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Journeying Through Dorset - & The Jurassic Coast

The county of Dorset on England's south coast is a county of great contrast but one that will reward the determined traveller again and again. Take a break from driving and jump the three-hour rail journey from London Waterloo to Bournemouth. Deer can often be seen as you pass through the New Forest after Southampton, so keep one eye open.

Bournemouth is a clean and prosperous seaside city with hundreds of hotels ranging from the tiniest, to large international standard establishments. The beach is long and sandy, and though it may be busy on the weekends in the summer, it is long enough to accommodate all comers.

Five miles to the east you will find the pretty ancient town of Christchurch where the Priory stands cheek by jowl with the ruined mediaeval monastery. Stroll beside the twin rivers of Avon and Stour as they head for the sheltered harbour and onward to the sea at Mudeford Quay. The Quay is well worth a visit too, if only to watch the kids of all ages pulling the crabs from the fast flowing Run as it dashes through the channel.

To the west of Bournemouth is the revitalised town of Poole, and the huge natural harbour, second in size only to Sydney. Take a boat trip to Brownsea Island and spot the rare red squirrels. Visit Sandbanks too, and millionaires row, where film stars, pop people and sportsmen and women like to take a fancy to the modern art deco homes.

From the end of the Sandbanks peninsula take the old chain link ferry to Studland Bay. There is a beautiful sandy beach here too and you can walk along the shore to the pretty village of Studland, but be aware that this is a nudist beach. And it's used, at all times of the year, making the patrons much hardier souls than I! It's not unknown for them to approach strangers too. Methinks they hide a weird sense of humour!

From there, head south towards Swanage. Stop off at Wareham and take a drink at the Inns on the picturesque quay. Take the Swanage road and pass the impressive ruin of Corfe Castle. Spend a while climbing the fortifications, and experience the feel of what it must have been like defending a fortress in the middle ages.

Swanage is a small typically English seaside town, almost unchanged in the last fifty years, and no less attractive for that. You can arrive there by steam train on the Swanage Railway from Wareham. Travel west of Swanage and the terrain becomes wilder. This is Purbeck country, the Purbeck Hills, Purbeck stone, and the Jurassic coast.

Towering cliffs, strange rock formations such as the Durdle Door, and Lulworth Cove are worth seeking out. This coast is known as the Jurassic coast for the vast number of dinosaur remains that have been and still are regularly discovered. The original Jurassic Park! Continue westward to Weymouth, another English seaside town. But Weymouth has much more to offer than most. The quayside that boasts working fishing vessels coming and going on every tide, the nature reserve, and the monk's swannery at Abbotsbury. Buy fresh fish and crabs from the boats moored at the quay, take the seasonal quick ferry to Jersey and Guernsey. It's a four hour trip but you can be there and back in a day. And don't forget to visit the strange place that is Portland Bill to the south and west of the town. It is here in Portland harbour that the Olympic Games sailing events will take place in 2012.

Continue westward to Lyme Regis on the Devon border. It was here that Meryl Streep filmed the famous scenes from A French Lieutenant's Woman on the Cobb, the old stone quay that curls out into the channel. Walk on it at your peril in high winds, for it is slippery, and not flat!

Time to turn inland. Beaminster and the old church, before continuing on to the county town of Dorchester. This is Thomas Hardy country, there is a statue to him at the top of the High Street. Dorchester is Casterbridge in his books, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and there are memories of him everywhere.

Continue northward to Shaftesbury and Sherborne, home of Sir Walter Raleigh. Visit the Abbey, the castle and the antiques shops that abound in the town. In the north of the county the countryside and the people differ markedly to the costal strip. A slower pace of life, more time for everything. The land is rolling, green hills on chalk downland that is home to rare breeds of sheep. In places huge sculptures have been carved from the hillside where the thin topsoil has been removed revealing the white chalk beneath. White horses, riders on horses, and the mediaeval pornography that is the Cerne Abbas Giant. Visit Blandford Forum too, another riverside town that can trace its heritage back to Roman times, and beyond.

Take a slight detour over the border into Wiltshire and see the county capital of Salisbury and the beautiful cathedral with the tallest spire in England.

Dorset is a fine county to explore, full of quaint thatched cottages, and beautiful pubs that anyone can enter at any reasonable time. Rest your feet for an hour, you don't need to buy alcohol if you prefer not, you'd be made just as welcome buying soft drinks and hearty crusty rolls. For the most part the food is good and fairly priced. Distances in Dorset between the towns are small and you can see a great deal in a week, but hey, two weeks would be all the better!

You will find thousands of holiday cottages, villas and apartments, worldwide on my holiday home website www.pebblebeachmedia.co.uk

David Carter has written hundreds of published articles. His latest work is the 244 page property letting manual SPLAM! Successful Property Letting And Management. Check out extracts on http://www.splam.co.uk. His holiday home website boasts over six thousand holiday cottages, villas and apartments worldwide and you can view that at http://www.pebblebeachmedia.co.uk

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