Back in April, thanks to a little Spring heatwave and a quiet couple of days work-wise, we decided to have an impromptu two night stay down in Dorset.
Sometimes those last minute trips are often better than the ones you spend months planning, and our little visit to Dorset was one of those.
Glenn and I had planned to go to Dorset last year (neither of us had been before, it was one of those places that your friends and family talk about) but it had never quite happened. Either all the accommodation was booked, or the weeks that we’d penciled a visit in, the weather was awful, so we never quite got round to it, but thankfully this time was different! We chose to visit the week after the Easter holidays, so with the mass of tourists gone home, and the children back to school, plus with a predicted heat wave on its way, it only took us about 5 minutes to decide hit the book button on booking.com.
We booked the hotel on the Saturday, by Monday I’d made a Pinterest board of places to visit, (I’m a bit sad like that - Glenn puts them into the Maps Me App), and on the Wednesday we’d packed up the car and started the three hour drive to the South West, from Essex. Already the sun was beaming, and we couldn’t believe that it was only mid April, with the temperature well into the 20’s and clear blue skies, we set off on our little three days away, discovering Dorset.
We honestly packed so much into our little mini adventure, and Dorset’s such a beautiful part of the UK, so I wanted to share the main stops on our visit.
Now the Summer is finally here, I can highly recommend a trip, so get it ticked off that bucket list!
Things to do in Dorset on a long weekend (or a three day break)
1: Gold Hill or Hovis Hill, Shaftesbury
Shaftesbury, Dorset, SP7 8HB
On our way down to Dorset, we decided to make our first stop of the trip. It was getting on for lunchtime at this point and Gold Hill or Hovis Hill (as it’s famous for being the location of the Hovis bread advert that’s been voted ‘Britain’s best favourite advert of all time - see it here) was on the way, so it seemed like the perfect first stop.
Located in the town of Shaftsbury, Gold Hill is a traditional English, steeped cobbled street, with gorgeous picturesque views, overlooking rolling hills of the English countryside.
We found a car park in the town centre (Shaftsbury itself is very quaint, with pretty shops and cafes, plus is famous for Shaftsbury Abbey) and Gold Hill was only about a 5 minute walk down from the main road. When we arrived it was such a lovely sight to see, and felt like you were stepping back in time or on the set of some kind of BBC Sunday night period drama.
At the very top of the hill there is a sweet cafe and tea room, called The Salt Cellar, and we were just lucky enough to grab a table outside in the sun and share some lunch with the hill as our backdrop. After a yummy panini (not quite the traditional English cucumber sandwich, but couldn’t resist) we had a wander down the hill and I couldn’t help taking some snaps of the pretty cottages on the way. We also popped into the Gold Hill Museum back up at the top, which has a pretty cottage garden, and shows the history of the area, what life was like back in the day.
Gold Hill is only a really small street in the grand scheme of things, but it’s most definitely worth a little stop either on your way into Dorset or on your way home.
GOLD HILL SHAFTSBURY POSTCODE: SP7 8HB
WHERE TO PARK IN SHAFTSBURY: Check out Parkopedia Results here
2: Durdle Door, Lulworth Estate
West Lulworth, Wareham, Dorset, BH20 5PU
After our little stop at Gold’s Hill and Shaftsbury, we were back on the road again to our hotel down in Lulworth. We’d booked the newly refurbished Castle Inn (more on our hotel at the end of the post) and it was only about a 40 minute drive from where we were in Shaftsbury. It was late afternoon and Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door was pretty much the main reason for our visit to Dorset, so we were both eager to get a look at the Cove before the day was out.
Once we’d checked in at pub, it was around 5pm, but with the sun still shining, so we drove the two mile journey from the pub down to Lulworth Estate. It was a beautiful drive, with coastal views and rolling green fields, and soon enough we’d reached the entrance to the estate, and made our way, through the Durdle Door Holiday Park and down to the Car Park area.
The previous week it had been the Easter Holidays, so we were super lucky that it wasn’t overly busy. We’d heard recently from friends that when they had visited Durdle Door and Lulworth on a Summer bank holiday, they couldn’t even get into the car park as it was so busy, so probably best to avoid bank holidays and school holidays if you can, or get there early if you want to visit Durdle Door (the car park here opens at 8am) to make sure you don’t go all that way only to be turned away.
Once we’d parked up (Durdle Door Car park charges are detailed at the end of the post) we made our way down the hillside taking in the amazing views of the Jurassic Coast.
Durdle Door is probably the most famous stone archway in the world and seeing it for the first time instantly transports you to thousands of years ago.
As you walk further down the path (it's a bit gravelly/bumpy here in places, but we both had on flip flops, so managed to stay standing) you’ll also meet Man O War bay and the most breathtaking views of the English coastline. You can walk down onto the beach or along the hillside, but as it was only April (it was the warmest of days) but there was still a chill in the air, so we decided against going for a dip in the sea (it looked pretty chilly from a brave few in their bikinis going for a paddle ) and walked along the green hillside to get some snaps of Durdle Door and sit, and just take in the scenery.
We chilled up on the hillside for about an hour or so, but decided to head back to Durdle Door the following day (to catch the sunset) so jumped back in the car once again, and drove down to Lulworth Cove, to grab a drink at one of the pubs before dinner.
Only around a 5 minute drive from Lulworth Estate, is Lulworth Cove, a quaint little place near the village of West Lulworth. Here you’ll find a visitor centre, local shops, ice cream stops and pubs, plus a few cute places to stay. We parked up once again, and wondered down the main street (you can’t miss it, its a little road leading down to the Cove).
Traditional english chocolate box cottages, pubs and seafood huts line the street, and after a walk along the Cove (think picturesque fishing boats, a pebbly beach and rugged white cliffs as your backdrop), it was time for a well earned glass of wine in one of the pub gardens, making plans for more exploring tomorrow.
The following night, after another mammoth day of Dorset discoveries, we made it back to Durdle Door just in time for sunset.
I highly recommend that you make sunset at Durdle Door a stop on your visit, even if you don’t manage to do everything on our list, as it’s definitely one of the most memorable parts of the trip that I’ll take away with me forever.
We got to Durdle Door around 7.30pm (to make sure we had enough time to enjoy the whole sunset), but this time, made our way a little higher along the grassy hillside, past the caravans and campers in Durdle Door Holiday Park and along the little path on the cliffside, to find our spot for sunset. There were a few dog walkers and joggers, (plus your standard tourists and drones - we only saw two, which wasn’t as many as we’d first thought) but it wasn’t busy like the day before, maybe as we were a bit higher up and not so near to the beach.
We stayed for just over an hour (a couple of local beers and ciders with us of course) and enjoyed the orangey glow of the sun going down over the rocky door and the sky changing to pinks and reds, before turning that navy blue. It had got pretty chilly at this point, and we’d had a long day of exploring, so after the sun had disappeared we made our way back to our room at The Castle Inn.
DURDLE DOOR POSTCODE: BH20 5PU
PARKING AT DURDLE DOOR & LULWORTH COVE: £4 - £9, car park opening times 8am - 4pm/10pm (seasonal) see the
BEST TIMES TO VISIT DURDLE DOOR: Spring/Summer months, but school and bank holidays get busy so get there early and visit at sunset for gorgeous views
3: Cerne Abbas Giant
Dorchester, Dorset DT2 7AL
The next day was our first full day exploring Dorset, and after a lovely big breakfast at the pub, we headed out on the road again. Glenn is super organised when we go away, and puts all the places we want to visit into Maps Me. If you haven’t downloaded the Maps Me App, then definitely do so, as you can access maps offline (yes offline, even when you are in another country with no phone connection or wiffy) and it lets you save points of interest, as well as share ideas and itineraries with your travel buddies.
The Cerne Abbas Giant was first on our list, and it was one of those funny places we’d found on Pinterest and had been fascinated by. Situated near the village of Cerne Abbas, (another sweet little typical English village, with a pub and village shop, plus lots of pretty little cottages), it was fairly easy to find, with a viewpoint/car park stop, overlooking the Giant Itself.
55 metres (180 ft) high, the chalk hill figure depicts a standing unclothed man with a prominent erection (yes erection - blushing as I write this, but it’s true) and holding a large club in its right hand. The origin of The Cerne Abbas Giant is unclear but is thought to be late 17th century. An important part of local culture and folklore, its also often associated with fertility and is one of England's best known hill figures. You can also wander up to see the Giant in more detail, but we just had a look from the viewpoint. You don’t really need more than a half an hour stop and its a pretty view of the rolling green hills, plus we were lucky to see a few baby lambs running about the fields near where we parked, which is always a lovely sight to see in Spring.
CERNE ABBAS GIANT POSTCODE: DT2 7AL
MORE INFORMATION: The National Trust
4: West Bay
Bridport Harbour, Dorset
After our Cerne Abbas Giant stop we drove for about an hour down towards West Bay. Also known as Bridport Harbour, we were pretty excited for a beach stop as the weather again was so glorious, as well as the fact that West Bay and Bridport had been the location for TV drama, Broadchurch, which me and Glenn had only recently just watched over Christmas. (Yes not the most festive TV programmes to watch, but we were hooked over Chrimbo Limbo).
A little busier than we expected (it was a beautiful warm day in April, so I guess everyone had had the same idea as us) we made our way through the town and down towards the beach area. Again West Bay, was a pretty impressive sight. Still part of the Jurassic Coast and a protected World Heritage Site, the coast line stretches for almost 100 miles and it's so beautiful to see.
After a quick cake a coffee stop at the lovely Watch House Beach Cafe (right on the beach) we had a wander up the hill and to the top of one of the cliffs, (really cool views of the coastline up here) and then spent the afternoon sunbathing on the beach.
Once late afternoon had come, we explored the quaint harbour area, (more little boats and sea food huts, you’ll also recognise this area from Broadchurch) and we grabbed some fresh crab and bread rolls for the road.
5. The Smugglers Inn Osmington Mills
Osmington Mills, Weymouth DT3 6HF
On our way back up to Lulworth for our last night in Dorset, it was the most gorgeous late afternoon/early evening sun, so we wanted to find a nice pub for dinner with a bit of view, somewhere outside of Lulworth and luckily on our way back up, we found the gorgeous Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mills.
Overlooking the isle of Portland, and just outside the village of Osmington Mills, (which is actually Weymouth) the Smugglers Inn Pub, was the perfect dinner spot after a long day exploring Dorset. The pub itself is sat in a little cove, with gorgeous views of the sea as your backdrop. We found a table outside in the garden and enjoyed a pub dinner and a couple of drinks, before heading back up to Lulworth Cove to catch the sunset at Durdle Door.
6. Corfe Castle
Wareham, Dorset, BH20 5EZ
The next day, we woke to sunshine and blue skies yet again (how lucky were we) and after checking out of our Castle, it was time to head to another, much more famous castle, the first stop on our way back up to Essex.
The village of Corfe is between Wareham and Swanage, and the Castle is one of the first things that comes into view as you drive up towards the area. We were on the road fairly early, and up on the hill our first sighting of Corfe Castle was pretty special, as it sat back against the early glow of the morning sun.
A visit to Corfe Castle and the village of Corfe, is a must if you’re in the area, as not only do you have a thousand year old castle to explore, the village of Corfe itself is super pretty, and probably my most favourite village visited, on our mini break to Dorset.
After wandering through the grounds surrounding Corfe (there’s a pathway through a little wooded area, with a gorgeous stream and stone bridge... it’s so picturesque) we found our way into the village, with its quaint cottages and cobbled streets. We had a little walk around, and then made our way back to the Castle entrance. It was time for a coffee, so we sat in Corfe Castle tea room, a lovely traditional cafe, with a sunny garden area, and the best views of the castle ruins. We chilled in the garden for an hour, just enjoying the sunny views and our morning coffee.
We decided not to go into the actual castle grounds, we were fairly short on time as we still had a couple of other stops on our list of things to see in Dorset, before the long drive home. There are lots of things to see and do inside Corfe Castle though, especially if you have little people in tow, from tours, to stories, to outside events, just check the official Corfe Castle website for all the latest info.
CORFE CASTLE POSTCODE: BH20 5EZ
WHERE TO PARK IN CORFE CASTLE You can park at the Visitors Centre (800 yards walk uphill to castle) pay and display, National Trust Members it’s free
Norden park and ride (all-day parking, ½ mile walk to castle) West Street in village (pay and display)
ADMISSION: £5.80 - £28 peak/off peak times
MORE INFORMATION: The National Trust
7. Studland Bay
Purbeck Estate Office, Beach Rd, Studland, Swanage BH19 3AX
The plan for our afternoon was to head through Studland Bay and down to Poole, as it was such a hot sunny day for April, we wanted to make the most of the rare British sunshine, and not be sat in a hot car, on the motorway for the best part of the day.
We didn’t spend a great deal of time in Studland Bay and Poole, but I wanted to include it in the post, as not only were they both pictureque with plenty of things to do for all the family, they are most definitely worth visiting when in Dorset, and I hope to explore these places a little more another time.
We drove through Studland Bay on our way to catch the ferry over to Poole. Famous for its nature reserve (there’s heaps of walks), sandy beaches and Old Harry Rocks, ( a unique rock formation out to sea) which were pretty cool to catch in the distance, an area I’d definitely like to go back and explore more in the future.
After a quick viewpoint stop it was back in the car and down to catch the ferry over to Sandbanks in Poole. A short crossing of only about 15 minutes, you drive onto the sandbanks ferry and sit in your car, as it slowly takes you across a small stretch of water from Shell Bay (on the Swanage/Studland side) across to Sandbanks (on the Poole/Bournmoth side - you can also catch it back the other way too). It’s definitely worth doing the ferry, rather than driving back the long way round, but it can get quite busy, so be prepared to queue a little in holiday/summer month days, but for us it was fairly quick and straight forward, and before we knew it, we could see the sandy banks of Poole.
MORE INFORMATION ON THINGS TO DO STUDLAND BAY: The National Trust
STUDLAND BAY FERRY INFORMATION: Sandbanks Ferry
8. Sandbanks Beach, Poole
Banks Road, Poole, BH13 7QD
Once off the ferry we arrived in Sandbanks. Billed as the best beach on the South Coast of England, we were both pretty excited to get there, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather, as it was scorching hot at this point, so we couldn’t wait to get our toes in some sand and have a cold drink on the beach.
We drove around for a little while looking for a car park, but it wasn’t actually as difficult as we’d first thought, and parked up right near the beach, for just a few pounds. We only had a couple of hours here, and we spent most of our time on the golden sandy beach. It was almost 80 degrees, which is unheard of in April for the UK, so we wanted to make the most of the sun (it felt like we were somewhere much more tropical than Dorset). Again there's plenty to see and do in Poole, it's so much bigger than we thought it was going to be, and it's a popular holiday destination, with its Harbour, water sports, bars and restaurants, not to mention the amazing properties that the area is also famous for.
The late afternoon soon arrived, and it was time to start the three hour journey back up to Essex (it was a Friday too, so we knew the motorways would be busy), so we said goodbye to Poole and to Dorset, on what was the loveliest, sunniest, most memorable omini breaks that we’d both had in a while.
SANDBANKS BEACH POSTCODE: BH13 7QQ
WHERE TO PARK IN POOLE: Check out Parkopedia Results here
MORE INFORMATION: Borough of Poole
Overall we had the best few impromptu days away in Dorset, and couldn’t have picked a better location to explore in the UK. We often overlook places at home, as the weather isn’t always that predictable, so we choose those warmer, tropical climes, over traveling to places closer to home. After such an amazing time in Dorset, with so much to see and do, we will most definitely be taking the time to visit more of the UK, with Snowdonia and the Lake District next on the list, so feel free to drop me a comment with your tips and suggestions, and we’ll add them to our list of UK places to visit.
Where To Stay In Dorset
There are so many hotels, camping and glamping sites, holiday cottages and B&Bs in Dorset, and we didn’t really have anywhere particular recommended to us to stay, so this time we did just do a search on booking.com to see what was available for the two nights that we were looking at visiting.
The Castle Inn in Lulworth (literally a 5-7 minute drive from Durdle Door and the Lulworth Cove, just under 2 miles) popped up and we instantly loved the look of it. We wanted a reasonably priced stay, somewhere with a bit of traditional charm that was in Lulworth, so The Castle Inn ticked all the boxes.
Newly re-furbished, the 16th century traditional thatched roof pub had only recently reopened a few weeks prior to our visit, so we were excited to check in to our room.
There’s only 12 rooms in total, and we booked the Lulworth Crumple room, a ‘comfy’ double which was about £90 a night including a lovely breakfast each morning. (Poached eggs and avocado, a full english, fruit and porridge, pretty much most breakfast items you can think of). Even though the room was fairly small, (there were traditional beams, ceilings and floorboards) we had everything we needed, and the rooms had a quirky, laid back luxury style, that you wouldn’t really expect from a 16th century property down in Dorset, so we liked the quirkiness of the place. We also ate dinner one night at the pub, which was also really good, with traditional pub classics as well as more fine dining type dishes on the menu, using plenty of local Dorset produce, which is always nice to sample when you’re visiting somewhere new.
Hotel guests also get free onsite parking and the staff at The Castle Inn were so friendly and helpful they couldn’t do enough to make sure we had an enjoyable stay.
The Castle Inn
The Castle Inn, Main Road, West Lulworth, Wareham Dorset BH20 5RN
BEST TIME TO VISIT: We visited mid April, but generally Dorset is warmest from May - September.
EVENTS IN DORSET: Various events in music, art, food, history and nature take place all year round.
Visit the official Dorset website for all the latest