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London/Dorset for 10 days May 2014

For my 50th birthday present to myself, I and my wife are planning a trip to Dorset (and possibly Cornwall) in May 2014. We'll also stop in London for a couple of days before going home, because my wife has never been there.
We're looking for suggestions on places to visit/things to do while in the non-London part of our trip. We're planning to rent a car and stay in a cottage while we're there. Thanks in advance for any and all suggestions.
Stephen W

PS We'd also appreciate any advice on renting cottages. I've checked the National Trust site and English Country Cottages so far. I've also looked at VRBO but the prices are a little steep. We're looking for something under £500 for a week.

Posted by
26087 posts

Stephen, you haven't said what sort of things you and your wife enjoy.

It would do you no good for me to recommend Agatha Christie's home if you have no interest in Poirot or Marple.

Equally not to suggest Dartmouth if you have no interest in riverside towns, or Dartmoor if all you want is seaside.

A touch more info will get a much more interesting answer - or 3.

Posted by
521 posts

Nigel's right, but while we wait for further information I'll start a list.

I lived in Dorset for 17 years (we moved a few miles over the border into Hampshire) and so I can recommend a few places. I'll start with the coast (working from east to west) and if I have time later I'll add a few suggestions about everything else.

Christchurch Priory and castle ruins

Mudeford, Christchurch Harbour (including boat trips)

Hengistbury Head

Bournemouth (including the pier and seafront, the Russell Cotes Art Gallery & Museum)

Poole (including the old town and quay, harbour trips (it's the second largest natural harbour in the world), Brownsea Island, Poole Pottery, and at the museum there is a 2,000 year-old log boat they dredged up in the harbour

Sandbanks beach (4th most expensive real estate in the world), the chain ferry across the harbour entrance to Studland, Studland beach and sand dunes, Old Harry Rocks, the town of Swanage (with steam railway)

The Jurassic Coast, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door

Weymouth and Portland (including the Georgian seafront, the old town and harbour, Portland lighthouse and Chesil Beach)

Lyme Regis (famous for fossils and that scene on the breakwater in The French Lieutenant's Woman)

Everything I've listed is in Dorset, which is a big county. Of course it is surrounded by the counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon, so even if you stick to the coast there are lots of other things you might want to see in Hampshire and Devon, but I had to draw a line somewhere... Even this list is not exhaustive by any means, but it includes many of my favourite places, that we revisited many times over the years.

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you so much for the suggestions! As for what we enjoy, well, that depends. I'm very much into ecclesiastical architecture, and historic architecture in general. My wife likes Roman ruins, and a friend suggested we visit Bath (which I know isn't in Dorset, but not terribly far away). Apart from that, we both enjoy beautiful landscapes and small villages. We'd be happy going someplace with cozy pubs, not touristy places with tons of souvenir shops and the like. Now, London is another story. There's really no getting away from the hustle and bustle of a major city there. Also, of note is that I'm a classical church musician and hope to hear some choirs while we're over there, assuming school is in session. Thank you!

Posted by
714 posts

Slip over to Exeter in Devon and visit the Cathedral - it has a choir school; all English cathedral choirs are noted for their excelllence. Goggle Exeter Cathedral for info on the building, the school the choirs and church services - the choirs sing at most services.

Posted by
576 posts

Given your interests, and the route that has already been suggested, you should consider a detour to the north to visit Salisbury, and perhaps also Winchester, cathedrals. Also well worth visiting is Maiden Castle just outside Dorchester, Dorset. It is a huge iron age hill fort.

Posted by
1878 posts

I would second the suggestion of Salisbury, more as a stop on the way to some place else. The cathedral there is really something, pay for the tour of the upstairs/rafters. We did it this past April 2013 and it's definitely worth it. I have seen a lot of churches and rate it up there with Chartes. We stayed two nights, but the stuff worth seeing is within the cathedral close and can easily be visited on a day trip - if you can find parking (the city museum is not bad either). On the way to Cornwall, or perhaps instead, consider Devon / Dartmoor. We found that area fascinating and very beautiful. The Roman baths in Bath are also a great visit. We stayed three nights in Bath an it's a pleasant town. I don't know that it quite lives up to its hype though. So much that is great to see in England. Just two days in London sounds like torture to me, for all the things I'd miss.

Posted by
521 posts

Sticking strictly to Dorset, I've already mentioned Christchurch Priory, but see this page for information about the choirs, including practice times and Eucharist, Matins and Evensong times on Sundays.

A 30 minute drive from Christchurch is Wimborne Minster. The Minster church dates in parts from the 8th century and Ethelred (not the Unready, but Alfred the Great's brother) is buried there. Most of the building you see today was built between 1120 and 1180, so there's lots of solid Norman architecture. I'm not sure how much of the earlier Saxon building can be seen, but their website should help you - including this page about the choir and this about their many music events .

Badbury Rings, near Wimborne, is an Iron Age hill fort, and when the Romans came along they built a number of roads that intersected just to the north. There is little evidence of most of these now, but a modern trackway next to the rings follows the route of one of them. After going for a walk around Badbury, we always went for a cream tea at nearby Pamphill Dairy.

Posted by
521 posts

Just a few more.

Not far from Wimborne, Kingston Lacey House, a National Trust property that we like very much. It's a small-ish stately home built in the Italianate style and has paintings by Titian, Van Dyck and others. Nice gardens too.

Another monastery church, on a fairly grand scale, is Sherborne Abbey. Founded in the 8th century, there are a few Saxon bits left, with lots of additions from the 14th and 16th centuries. Music is very important and as you would expect in a big abbey church there is a large and well-tutored choir.

The most complete Saxon church in Dorset is St. Martins, in Wareham. That's not too far from Poole and Swanage, which I mentioned in my first post. A lot of it dates from the 11th century, but there were bits added on as late as the 17th century. Lots of details on this website (and a complete index of Dorset churches, each with their own page).

Pretty and/or interesting villages -

Corfe, near Swanage. Castle ruins (the result of a siege during the civil war), steep streets, stone built cottages. In the Purbeck hills, very picturesque, could combine with a trip on the Swanage steam railway.

Abbotsbury, not far from Weymouth, near the lagoon behind Chesil Beach. Thatched cottages, very pretty. Swan sanctuary near by.

Tolpuddle, between Poole and Dorchester - you will have heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. This is where the trade union movement effectively started in 1834. Those involved were transported to Australia for their affront to land-owning authority.

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks so much for all of the very helpful replies! We have decided to extend our trip and stay for 2 weeks. We will be in London for the first 3 days, then plan to hire a car and drive westward. We will check out all of the links provided and decide what to visit. There's so much to see. BTW I want to particularly thank Kevin for all of the church recommendations. Having spent most of the last 30 years singing Anglican/Episcopal church music, I am very keen to visit a church and see a service. I am Roman Catholic myself, and need to find a couple of RC churches to attend mass during our stay.

Posted by
448 posts

Hi Stephen: I am not sure exactly where it is other than it is in Bovington/Dorset but the tank museum is on my list of things to see when I visit London next year. Not exactly a museum that everyone wants to see but you did ask for recommendations. They have a World War I trench warfare exhibit which is appropriate for the 100th anniversary of WWI.

Have a good trip.

Posted by
143 posts

I found quite a few cottages on cottageguide.co.uk and have rented one in Kingsbridge (Devon) for a week in June. I would agree that both Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals are well worth a visit and don't forget the Round Table in Winchester. Avebury is as interesting to me as Stonehenge and w/out all the crowds.

Posted by
1888 posts

We loved going to Wells Cathedral, maybe because we got so lucky. We had been there during the day, went to local pub for dinner and as we drove by we saw many people going into the church at six pm. We asked and found out that the boys choir was practicing and a set of parents asked us to join them as their guests and we were able to sit right up by the choir. an hour of bliss. It is also worth going there to walk down Vicars Close right across from the left side of the church, I think it is one of the oldest still inhabited streets in UK but not sure. We first saw Wells on Rick's Uk video and wow was it worth it. I think it is maybe half hour from Bath.

Posted by
16 posts

Does anyone have recommendations on a good place to stay? We are planning to rent a cottage fom 14-24 May, and would like something located centrally, meaning: a place from which we could take day trips to villages and town in Somerset, Devon, and Dorset, perhaps even Cornwall. We'd like something in a town where we could walk to pubs and restaurants. Thanks so much! I love the suggestions everyone has offered. Thank you all!

Posted by
521 posts

Does anyone have recommendations on a good place to stay? We are planning to rent a cottage fom 14-24 May, and would like something located centrally, meaning: a place from which we could take day trips to villages and town in Somerset, Devon, and Dorset, perhaps even Cornwall. We'd like something in a town where we could walk to pubs and restaurants. Thanks so much! I love the suggestions everyone has offered. Thank you all!

The key to this is to look at the main roads that you'll need to use if you stay in one central location. Bear in mind that it's something like 130 miles from the eastern most part of Dorset to the west of Devon, and almost 70 miles from the north of Somerset to south Dorset.

For east-west the main roads are the A35 in the south and the A303 in the north (becoming the A30 in Devon). The A35 is no use at all if you want to spend any amount of time in Somerset, so looking for locations not too far from where the A303 crosses the main north-south roads would suggest places like Sherborne, which I've mentioned previously. It's a very pretty town, with plenty of pubs and restaurants. Yeovil is bigger, but it's a working town, not outstandingly pretty by any means. Tripadvisor is your best bet for specific places to rent.