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A mini break in delightful Dorset

A mini break in delightful Dorset


If you can't keep your head when all around are losing theirs, I recommend a visit to Dorset.

 

I don't know about you but these uncertain times have never felt crazier from where I'm sitting. The world literally seems to have gone mad, with negativity and blame coming from all angles, so to be able to disappear for a few days to an area on the south coast of England that feels forever untouched by modern madness is a welcome relief.

And that's just what we did a few weeks back...booked ourselves into the most beautiful AirBnB in Corfe Castle, packed up the car - dogs in the boot, son in the back, husband and me side by side, and off we went to the glorious Purbeck Heritage Coast (sounds blissful doesn't it...until the dogs started farting, the M25 was absolutely rammed to a Friday afternoon standstill, so we sat for an hour in the blazing heat, unable to keep the air conditioned climate inside because we had to open the windows to let the foul stench out!)

We had also messed up the accommodation booking (I say 'we', I mean 'he'). AirBnB bookings are generally my department but I let him take over just this once. When he said he'd found a whole house in Corfe that was only £65 a night the alarm bells were already ringing, but the booking had been made and our money taken.

Of course, if something sounds too good to be true it generally is.

It turned out to be a shared house with shared bathroom...not something I'd normally go for, but it looked and sounded so lovely that we decided to take the plunge anyway.

So glad we did.

We took the top two rooms in the eaves.

Becky's place, Down End, is a 260-year old Georgian cottage built using the remains of the castle stone. It's all newly refurbished and very welcoming, especially if you have dogs.

Breakfasts were a particular highlight of our stay there. Becky uses all locally sourced produce (best black pudding I've ever eaten), and it's all presented and served in the most beautiful way using vintage cups and plates in her Drawing Room.

View from our top left window into Corfe town.

View from the top right window towards Corfe Castle.

Corfe is served by one road (the A351) that runs all the way through the town. It's a major thoroughfare, so this is perhaps the only down side. Huge lorries, trucks, tractors, motorbikes and cars come thundering through, not to mention cyclists (a very popular cycling route), so there is always a lot of traffic, and quiet is not a word you'd use to describe this area.

Photo courtesy of George Logan's iPhone.

But saying that, there is so much to do around and about that you can get away from the hustle and bustle within minutes. Something we did a lot over the course of our two days down there.

There are two pubs in Corfe - The Greyhound is a 16th Century coaching inn that has recently undergone a complete refurb. We used to go there many years ago on our first trips to this area as a new couple.

The barman at the time told great stories of ghostly sightings in and around the pub, what with Corfe Castle's long and bloody history, and the fact it sits on ley lines. Apparently a Cavalier used to occupy a seat at the end of the bar on a frequent basis, although I never saw him.

I love to start up a conversation with the locals wherever I go. You learn so much about a place; much more than any guidebook or internet search, and we've had some amazing and unexpected recommendations from the local folk on a number of occasions. 

 

The welcome and food couldn't be lovelier at The Greyhound, and dogs are actively encouraged to join you, which is always the mark of a great pub in my opinion. When we were there practically every table had its own dog(s) laying underneath and we had some really wonderful conversations with our fellow diners. Wherever you go, whatever you do, if you've got a dog by your side you will never be lonely.

On the opposite side of the road is The Bankes Arms Hotel. Another gorgeous 16th Century hostelry that is quintessentially English and well worth sticking your head around the door of.

You can see both pubs in this picture - The Greyhound is the white building and The Bankes Arms Hotel is on the right.

But this place is not to be confused with The Bankes Arms Country Innon the Manor Road in Studland. This is actually where we had our wedding reception in 2000.

 

It's a funny old place. Definitely couldn't be classed as 'gastropub'; the menu hasn't changed (nor the decor) in the 20 years I've been visiting. Fine if you want bog-standard pub grub - ham, egg and chips, pies and fish 'n chips (which is, in my opinion, at the wrong end of the gastronomy scale, with prices that are befitting of a posh restaurant) - but don't expect any kind of jus or frothy reduction with your bangers 'n mash.

You've really got to hand it to them though; they are sitting on an absolute gold mine. The pub is located directly on the road which leads to Old Harry Rocks and the beautiful beaches of Studland. In the summertime it's completely heaving down there. They told me once that in high season they can do 2000+ covers a day! So I guess the moral of the story here is, if it ain't broke why fix it?!

 

Just up the road from The Bankes Arms is The Pig on the Beach which is one of four 'Pig' hotels. This used to be called The Manor House Hotel back in the day and is where we had our wedding night.

The ownership may have changed over the years, but thank goodness the view hasn't. It's blessed with the most amazing vista across Studland Bay and over to Old Harry, and it holds a really special place in my heart as it's where I dressed and beautified myself, along with my nieces Faye and Jessica and my daddy, before we walked the half an hour route down to the Old Harry cliffs to have our marriage blessed.

One of my favourite views and special for so many reasons.

'The Walk'.

Fluffing my lines when the Vicar asked if I would 'remain faithful...'

Old Harry itself marks the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Where the name came from remains a mystery. One legend says that the Devil (traditionally known euphemistically as "Old Harry") had a sleep on the rocks. Another local legend says that the rocks were named after Harry Paye, the infamous Poole pirate, whose ship hid behind the rocks awaiting passing merchantmen. 

Dogs on leads is a must.

Whatever the true meaning, no visit to Dorset is complete without a visit to Old Harry, but if you do take your dog you would be well advised to put it on a lead when you walk down there as the trees and bushes along the left side are literally right next to the cliff face and I read a sign that said a number of dogs had perished in the past few years by falling off the edge and plummeting to their death on the rocks beneath! That's probably not the way you'd want to end your walk/weekend in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

If you're feeling energetic you can do a lovely long dog walk (without fear of sudden death) which takes a few hours, following the coastal path and, if you do the same route as us, is about eight miles in total.

 

You park up at the Square & Compass pub in Worth Matravers and take the Priest's Way down through fields of grazing sheep till you reach the natural bathing ledges at Winspit. When we were there people were stripping off and jumping into the water with gay abandon. The waves were pretty choppy though, so I think you'd have to be a strong swimmer to attempt this.

The rock-pooling on the ledges is great too and is one of my favourite things to do whenever I'm near the sea. There's just something so therapeutic about poking around in these watery treasure troves, never knowing what you might find.

Further along is an area called Dancing Ledge. If you get the timing right on the tide, the flat ledge takes in water and forms a natural swimming pool, with the waves crashing against the rocks behind you.

 

There's a good reason why this area is called The Jurassic Coast. I'll spare you the History/Geography/Geology lesson, but at different times it's been desert, shallow tropical sea, and marsh, so the fossilised remains of the various creatures that lived here have been preserved in the rocks and scattered across the ground.

And they are so easy to find, even to the untrained fossil-hunter.

We spent the most magical few hours clambering through caves, up and over huge boulders, along narrow ledges and into larger quarry-type areas.

We left the husband dozing in the sun on the top of the cliff whilst my son and I went on a bit of a fossil-finding mission. We broke larger rocks, looking for the relics within. There were some fascinating shapes and imprints that we tried to appoint to an insect or sea-creature. At one point he asked me if I had my phone on me, to which I replied that I didn't. "Good" he said, "It's so nice to be without any technology." And the fact that we found two fossilised clams, without too much trouble, really made it 'the best day ever!' in his opinion.

I wish I could have frozen that moment in time forever.

That's us down there hunting for fossils.

 

We made our way back to Worth Matravers on a circular route, arriving back at the pub about four hours after setting off.

The Square & Compass is a quirky little place, full of its own historic tales. It's been an alehouse since 1776 and I don't think it's changed much since! They still make their own cider (about 8% proof) which loads of people were drinking. And the homemade pasties and cheese pies (that's the only food they serve) were really delicious and full of hearty goodness - perfect for soaking up the alcohol.

There is a fossil museum connected to the pub which my son absolutely loved. It's the personal collection of the landlord, Charlie Newman, from his many finds along the coast, including archaeological and shipwreck discoveries he's made using his metal detector. It's a must-see for any budding archeaologists or junior historians out there, and is just brilliantly bonkers...and free!

Looking through these pictures again makes me want to be back in this wondrous part of the world. Dorset, and Studland in particular, will always be my happy place.