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Dorset is one of the gems of England’s south coast. It has no motorways, and no cities – and its dramatic coastlines, fascinating geology and charming towns and villages make it an ideal destination for a walking holiday. Here we take a look at some of the top reasons for visiting this beautiful county.
Be a Fossil Hunter
There’s a reason the Dorset stretch of England’s south coast is called the Jurassic Coast. The area’s abundance of animal and plant fossils, due to continuous coastal erosion, led to it becoming England’s first natural World Heritage Site in 2001. As you walk along some of Dorset’s beaches, such as Charmouth, you’ll see people tapping away at the rocks with little hammers, in search of fossils. It’s an area of fascinating natural history, with landscapes carved over millions of years that paint a picture of how life evolved.
Charmouth Beach - a prime spot for fossil hunting
An ammonite fossil
Marvel at Durdle Door & Lulworth Cove
Thousands of years of coastal erosion have created some spectacular rock formations along the Dorset coast, and none more so than the famous Durdle Door. This natural arch is a popular tourist attraction that needs to be seen in the flesh to fully appreciate it. Just along the coast from Durdle Door is Lulworth Cove, a beautiful, naturally rounded bay that creates a perfect environment for a refreshing dip in the sea. These natural wonders are perfect examples of the variety of coastal landscapes you’ll encounter in Dorset.
Explore the History of Dorchester
Whilst our walking tours are all about enjoying the great outdoors, Dorset’s county town, Dorchester, is well worth exploring. A historic market town, Dorchester’s roots can be traced back to prehistoric times, through the establishment of a Roman settlement, and some of the early raids of the Viking area. Today it’s a lively town, with plenty of places to enjoy food and drink, shopping and historical sightseeing.
As you enter Dorchester on our walk, you'll visit Maiden Castle, a huge iron-age hillfort. Much of it was built in the 1st century BC, and excavations have revealed a fascinating insight into life during the Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman eras. Dorchester also features the remains of a Roman town house, with a beautifully preserved mosaic floor.
The centre of Dorchester
Maiden Castle, a huge iron age hill-fort just outside Dorchester
Discover Thomas Hardy’s Wessex
Many of Thomas Hardy’s most famous novels are set in a fictionalised version of the ancient county of Wessex, which covers the county now known as Dorset, as well as other parts of England’s south west. Hardy renamed his home town of Dorchester as Casterbridge, most notably for The Mayor of Casterbridge. On a Dorset walking holiday you can visit places featured in some of Hardy’s finest novels, including Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure. You can also visit Hardy’s Cottage, a few miles outside Dorchester.
Statue of Thomas hardy in Dorchester
Hardy's Cottage, now a National Trust property
Enjoy Delicious Food & Drink
Whilst neighbouring counties Devon and Cornwall might be a little more famous for cream teas, you’ll find plenty of places to enjoy this indulgent treat in Dorset. The scones, clotted cream and jam are as good as you’ll anywhere else. And as a coastal county, it almost goes without saying that Dorset offers some of the best fish and seafood you’ll find in the UK. To wash down your fish and chips, you can also savour some of the excellent ale that’s brewed here – made all the more delicious by the charm of many of the pubs in which you can drink it.
Cream tea... mmmm!
Fish, chips and beer - the perfect combination!
Walk along europe's longest shingle beach
Chesil Beach, all 29km of it, is a shingle beach that connects the island of Portland to Weymouth. In fact, it’s the longest shingle beach in Europe. The landward side of the beach offers one of the Jurassic Coast’s best fossil-hunting sites. Chesil Beach is interesting not just for its sheer length, but because much of it is separated from the mainland by The Fleet Lagoon, a 13km long area of shallow water – long stretches of the lagoon are just 2m deep. It’s also the setting for Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel, On Chesil Beach, which was recently made into a film.
Chesil Beach, viewed from Portland
West Bay, at the northern end of Chesil Beach
Visit Charming Towns & Villages
In some parts of Dorset, it can really feel like you’re stepping back in time. Abbotsbury is one of the prettiest and most traditional villages in the UK, and is home to a famous swannery. Lyme Regis, where our walking tour starts, is a charming, lively town with a lovely 13th century harbour. Bridport is another attractive market town on the walk that offers plenty of choices for delicious food and drink.
Abbotsbury, the quintessential English village
Lyme Regis Harbour
Sherpa Expeditions’ Dorset and Wessex Trails is a self-guided walking tour that departs daily from 29 March until 22 October 2019.
One of our favourite walks in England are the trails following the Dorset Coast Path. This route is part of the South West Coast Path an area of outstanding geological importance (named the Jurassic Coast of England) and our walking holiday in Dorset provides great variety.
To help you get a better picture of what our walks in Dorset are like and to help you plan your hiking trip, we asked Lisa, our Dorset expert, to answer a few questions. We hope it helps you on your way!
What is the best way to get to the start of the Dorset walking holiday?
“Sherpa Expeditions’ Dorset and Wessex Trail walk starts in Lyme Regis. The easiest way to reach the start is by train from London’s Waterloo Station to Axminster train station. From there you can take a direct bus to Lyme Regis that stops across the street from your hotel.”
What is the best time to visit Dorset for hiking?
“Although you will find many quiet areas whilst walking, in summer Dorset’s coastal villages can get rather crowded. So, if you like the idea of less crowds, you should plan your walking trip in spring or late summer, until the end of September.”
What is accommodation on Sherpa’s Dorset walking holiday like?
“When you join our walks in Dorset we will have accommodation arranged in a mixture of quaint B&Bs and rooms in traditional English pubs.”
What are the walking conditions in Dorset like?
“We grade this trip as introductory to moderate and you will see that the path is like a roller coaster. Our Dorset walking holiday includes cliff walking which is very steep at times, beach walking, optional town walks, and walking in woodlands and grassy paths.”
To what other region in England can you compare the walks in Dorset?
“The only other walk I can compare the walks in Dorset with is walking in Cornwall due to climbing up and down the rugged cliffs. However, the scenery in Cornwall is very different and I think both are equally beautiful.”
If walkers have more time available, what can they combine the walks in Dorset with?
“I just mentioned Cornwall to be offering similar walking conditions as Dorset and our choice of walking holidays in Cornwall are nice walks to tag along. Cornwall is just down the coast to the west so it is easy to combine the two regions.”
What is the food in Dorset and south west England like?
“There are great fish & chips shops and restaurants around Dorset, which serve fresh catches from the sea daily. The Hive Café on the beach at Burton Bradstock (just past West Bay) often serves fresh lobster, not to be missed!”
Doesn’t it always rain in England?
“Down south where Dorset is, the English weather is much better than, for example, Scotland. The weather is generally warmer and more settled on England’s south coast than in other parts of Britain and in Dorset it’s even warmer than in Cornwall or Devon. So the general idea of ‘it always rains in Britain’ certainly does not apply to Dorset with its temperate maritime climate!”
How well way-marked is the Dorset walk?
“The walk is very well way-marked and you follow a mixture of signs from a white acorn to coloured arrows on gates.”
If you have more questions for Lisa or would like to read more about our Dorset and Wessex Trails walking holiday, you can download the trip notes via the button on the trip page or get in touch with us by email or phone. Sherpa Expeditions walking holidays to Dorset depart daily between late March and late October.
Rural & Unspoilt Destinations Great for Walking
Even though Europe is a highly developed continent, there still are plenty of destinations that are fantastic backdrops country walking holidays. For those of you who like to spend some time in rural communities and like to take in the unspoilt countryside, here are country walking destinations in France, Ireland and England.
Tarn & Aveyron, France
Picture a spectacular setting of rocky promontories or broad hills, like the Tuscan hill towns, rich in history with an intervening countryside that is a beautiful mixture of forests, fields and river valleys. This is the Tarn & Aveyron, about two hours driving north from Toulouse in southeastern France. Going on a country walking holiday in this region, you will notice a distinct lack of tourists. The route that we offer here has become one of our most venerated walks and one of our most popular tours in France. It’s a little different from our other hotel-based treks as you overnight in Chambres d’Hotes - literally ‘a room with your hosts’, and Table d’Hotes – ‘dinner with your hosts.’ Sit and eat with your hosts, enjoying a regional wine and try to engage in conversation to learn about their daily life.
Our beautiful country walk winds between the bastides, or fortified towns, that sprung up between the Cathar Crusades of the 1200s and the Wars of Religion in the 1500s, as well as vineyards, gorges, forests and rivers in rural France.
Want to visit Tarn & Aveyron yourself? You can, between May and September, on our 8-day self guided walking holiday in Tarn & Aveyron.
Lake District, England
Travel through England’s most rugged and mountainous landscape: the Lake District National Park. This part of the English country walking destination brings sensational woodlands and forests that provide a habitat for native English wildlife. Spot for example the red squirrel, one of the UK’s best-loved species. The countryside is celebrated not only by Beatrix Potter but also poets, authors and painters such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Ransome and Wainwright. In between quaint market towns, the walking trails lead past the peaceful depths of Coniston Water and Derwentwater lakes, as well as the superb Tarn Hows, set in the wooded hills between the picturesque villages of Coniston and Langdale. Anybody looking for one of England’s best country walking holiday destinations, the Lake District in Cumbria should be high on your list.
Besides our 8-day Cumbrian Way: Crossing the Lake District walking holiday
, also our Coast to Coast walking holidays
cross the English Lake District.
Wicklow Way, Ireland
Starting in southwest County Wicklow, the route that we’ve set out in this southeastern part of Ireland passes through rural communities, old market towns and grand estates. The region has proved itself as one of the best country walking holiday destinations as it attracts walkers from across the world eager to explore one of the greenest parts of the ‘Emerald Isle’. The Wicklow Way is Ireland’s oldest waymarked trail through which you can experience a patchwork of landscapes. If you’re keen to cross country estates, heather-covered granite mountains, rolling green hills and tranquil forests this is a country walking holiday for you! You will also pass ‘the valley of two lakes’ and monastic settlements that date back to the 6th century on your way to the bright lights of Dublin…
Discover The Wicklow Way on a 7-day country walking holiday between March and October.
From Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, the richly varied landscape and the historical treasures of Dorset have inspired generations of authors. On this country walking holiday, you cross unspoilt and peaceful rural villages. The route follows the coast as it stretches eastwards, along fossil-encrusted cliffs and the famed Golden Gap, a 190-metre headland of orange sandstone. Explore a timeless landscape of hidden valleys and hill forts before you drop down to the beautifully preserved village of Abbotsbury, which does not even have street lighting!
Follow the Dorset-Wessex Trails in the period from May until October on an 8-day self guided country walking holiday from Lyme Regis to West Lulworth.
Start in the French Cevennes at the extinct volcanoes to the north of the Massif Central and follow a winding route southwards across the more mountainous Cevennes on the eastern flank of the Massif Central. It is one of the remotest country walking holiday experiences you can get in France as this is the only French national park that is inhabited. We follow the route that in the autumn of 1878 was taken by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island) with his donkey Modestine. Their journey inspired ‘Travel with a donkey in the Cévennes’, which has since become a travel classic. Stevenson’s route can still be followed today without drastic modification: inns where Stevenson stopped still exist and at Notre Dame des Neiges, the monks from the book are still praying and brewing! Follow a winding route across a region that boasts great natural beauty, sad romantic ruins and is almost totally unspoilt.
You can choose between an eight or ten-day trip with excellent country walking following Stevenson’s Trail.
For more information on each of the regions and detailed information on these country walking holidays, please download the trip notes on each trip's webpage. If you like to speak to one of our travel consultants, please send us an email or contact us by phone and we’d be happy to discuss your requirements.