1 – 14 March
We were in Dorset to scratch an itch. We had talked about whether we would keep our home when we settle again and considered the possibility of re-locating as we both find the cool, grey and wet weather of the North-West mildly depressing. Research – and experience – tells us that the South East has the best weather in the UK, but it also has a lot of cars and people and is very expensive. We thought Dorset might provide better weather and a more rural environment so wanted to spend a couple of weeks familiarising ourselves with the area in winter weather to get a realistic view.
It was as if the weather had a point to make – the lovely, unseasonal sunshine of February faded to a fond memory as we were battered by March storms. Our time in Dorset was characterised by daily gales accompanied by squalls of torrential rain. We were battered and buffeted and soon gave up our cliff-side views, repositioning to reduce the rocking of our van. At night we would listen to the wind howl outside and the Shipping Forecast telling us whether the gale would be force 8, 9 or 10. Other campers came and as swiftly left, some moving during the night if the weather was particularly bad. Once we got used to the constant movement and realised our home could cope without bits blowing away, we acclimatised. In the short periods when the winds dropped it felt as if we had gone deaf!
We had hired a little car to get to know the area and spent our days driving the narrow lanes through hamlets and villages with their lovely thatched cottages, exploring nooks and crannies and soaking up the characteristics of this lovely county. At times the sun would come out, transforming everything and giving a glimpse of what spring and summer might be like. Primroses adorn the high banks of the lanes at this time of year, and we were glad we weren’t exploring in the ‘van’.
We visited some of the counties tourist attractions as well. We took in the spectacular views from Hardy’s Monument (Nelson’s mate, not the local author).
We drove past the Cerne Abbas giant a couple of times, although we missed the adornments on his ‘assets’ that someone added for International Womens Day. We spent time in the small but informative Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum in the largely unchanged village where the Trade Union movement got it’s impetus.
We visited Portland Bill, a bleak, rocky, windswept headland of quarries and lighthouses jutting out into the Channel, source of the stone for London’s most iconic buildings of yesteryear, and still churning out Portland stone today. We luched in a pub on Chesil Beach, hudling round a fire to keep warm.
As a contrast we drove round Poundbury. This huge development tacked onto Dorchester is the Prince of Wales pet architectural project. A ‘Marmite’ town it is apparently hated and loved in equal measure. We found it fascinating – an experiment not due to be complete until 2025, a mix of commercial premises (Dorset Cereals for one) and residential properties ranging from affordable to extortionate, eco-homes attractively based on traditional designs, set between the county town and the open countryside. Minimal roadsigns, no pedestrian crossings, double yellow lines or traffic lights. It will be interesting to see how time judges this place.
We explored the Studland Peninsular with it’s lovely scenery, road closures due to military Live Fire excercises and warning signs for “Tanks Crossing” and “Sudden Gunfire”.
We got to see the almost perfect circle of Lulworth Cove, a jewel in Dorset’s Jurassic coastline whose often turquoise waters sadly failed to shine on a cold, dark, wet afternoon but still managed to impress. A downturn in the weather stopped us getting to the impressive archway of Durdle Door. In keeping with Dorset’s close military associations we also visited the interesting Royal Signals Museum, although we passed on the Bovington Tank Museum – maybe next time.
At Shaftesbury, once Alfred the Great’s capital, we walked up and down Gold Hill remembered from the Hovis advert way back in 1973 (was it really 46 years ago) and marvelled at how unchanged it was.
We rather callously dismissed Lyme Regis (too touristy), Crewkerne and Chard (not pretty enough) and Blandford Forum (too….. bland?) but were rather taken with the pretty old buildings of honey coloured stone of Sherborne; the calm, attractive small village of Beaminster; and the too-close to-Bournemouth-but-otherwise-nice town of Wimbourne Minster. Having said that, Bournemouth had a nice feel to it out-of-season and Sandbanks was quite impressive if, to our Northern minds, excessively over-priced. And the thatched villages of Evershot and Farnham must be amongst the most beautiful of English villages.
One day we decided to try out progress on Danny’s knee and walked over the cliffs to Seatown for lunch. He held up better than before his treatment but only just managed to finish the 4-miles despite a break for a rather nice lunch at The Anchor. So disappointing after all his hard work with the physio.
Our campsite was close to Bridport which has the distinction of being home to the “oldest butchers in England” – established 1515 and (according to Wikipedia) the oldest trading family business in the UK! The town has real character and really grew on us with its two, weekly markets, focus on the arts, and local, independent shops (and a small Waitrose!). We even got caught in it’s Extinction Rebellion protest march, a good-humoured and surprisingly large number of local people protesting at the plight of the environment.
The campsite itself is one of five owned by West Dorset Leisure Holidays and we were impressed with the quality of the facilities and the friendliness and professionalism of the staff. The owner is an ex-fireman and there is a lot of fascinating firefighting memorabilia, including two local old fire-tenders in excellent condition, in the main restaurant/bar building. The walls are adorned with black and white photos of local firemen at work from the late 1800’s onwards – fascinating. The bar is also equipped with a pool table which we took advantage of. It also has excellent wi-fi and as the site was so quiet, we were able to stream TV, a godsend given that it was too windy to use our satellite dish. It also helped us in planning our next phase – an exploration of Brittany and Normandy which we had planned to in very different weather last summer.