Set in the West Country, an area of England known for its rugged terrains, wealth of coastline, and stunning fishing villages, Dorset is the kind of county you must add to your British bucket list. But scratch beneath the surface (and past all of the tourist attractions) and you’ll soon discover there are a myriad of hidden gems worth discovering. Here’s your guide to the secrets of Dorset you simply must know about!
Once home to acclaimed writer Thomas Hardy, Max Gate is now situated on the fringes of Dorchester. Once upon a time, the imposing house would have been set further into the countryside. However, the expansion of the Dorset town in the past century or so means that Max Gate (a clever play on words) is quite literally now in the settlement!
Nevertheless, thanks to an expansive garden and coverage from nearby trees, Hardy’s home is quite literally a step back in time, not to mention a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle from busy modern day life. Now owned and managed by the National Trust, the home is open to visitors and free for National Trust members.
Cerne Abbas Giant
In the heart of rural Doset, a rather rude chalk figure graces the side of a particularly steep valley. The Cerne Abbas Giant is, much like the more famous white horses of Wiltshire, a giant mural carved into the hillside. Created from trenches cut into the chalk-land one to two foot deep and around one foot wide, the creation of the Giant is shrouded in mystery and features in many local legends and folklore.
It is possible that the hill figure was cut prior to the 17th century but perhaps the most credible explanation seems to be that it was created by the servants of a certain Denzil Holles, Ist Baron Holles of Ifield (1598-1680) and MP for Dorchester. Whatever the origins of the Giant, the 55 metres high hill carving is a sight you must see with your own eyes.
Cerne Abbas Benedictine Abbey
If you’re looking to discover multiple secrets of Dorset in one go, then a visit to the village of Cerne Abbas can easily be combined with a trip to the viewing point for the Cerne Abbas Giant. After wandering around the village, visiting the tiny (yet stunning) St Mary’s Church, and checking out one of a handful of pubs in town be sure to head down a little lane past the graveyard.
After all, you’ll soon stumble upon an honesty box in a gateway entrance which suggests a donation of £2 to see ‘Cerne Abbas Benedictine Abbey‘. The ruins comprise of an Abbey guesthouse turned house, the Abbey House, and the Porch to the Abbot’s Hall. Sadly, the Hall no longer exists to this day and we can only wonder how marvellous the Middle Ages building must have been. While the village is wonderful to wander around, it’s worth noting that all the sites listed here can only be admired via their exteriors!
The Village of Evershot
Fancy seeing a sleepy Dorset village which is alleged to have been the inspiration for the Hardy’s Sow and Acorn in Tess of the d’Urbervilles? Well, Evershot is a picture perfect small village set in the heart of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex with a luxurious Country House Hotel. Other highlights of the village of Evershot include a 12th-century church and a quintessential typically British high street shop.
The Sanctuary Bookshop
For bibliophiles looking for literary locations in the UK, Dorset is quite literaally a dream come true. Home to many writers over the years, not to mention the inspiration for Hardy’s Wessex, there’s no shortage of film locations and book locations dotted across the English county.
But perhaps more than any other place, the Sanctuary Bookshop in Lyme regis is a book haven. Set across several different rooms, you’ll soon discover everything from vintage finds to modern day guidebooks in this treasure trove in the very heart of a historic fishing village.
The Village of Corfe Castle
Nestled in the heart of the kind of rolling green hills that are so synonymous with South West England, Corfe Castle is a Norman fairytale castle not far from the crashing waves of the sea and the salty sea breeze. Now lying in ruins and owned and managed by the National Trust, Corfe Castle is one of the most famous (not to mention most beautiful) fortifications in England.
But what many visitors to the area don’t know is that Corfe Castle village itself is just as charming as the crumbling castle walls. You see, the maze of streets of the Dorset village are home to higgeldy piggeldy stone houses that are picture perfect, as well as a wealth of boutique shops and lovely eateries!
Editor’s note: If you’re staying in one of the largest Dorset towns and don’t have access to your own vehicle, then you can always book a group tour in order to see Corfe Castle. Book this tour from Pool or book this tour from Bournemouth in order to enjoy a wonderful day out (and see plenty of other Dorset attractions en route)!
The Lost Village of Tyneham
In times gone by, the residents of Tyneham village on the Dorset coast would have lived life like any other in the smaller South West settlements. However, much like the village of Imber, this all changed one fateful day during WWII when the residents were forcibly evacuated from the village.
Situated in the Purbeck Hills, 225 people were evacuated for the area to be used as a training ground for the military. Though the residents were always meant to return, with one villager leaving the following notice on the church door:
“Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly,”
in 1948, the army forcibly purchased the land, thus permanently displacing the residents of Tyneham, many of whom had families who had resided in the area for centuries. Today, the village is largely in ruins and can only be visited at certain points during the year. Discover more information about how to visit Tyneham here.
Wimborne Minster Model Town
Perfect to visit for older and younger visitors alike, Wimborne Minster Model Town is a delightful model village which is to be found in the village of Wimborne Minster. A faithful replica to how the appeared during the 1950s (which is also when the model was created), the town features some 120 buildings. Today, the miniature Dorset village is a true hidden gem of the county and can be visited for a small fee. Check out the model town website here.
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