Day 1/2. Exploring Dorset

Day 1

On a cold but bright February morning we packed up the car and left our home in northern England at 9.00 am for a half term break on the south coast of England.  Our destination was Bournemouth in Dorset, 290 miles away.

Bicester Village
We stopped for lunch at Bicester Village an outlet shopping centre in Oxfordshire slightly more than half way to our destination.  It’s only a couple of miles from the M40 motorway junction and the village now has its own railway station with direct access to both Oxford and London (rail journey time from London being only 46 minutes).  More than 130 designer stores can be found in attractive pastel coloured New England style clapboard buildings along with numerous cafes and restaurants.  The Daily Telegraph recently reported that Bicester Village was the No. 2 destination for Chinese visitors to the UK after Buckingham Palace!    After taking a look in some of the stores, we resumed our journey and arrived in Bournemouth at 4.00 pm.  Our accommodation was on the East Cliff, looking out over the English Channel.   After settling in, we enjoyed a delicious meal whilst watching the sunset over the bay.

Bournemouth Pier
Day 2

Another sunny morning with clear blue skies,  we started the day with a walk along the East Cliff into the centre of Bournemouth passing the Victorian pier which was constructed in 1880. Linking the town centre from here are the award winning Lower Gardens complete with Victorian bandstand and a tethered hot air balloon for aerial views over the town and coastline.

Lord Baden Powell Statue, Poole Quay
We then travelled along the coast to the nearby town of Poole and explored its quaint old town and attractive waterfront.  It was fairly quiet today but in summer the quay is bustling with tourists taking boat trips across to the National Trust owned Brownsea Island famous for Lord Baden Powell setting up his first scout camp there in 1907.  The island is also home to one of the only colonies of red squirrels in the country.

Nearby,  one can visit the local Poole Pottery where it’s possible to watch demonstrations as well as purchase glazed items from their store.  After lunch,  at a branch of the Slug and Lettuce we spent an hour exploring the attractive suburb of Westbourne which has lots of small independent retailers.

Victorian arcade, Westbourne
The above photo is of the beautifully restored Westbourne Victorian arcade where we did a little shopping before returning to our base in Bournemouth for the evening.



Day 3/4. Christchurch and Lymington

Day 3

Another bright sunny morning so we started the day with a walk along the seafront to Boscombe.  Walking along to the end of the pier we had far reaching views to the Isle of Wight and along the coast.  Boscombe Pier first opened in 1889, but the boomerang shaped Art Deco  entrance wasn’t added until 1958 and is now grade 2 listed.  There used to be a theatre at the end of the pier but this was demolished in 2008 when the pier was renovated.

Urban Beach Cafe, Boscombe
Just beyond the pier we enjoyed our morning cups of coffee sitting out on the terrace of  the Urban Beach bistro.    It was hard to believe it was February as we sat out in the sunshine watching children play on the beach.

A few miles further along the coast lies Christchurch, an attractive town dominated by its elaborate Priory Church dating back to Norman times. It’s very interesting to tour the ancient church with its vaulted ceilings and view its length as it is the longest parish church in the country and it actually exceeds the size of 21 Englsh cathedrals.

Christchurch Priory
Adjacent to the priory lies Christchurch Quay, a pleasant riverside promenade where one can both admire the boats moored n the harbour as well as hire rowing and motor boats for short trips.  A large number of swans reside along the sheltered inlet, probably because there are plenty of people around sharing their sandwiches with them!

Place Water Mill, Christchurch
We then followed the trail known as the ‘Nun’s Walk’ along the side of the priory, the pathway was very scenic and ended at a restored Anglo Saxon water mill ‘Place Mill‘ now used as a gallery during the summer months.  I recommend following this short trail during a visit to the town (see feature photo).

Christchurch Quay
Feeling hungry, we found a pizzeria for a late lunch and then took a look around the town centre shops before returning to Bournemouth later in the afternoon.  A market is held along the high street in Christchurch each Monday throughout the year.

Day 4

Lymington Quay
The sunny February weather was too good to last as we woke up to a wet, windy morning.   Not to be deterred, we walked along Bournemouth’s West Cliff as far as Durley Chine watching the large waves crashing along the seashore.  After a leisurely lunch we drove to Lymington located in the adjoining county of Hampshire.  Lymington is a Georgian market town situated on the southern edge of the New Forest mid way between Southampton and Bournemouth.  The town is a well known sailing resort boasting two marinas as well as two sailing clubs.  The high street has a good selection of independent retailers, several chandlers and some clothes sailing shops including Musto.  

Lymington Quay
A large market is held each Saturday selling local produce , textiles and plants.  I particularly liked the small shop selling freshly caught dressed crabs ready to take home to eat.

It’s very picturesque down by the quay even when the weather isn’t at its best.  Pastel coloured buildings with low mullioned windows add to its charm.  Across the bay,  Wight Link ferries operate a  regular service  between Lymington and the picturesque small town of Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, the journey time taking only 40 minutes.  It’s also possible to take boat trips along the Solent and to The Needles (these are three distinctive chalk stacks that rise out of the sea off the most westerly point of the Isle of Wight).  Along the quay, there are plenty of benches to sit on during the summer where you can relax, admire the view and sample some of the locally made New Forest ice cream.

Returning to Bournemouth, the rain continued to fall but we had still managed to spend an enjoyable day exploring the Dorset / Hampshire coast.



Day 5/6. Wimborne and Dorchester

Day 5

It was back to sunshine this morning so we decided to drive inland to the small market town of Wimborne Minster named after its church.  It’s a delightful little place with its main square (Corn Market) bordered with fine examples of Anglo Saxon architecture.  Both in the Square and along its adjacent High Street are many small independent retailers making window shopping more interesting than when we see the same ‘big names’ all the time.

Wimborne Minster
 We then took a look inside the imposing Wimborne Minster, located at one end of the High Street,  the church has been in existence since the 12th century and underwent large scale restoration during Victorian times.  It is best known for having a chained library where books can be taken from shelves to be read but cannot be removed as they are attached by a chain.  We enjoyed lunch in ‘The Man in the Square’ pub on West Borough before returning to Bournemouth.

Bournemouth Beach Huts
Our afternoon was spent strolling along the seafront which felt more like July than February as there were so many people walking along the promenade and playing on the beach.  Some brave people were paddling and one or two were even taking a dip in the sea which must have been freezing cold.  We were happy just to watch, wrapped up to protect us from the icy chill.  Nestling below the cliffs along the lower promenade are hundreds of Victorian beach huts.  These are still popular today and here in Bournemouth have been painted literally in all the colours of the rainbow.  These huts can be hired by the day or week but cannot be used over night.    We then continued our walk through the Lower Gardens where we saw the tethered air balloon in use for the first time this week.

The Bournemouth Balloon


Day 6

A blustery morning so we decided to drive over to Dorchester which lies 30 miles to the west of Bournemouth.

Dorchester County Museum

The high street gently rises uphill to the Corn Exchange at its top, it’s now pedestrianised and its medieval buildings are filled with shops and cafes that still manage to retain their original charm.  One shop I came across was Seasalt – a Cornish clothing company selling clothes and textiles with a ‘seaside’ theme.

Dorchester High Street
I really like some of their designs and have seen them in John Lewis but had only once before visited one of their shops as they haven’t expanded further north yet.  As well as its Roman origins, Dorchester was also the home and inspiration of Thomas Hardy whose novel ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ was based on the town.

The Sandbanks Chain Ferry
After lunch in The Royal Oak pub we returned to Bournemouth along the slower, more scenic route stopping off at Sandbanks on the way back.  Sandbanks peninsula crosses the mouth of Poole harbour and is said to have the fourth most expensive land value in the world.  Along the edge of the spit homes have views forward over Poole harbour and rear overlooking Bournemouth bay,  it’s the home of millionaires and footballers!   A chain ferry operates between Sandbanks and Shell Bay taking motorists and foot passengers across throughout the year.   Since our last visit  Rick Stein has opened a restaurant here, along with his others in Padstow, Winchester and Marlborough.







Day 7/8. Salisbury and Hengistbury Head

We decided to drive to Salisbury this morning, the journey taking approximately one hour.  We noticed signs for Park and Ride but carried on and found car parking in the town centre without problem even though it was a Saturday.  The city is located in south east Wiltshire on the edge of Sailsbury Plain and 8 miles from the world famous Stonehenge UNESCO site.

Salisbury Cathedral
 Dominating the city,  Salisbury Cathedral completed in 1258 has the tallest spire in the United Kingdom at 123 m tall.  Cathedral Close,  the lawned parkland area surrounding the church features period houses which are home to the Bishop and clergy whilst others are privately owned, one being the previous home of the former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.

Archway in Salisbury leading to the cathedral
From the cathedral an ornate archway retaining its heavy oak gates leads into the attractive town centre with its ancient old buildings.  Narrow roads lead to the market square where the large Charter Market takes place every Tuesday and Saturday which was bustling with activity on our visit.  Salisbury is a delightful place to wander around,  the National Trust have an attractive gift shop here and there are several other interesting small shops alongside the usual high street names.  After enjoying lunch in the King’s Head pub we returned to Bournemouth mid afternoon.

Day 8

Our final day in Dorset so we decided to travel the short distance to Hengistbury Head a nature reserve just beyond Southbourne.  It’s part of the Christchurch Harbour Site of Special Scientific Interest.  There is a large car park by the entrance to the nature trail.  The trail extends two miles along Christchurch harbour out onto the Mudeford Spit.  Here can be found some of the most expensive Beach Huts in the country, some costing more than £200,000.

Beach huts at Hengistbury Head
These beach huts do not even have water, electricity or bathrooms but during the summer months they can be slept in overnight.  Walking along, it’s fun to glance inside some of the beach huts as owners are really into ‘seaside chic’ interior design and great use of compact space.  Vehicles are not allowed on the Spit so one either has to arrive on foot, take the ferry or land train.  On a sunny day the views are stunning over the harbour and out to sea, unfortunately it was a dull, grey morning so my photos don’t do it justice.  There’s a very pleasant cafe/bistro The Beach House which is open at weekends in winter and each day during the summer months.  Its sister cafe ‘The Boat House’ is across the bay on Christchurch Quay and open all year.

Mudeford Spit
Walking back to the car, my husband spotted egrets and cormorants and a board outside the visitor centre lists recent sightings of wildlife in the reserve.  Inside, the modern visitor centre has some interesting displays and we enjoyed looking around, there was even a webcam link to nesting herons which was fun to observe.  Feeling very windswept, we returned to the car park and made our way back home after a pleasant winter week on the Dorset coast.

If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also be interested in the following:


Bournemouth Air Show

Kingston Lacy