Dorset: a County of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Published: Saturday 5th Jul 2014

Written by: Alice de Courcy-Wheeler

Around 45% of Dorset has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – a status that recognises the beauty and importance of this wonderful landscape. It takes in one of Britain's finest coastlines and the countryside that inspired Thomas Hardy’s novels. From the ridges and valleys of central Dorset, to the chalk cliffs and sandy heaths nearer the sea, this is a special place that keeps holidaymakers returning year after year. There are four reasons why Dorset is a natural wonder:

Great views

Holidaymakers who like rambling will be rewarded with some stunning views in the Dorset AONB. If you have a head for heights make for Golden Cap between Bridport and Charmouth – at 191 metres it is the highest spot on the Jurassic Coast and so called because of the yellow sandstone that makes up the cliffs below. On the Purbeck Hills, visitors can head up to Ballard Down – a chalk headland offering dramatic views of Old Harry Rocks and Swanage. At Black Down near Portesham stands the Hardy Monument, erected in 1844 to honour Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy’s role in the Battle of Trafalgar. It’s worth the trek for the panoramic views of the rolling Dorset Downs.

Wonderful wildlife

The wide variety of different habitats throughout Dorset AONB mean it is home to an array of interesting and often rare flora and fauna – making the area a real treat for nature lovers. In summer, downland like that found near Corfe Castle comes alive with wild flowers and butterflies, while the areas of heathland found at places like the RSPB’s Arne reserve and the Studland wildlife reserve are known for supporting all six British reptiles – sand lizards, common lizards, slow worms, smooth snakes, adders and grass snakes. The coast is home to an abundance of birdlife – Poole Harbour, for example, is an internationally recognised area for wintering populations of avocet and shelduck. Over at nearby Brownsea Island lives one of the last remaining colonies of red squirrels in England.

Incredible coastline

From the incredible 18 mile shingle bank of Chesil Beach to the wonderful golden Sandbanks beach in Poole Harbour, Dorset’s coastline is full of natural beauty. Visitors travel from all over the UK to see the county’s unusual rock formations such as Durdle Door and Old Harry Rocks, while the geological perfection of Lulworth Cove is one of the most stunning sights in the whole of the country. Then you have the wonder of the Jurassic Coast – mile upon mile of cliff-lined beaches renowned for offering up fossils that give clues to primitive life millions of years ago.

An inspiration for the artists

Visitors who fall in love with Dorset’s scenery will be following in the footsteps of numerous writers and artists who have been inspired by the beauty of its landscape. Dorset’s most famous son, Thomas Hardy, based many of his novels and poems in the Dorset countryside – take a few of his poems with you to get into the mood. Another poet, John Keats, spent his last night on English soil at Lulworth Cove while writers Jane Austen and John Fowles have strong connections with Lyme Regis. Renowned artist JMW Turner painted a view across Bridport Bay, while John Constable also put brush to canvas while staying in Dorset.

Alice de Courcy-Wheeler
Alice de Courcy-Wheeler


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