My family lives on what can only be one of the best coastlines in England if not Europe, the Dorset coastline. To be more precise around Poole and Bournemouth. You can get here by train and is around 2 hours from London. The Sandbanks peninsula is one of the most expensive areas to live in the world and you can see why. The harbour inlet is one of the biggest in the world, bigger than Sydney harbour but smaller than San Francisco Bay. There are hundreds of boats moored in the boat yards along the coast and a chain ferry links runs across the narrow entrance to the bay. Brownsea island in the centre is owned by the national trust and one of the few places left in the country where you can still see the Red Squirrel.
Visit the Beach – Sandbanks
The obvious thing to do here is visit the beach. The beach stretches from Sandbanks all the way past Bournemouth and beyond. As you can see from the photo it is a lovely stretch of sandy coastline which is great for sunbathing or walking along the promenade that runs alongside the beach. I usually go running down here but you can cycle or just walk. There are a number of small cafes and restaurants along the beach. The best being the Jazz Cafe which has a fire and serves some great food.
There are other beaches in the area but the Sandbanks stretch is the the busiest. You can park along the front or in the car parks for a fee. Along the cliff face there is parking for free if happy to walk down a path on to the beach. Not much of an effort really.
Admire the View
Once done with the beach then there are few places better to admire the view and feel like you are in Miami or some French riviera cafe. Harbour Heights is my favourite, a little bit pricey but the views are out of this world. I sometimes come down here, grab a coffee, seat with a view and do some work from here when home. Best if you are not working and the sun is out, it is pretty much idyllic until you get the bill.
Walk up to Old Harry Rocks
After a coffee then a walk up to Old Harry Rocks is not a bad plan. If feeling adventurous then can try and walk from Sandbanks to the rocks via the chain ferry to Studland and some coastal paths, likely a 10-12 mile round trip. I have run this route in the summer and again can’t fault it.
You walk down to the ferry passing the Miami style housing, grab the chain ferry which costs £1 and is a one way charge. Once the other side you can walk along the beach for a few miles. You have to watch out for the nudists, Studland is a renowned beach for that but they are limited to a small area. As you get further along there is a dog beach and then beaches for everyone. It is a 3 mile walk but there are stops along the way where you can grab coffee, lunch or ice creams.
The National Trust own the stretch of coastline known as Studland and there is lot’s to do and see along the route. Once in the small village of Studland there is a pub called the Bankes Arms which has a beer garden overlooking the coast and sea beyond. From here you can pick up the coastal walk suggested by the National Trust which is a 4-5mile loop up along the coast passing Old Harry Rocks. The rocks themselves used to have a arch linking the rocks but over the years this has collapsed. It still offers spectacular views back.
Back in Studland there are some amazing places to stay. My favourite which I have not stayed in but have spent an afternoon there for drinks is the Pig on the Beach hotel. This place rivals Harbour heights for views and food prices but again it is worth the money. If I ever got married this would be a possible venue but i have a feeling i might need to win the lottery. In the summer they have bar serving pizza’s and cocktails and you can lounge in one of the many chairs with views back out across Sandbanks down to Bournemouth and on a good day the Isle of Wight. This place also has some quirky rooms to stay in, check out their website.
Cycle out to Corfe Castle
Now if feeling really adventurous then how about cycling from Sandbanks and doing a full loop via the chain ferry and up to the Purbecks, then down to Corfe which has a magnificent castle which was largely destroyed during the English civil war, it was a Royalist stronghold and held out against the Roundheads for a number of months with very little support.
Corfe is a small little picture postcard village which you can walk around and visit the pubs or many tea rooms. The castle is National Trust and can be visited on most days of the year. It is a pretty incredible backdrop to the village.
At this point there is also a steam train which runs back to Swanage from Norden (just outside Corfe). Not sure if they accept bikes but you can watch the train steam through as you cycle through Corfe. You can check out the train times here. There are plans to link this line to Wareham in 2016. I love Corfe and go pretty much every time i am home. Like many places though it is best visited on a sunny day.
Cycling back from here is either back to the ferry or onwards to complete the full loop via Wareham and back through Poole. Wareham is a Saxon town likely built with walls by Alfred the great to defend the coastline against the Danes (Vikings). Much bigger than Corfe or Studland this has shops aplenty to wander and explore. You can get the train back from Wareham to Poole as the cycle back from Wareham is down a main road. There are some cycle tracks as you get near Poole.
Once back in Poole. You can cycle along the quay. I think they largely destroyed this with a massive failed flat development and spoilt the old harbour feel which is still present at the other end of the quay with old warehouses and ancient pubs.
You can imagine the old days here when is was a busy port, now it is more tourist boats which leave to Brownsea and around the coast. There is some industry here still, the most impressive being the Sunseeker boats yards. These boats are pretty much the rolls royces of the boat world and are built in and around Poole for the rich and famous. Much of old Poole was bombed during the war but some of it remains and it is nice wandering the narrow streets. There are various Museums here and also the famous Poole Pottery, which has been through some rough times of late, especially since it closed the factory on the Quay.
From Poole you can cycle back along the coastal paths back to Sandbanks or wherever you are staying. You’ll have seen some of the best of the Dorset coastline in one trip. I can’t think of many better places in the UK to visit.
Visit Brownsea island by ferry
Brownsea is another National Trust site which you can get to via boats from Poole Quay or next to the Sandbanks Chain Ferry. It is a short hop to the island which has a big old house which is owned by John Lewis. I am lucky here being a John Lewis Partner myself and can visit the house for afternoon tea and scones. I could stay here but doesn’t make sense with my parents down the road although can imagine it is a great place to stay. The highlight though is the red squirrel. I grew up in Formby which is another Red Squirrel location and these little animals are seriously cute.
If still not tempted to come here there is the rest of the Jurassic coast to visit. You can start with Lulworth cove a old smuggler village and small fishing port. It is a small natural inlet with a tiny village running up the only road in or out. It is about 20 miles from Poole and unless out for a long cycle is likely a drive away. If you can stay till sunset then you will get to see views like the one below.
Slightly further along the coast is Durdle Door which is a spectacular stretch of coastline with an arch which during the summer you can see many daring people jump off. You won’t see me doing that but the beach is pretty spectacular. I didn’t take the photo below unfortunately but would love be here one night to witness this sight.
Away from the coast there are a couple of places of ancient history that impress. You expect to find these kind of earthworks in Peru but not something built a thousand years before in Dorset. First you have Badbury Rings which are eclipsed by Maiden Castle outside Dorchester. The earthworks here date back to the Iron age and are immense. They are about the size of 50 football pitches and is something else. It was captured by the Romans and since has been used through the ages as fortifications right up to the Civil war.
I can go on about Dorset and the surrounding area as there is so much to see here but this is a bit of a taster on my favourite parts. Going with this is Roman history aplenty in and around Dorchester. As you go further down the coast you get to Chesil beach with it’s world heritage fossils. Just the other day part of the cliff face collapsed sending fossil hunters into a frenzy.
When my parents moved here I didn’t know what to expect but has turned out to be one of my favourite areas of the country and spurred me to see alot more of the UK rather than travel further afield. Although not directly on my bucket list the UK is definitely going to be explored more via weekend trips.