To locals, the endearing thatched cottages, weekly farmer's markets and rural isolation of villages are the quintessentially English aspects of Dorset that few migrating townies will ever appreciate - unless they choose to settle here. The 19th Century setting for many of Thomas Hardy's acclaimed fictional creations, Dorset inspires and intrigues with its Jurassic coastline, littered with fossils of national significance; classic British seaside towns and AONB's (Areas of Outstanding National Beauty), such as the Dorset Downs. Such organic, historical settings lent to the construction of many imperial country estates during the 19th Century, as well as medieval fortresses, World War I compounds and intriguing Iron Age settlements. Considered national treasures of prime historical importance, these archaic attractions are just one facet of verdant Dorset that lure thousands to the county each year. From water gardens inspired by Monet's infamous Japanese Bridge oil on canvas, to shire horse farm parks and adventure wonderlands, here are a few more for your delectation! To find a lovely Dorest cottage.
The Dinosaur Museum, Dorchester
London's behemoth Natural History Museum may impress with its 5 metre replica of the formidable T-Rex, but size isn't everything. Just 7 miles from the Jurassic Coast in Dorset's beautiful county capital lies Britain's foremost museum, entirely dedicated to dinosaurs. Dorchester's Dinosaur Museum opened in 1984, in part to showcase key findings of international importance from along the rugged coast. It has since evolved into a spectacular exhibition of segueing journeys, commencing with a Megolosaurus encounter within the main lobby and tracing dinosaur activity in Britain as far back as 150 million years ago. Kids are encouraged to get hands on with exhibits by placing hands into dinosaur footprints; taking chalk rubbings of dino fossils and even handling rare skeleton bones of T-Rex and Stegosaurus. Staff at the Dinosaur Museum stress this is a unique hands on experience and one which kids, like their parents, are unlikely to forget. www.thedinosaurmuseum.com/
Bennett's Water Gardens, Weymouth
Set across 8 acres of beautiful parkland in the midst of rural Chickerell, Bennett's Water Gardens combines the English love of art with some of the most important collections of water lilies to be found anywhere in the world. Bennett's began life as a brickwork and clay pit, bolstering the local economy until its closure in 1859. A local family with designs on the land set about reforming the overgrown eyesore into a garden estate worthy of Royal visitation, sourcing many of the lilies for their collection from the very same nursery that supplied Monet's garden at Giverny. Thus began the 'Monet Connection', inspired by the acclaimed 'Water Lilies Pond' painting of 1899. In 1999, a commemorative bridge in a similar Japanese style to that depicted within the painting was unveiled at Bennett's, celebrating 100 years of the artist's most iconic piece. Today, Bennett's Water Gardens sprawl across a whopping eight acres, encompassing a Tropical Cacti Collection, Water Lily Farm and Woodland Gardens among the many scenic attractions to be found here. www.waterlily.co.uk/
Dorset Heavy Horse Farm Park, Verwood
With its converted straw barn playgrounds, pedal tractors and baby animal petting zoo, Dorset Heavy Horse Farm Park ticks all the right boxes for a kid-friendly day out. Established in the mid 1970's, the Farm Park has transitioned from its role as a shire horse rescue centre and traditional cattle farm, into a world renowned visitor attraction with pony rides and hands on activities abound. Youngsters are encouraged to get up close and boot deep with the animals and muck, guided through everyday farming chores, as well as milking, grooming and harnessing. If you've a love for miniature animals, Dorset Heavy Horse Farm Park keeps a multitude of pygmy species, including handbag sized Kunu Pigs, Dwarf Goats and of course, overbearing alpacas. Donkey and Snow Dog rides are a somewhat exhilarating alternative to plodding ponies and carriage rides, but even these pale into comparison to every little boys dream - driving a tractor! If you're in the Weymouth area and stuck for kid-friendly activities to keep them all happy, Dorset Heavy Horse Farm Park is guaranteed to rev them up and wear them out - all within a matter of hours! www.dorset-heavy-horse-centre.co.uk/
Forde Abbey and Gardens, Chard
Beset within a verdant 30 acres of 16th Century cultivated gardens on the fringe of quaint old Somerset, Forde Abbey is a must-see for anyone looking for an idle afternoon of visual and sensory pleasures. Founded in 1156, Forde Abbey served a monastic purpose for over 400 years, until Henry VIII's Dissolution of Monasteries order forced its eventual closure. In 1890, Mrs. Bertram Evans began a period of revival that saw much of the house restored to its former glory and today, her descendants have continued her legacy, tranforming Forde Abbey into a beatific tourist attraction of award-winning calibre. Much of the house is now open for viewing, including the Monastic Rooms: the Chapel, Undercroft, Great Hall and Monk's Dormitory. Home to the famous Mortlake Tapestries once intended for the Sistine Chapel, the Saloon is a beautiful State Room teeming with treasures of 16th Century origin, as is the Bentham Bedroom, still furnished for the anticipated arrival of Queen Anne in 1714. www.fordeabbey-gardens-dorset.co.uk/
What is your favourite Dorest attraction?