park to Old Harry’s Rock is South Beach Car Park in Studland, an unmanned pay and park system. It was supposed to accept credit cards but ours did not work there, be prepared and take plenty cash with you. It could be done in one hour but we spent about two hours at Old Harry’s Rock, taking photos and video along the way, taking time to explore and appreciate the environs; it took us 50 minutes to get there, but only 20 minutes to return to the car park.

The walk was exhilarating. The route started off right across from Bankes Arms, a country inn right next to the car park, and was just some paces away from the path leading down to South Beach. The village was quickly left behind; the trail unexpectedly turned into a broad swath along the cliff, surrounded by nothing but sea and countryside, and hedges planted on the edge of the cliff. Somewhere on the hedge there was a sign warning about dogs falling off the cliff.

While there were other people around, it was far from crowded, which was nice. Many of the hikers seemed retirement age couples, they were friendly and polite, and they made eye contact and said good morning. Quite a number had their dogs with them. I wondered if they were locals and what was that area like for retirement. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place like that right in your backyard?

Then the broad swath closed into a narrow way. It continued on through some thick shrubs. At some point, you’d notice an opening in the shrubs on the left, leading to a short path, and when you follow it, you’d quickly come to a small area on the edge of the cliff and a spectacular view of sea and chalk white cliffs. There is one single bench there. I suppose the choice is either sit back and enjoy the view or dare yourself down that sheep’s intestine like path in the middle. I knew it though; my husband would not pass it up. I curiously followed suit and found it more never racking than thrilling; but still glad I made it. The closer you get to end of the path, the narrower the path, at no more than 2 feet wide, in the meantime, the better your view of the perpendicular, sheer rocks, hugging you left and right, and you can’t help but stare down the whole length of the cliff, and feeling kind dizzy.

Giddy from that little adventure, we returned to the main track. As unexpectedly as before, it opened up again and this time to a vast open area that stretched across to edge of the cliff with no planted hedge railing. And there it was to the left Old Harry’s Rock, the giant rocker, towering over the water and seemingly disconnected from the cliff. Walk along the cliff, you’d find a few more interesting rocks.

The views are spectacular there, what makes it even better is that a whole area atop the cliff is naturally and verdantly preserved. A large tract of land immediately by the edge of the cliff is open field covered by low rise grass dotted with little wild flowers, further off are green woods and a village in the distance, wonderfully picturesque.

Old Harry’s Rock

Old Harry’s Rock


Another view of Old Harry’s Rock

Another view of Old Harry’s Rock


Spindle Rock near Old Harry

Spindle Rock near Old Harry


South Beach, Studland, Dorset

South Beach, Studland, Dorset

Lulworth Castle, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door

Moving on to Lulworth, we drove by again the little hill with the ruin of Corfe Castle on top. Castles, ruins, adventures and treasure hunting are my husband’s fancy so we took a little detour through village of Corfe.

Corfe

Corfe


Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

I was first made aware of the name Lulworth by American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, a pleasurable read and I think it will totally pass as a prequel for Downton Abbey. It was serendipitous to find Lulworth as one of the main attractions of Jurassic coast.

The reach of Lulworth estate is draw-droppingly expansive; among others, it includes the stretch of Jurassic Coast ranging from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door. We visited Lulworth Castle first. The castle was ruined during fire early 20th century. While the frame and exterior has been fully restored to its former glorious and imposing self, the interior remained an empty ruin. The climb to the top of the castle provides a good view of surrounding area and also a glimpse of the current residence of the owning family, a pleasant looking red brick mansion not far from the castle, with a manicured front yard and a garden on the other end of the house that blends in with the Castle garden. The exhibit in basement tells a good story of the family’s and castle’s history. There are also two churches close to the castle, an Angelica church and a Catholic cathedral, both open to visitors. Its stable is located further off the castle.

Lulworth Castle

Lulworth Castle


Lulworth Castle

Lulworth Castle


Lulworth Castle’s Catholic Cathedral

Lulworth Castle’s Catholic Cathedral


Lulworth Castle’s Angelican Church

Lulworth Castle’s Angelican Church

Both Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door are beautiful sites. Car park and Lulworth Cove Heritage Center are closely located to the cove. You pay to park your car but no additional charge to go up to the cove. There were two options for us to get to Durdle Door. One was to start at Lulworth Cove car park and hike the mile long path accompanied by beautiful sea sight. The other was to drive up to Durdle Door Holiday Park, pay again to park there and make our way down the shorter path. The first was my original intention but it was approaching the evening and our legs had become heavy by that time, so we opted for the second. The path from there to the sea cliff is not too long but involves steep hills, which made it bit more challenging than it appeared to be. At the end though, all our effort was generously rewarded by Mother Nature.

Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Cove


Rocks at Lulworth Cove

Rocks at Lulworth Cove


Durdle Door

Durdle Door


Stunning cove near Durdle Door

Stunning cove near Durdle Door


Lyme Regis – The Cobb

Lyme Regis – The Cobb

Orcombe Point in Exmouth

A night’s rest restored and refreshed us; and the light rain stopped by the time we were ready to head out to Orcombe Point, where we expected to find oldest red rocks of the coast. What I had been able to find was that it is very close to the car park at eastern end of Queen’s Drive so the plan was to leave our car at the car park and go from there. Driving through town in the daylight now, we could see Exmouth as the charming sea town that it is. Queen’s Drive is a beach front road which comes to an end at a red rock wall.

That red rocky wall right there turned out to be Orcombe Point, the very end of that phenomenal 95 mile coastline. The beach west to Orcombe Point is Exmouth Beach and stretching eastward from Orcombe Point is Sand Bay. A number of people were that morning on the beach, with their dogs, which obviously enjoyed the water play with great energy and gusto. Sand Bay cannot be seen from the road or the beach but is accessible from Orcombe Point via a set of stairs, which on that day was however submerged in water due to high tide.

We couldn’t get onto Sand Bay but we could still get up to the hill and look down from the cliff. The view from up there of the red cliff, the town and beach were very nice. Geoneedle, a pyramidal monument erected on the hill top, is another highlight of Orcombe Point. It is made of different rocks from Jurassic Coast and officially marks the western end of the coast. Similar to that of Old Harry’s Rock, the land along the cliff comprises of luxuriant country fields, wonderfully unspoiled.

People were walking, jogging, dogs in tow. We trotted along but SWC goes on and on. We realized we had to stop our jaunt right there and move on to the next destination, Greenway in Devon.

Orcombe Point

Orcombe Point


Sand Bay east of Orcombe Point

Sand Bay east of Orcombe Point


Cliff at Sand Bay

Cliff at Sand Bay


Geoneedle at Orcombe Point

Geoneedle at Orcombe Point