On the trail of dinosaurs

Venturing a little way beyond Dorset’s well-trodden paths pays dividends when it comes to finding the perfect UK coastal getaway, says Tristan Parker

Dorset’s rural splendour has led to it becoming a serious holiday hotspot over the years. One region that gets a little less attention, however, is West Dorset. This is an area sometimes overlooked by visitors keen to explore the headline sites – Durdle Door, Sandbanks, Corfe Castle.

As a result, West Dorset feels more peaceful compared to some regions. But it also houses showstopping sights of its own, most sitting on or nearby the area’s generous allocation of the Jurassic Coast’s 95 miles. As England’s first natural World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast is an invaluable part of Britain. Its undulating terrain, soaring cliffs and fossil-strewn rockfaces reveal tantalising reminders of the area’s 185 million years of history, and have become a key component of Dorset’s visual identity.

It’s no surprise, then, that the coast plays a leading role in so many Dorset holidays. The beaches are, of course, stunning and varied, but the coast here holds far more than just tropical-like sands and azure waters (though there’s plenty of both if that’s your thing). Superb hiking trails, award-winning pubs and restaurants, historical museums, monuments and captivating coastal towns are within easy reach. And that’s before you head inland.

It all makes Dorset a difficult place to leave. So, focus on making the most of your time there with our guide to the very best bits of West Dorset.



This 18-mile-long stretch of pebbles and shingle may not have the golden-hued glamour of other beaches in the region, but its ruggedness and seemingly endless arc give it a unique charm. Its mystique hasn’t gone unnoticed by literary heavyweights, either. Thomas Hardy rather grimly referred to it as ‘Deadman’s Bay’ and Ian McEwan made it infamous in his powerful novel, On Chesil Beach. It makes for an enriching walk, particularly when the south-eastern section peels away from the mainland, out to Portland, below Weymouth.


There are pubs with views and then there’s The Anchor Inn in the coastal hamlet of Seatown. The views in every direction are special, even more so from the raised beer garden, which lets patrons fully admire the deep blue expanse below. But Visit England’s Tourism Pub of the Year in 2017 was also given for the fantastic food, the joyous selection of local ales and ciders and the spot-on service. There’s a no-booking policy owing to the pub’s popularity, but it’s usually possible to pick up a table fairly quickly.


If you’re visiting Chesil Beach, it’s worth detouring to this resplendent 18th-century garden. Found roughly around the halfway point of the beach and set in a valley a short way off the coast, the garden displays plants and flowers from all around the world. Banana plants, eucalyptus and palm trees nestle happily together, enjoying the microclimate, as do groves of beautiful camellias and magnolias, both of which have brought the garden considerable acclaim. If that isn’t enough to keep you busy, there’s a ‘Burmese rope bridge’ to clamber over and a lily pond to relax by if you fancy a change from coastal scenery.


As the highest point on the south-west coast, this mighty hill holds a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors, offering views that are just as stunning as you’d expect. There are numerous walking routes to get you there, each with its own vistas of the Dorset countryside and/or coastline, depending on whether you’re starting inland or picking up part of the Jurassic Coast. Once at the top, get a selfie next to – or standing on top of – the reassuringly weathered concrete pillar (known as a ‘trig pillar’, or triangulation point, in hiking circles) and soak up the genuinely magnificent views spilling out across the south coast. Dartmoor is visible on a clear day.

Top towns and villages


This small seaside town is one of West Dorset’s most popular spots, not just for fossil hunters, but also for its quirky shops and upmarket restaurants. Trace the harbour wall, known as the Cobb (where a black-cloaked Meryl Streep gazed out to sea in The French Lieutenant’s Woman), before grabbing craft refreshment at Lyme Regis Brewery. Then have afternoon tea at the Alexandra Hotel.


Charmouth’s appeal lies in its unspoilt, peaceful atmosphere, as well as its marvellous beach. It’s another hub for fossil hunters, and the free-to-enter Heritage Coast Centre further explores the area’s fossil heritage, showcasing several brilliantly preserved dinosaur skeletons. It also boasts a much-loved bakery and two excellent pubs in The Royal Oak and The George.


In this fashionable and buzzy market town, you’ll encounter kooky bookshops, alfresco antiques markets, record shops selling choice vinyl, and numerous cafes utilising the area’s local produce. Make sure to factor in a visit to West Bay, where TV drama Broadchurch was filmed, and its two beaches – quieter West Beach and livelier East Beach.



Dorset generally has something approaching a maritime climate, essentially meaning that – in theory – winters are a little milder than the rest of the UK and summers a little cooler. In practice, however, Dorset often enjoys warmer weather than most areas of Britain and definitely sees its fair share of gloriously sunny days during summer.

Where to stay:

Cosy B&Bs and traditional hotels aren’t hard to track down in West Dorset’s seaside towns. If you’re on a budget (and even if you’re not), it’s worth considering camping, as sites are plentiful and well-equipped.

Getting around:

A car is recommended, as smaller villages and more remote coastal spots may not have extensive bus services. Having said that, it’s easy to pick one well-connected or well-stocked location (Bridport is a good bet) to base your trip around.

For more information go to visit-dorset.com

Leave a Reply

Please login or register to leave a comment.

Please wait while we process your request.

Do not refresh or close your window at any time.