Featuring a lovely mix of coastal locations and rural countryside, holidays in Dorset are wonderfully varied. Find local produce, beautiful scenery and the Jurassic Coast Path nestling on the southern coast of England.
Where is Dorset?
The county of Dorset is found in Southern England bordering the four counties of Somerset, Devon, Wiltshire and Hampshire.
Latest estimates put the population of Dorset at around 750,000 people meaning it’s the 20th most populated out of the 48 counties in the UK. Dorset is the 31st most populated county with only 281 people per square kilometre. The population in the county has been steadily increasing with the 2011 census showing a 7% increase on 2001.
Human settlements in Dorset are thought to have started around 12,500 BC when Britain was still attached to Europe. The population grew rapidly during the Neolithic Era as a wave of immigrant farmers headed to Dorset. Romans first landed in Dorset at Poole Harbour before moving inland, taking Abbotsbury Castle and other forts across Dorset. Dorchester has many notable Roman artefacts there today.
Many of today’s settlements were there during the Saxon times according to The Domesday Book. During this time Dorset’s population grew and much more land was dedicated to farming to deal with the increased demand for food. The 18th century brought smuggling to the Dorset coastline with the coves and caves ideal for the smugglers' activities. Dorset was unaffected during the industrial revolution with the largest industry still being agriculture.
Several of the harbours along the Dorset coast were used as launching grounds for the D-Day landings. Bournemouth and Christchurch were part of Hampshire until 1974 when the political boundaries were changed.
Major towns and villages
Bournemouth is the largest town in Dorset with a population of 187,000 with Poole being the next largest at 154,000. These towns along with Christchurch form the South East Dorset conurbation where over half of the population of Dorset live.
The next largest settlement is Weymouth with 52,000 people living in the seaside town. Dorchester is the county town of Dorset and has nearly 20,000 residents. The majority of the larger towns are in the south of the county but there are a number of charming towns and villages elsewhere in the county including Gillingham, Sherborne and Bridport.
Almost the entire coastline of Dorset is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. An abundance of fossils have been found on this stretch of coastline and surrounding area, with many still being found today. There are several spectacular rock formations along the coast including Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and the highest cliff on the south coast, Golden Cap.
The county is the 20th largest in England covering an area of 2653 sq/km. The highest point of the county is Lewesdon Hill which is 279m above-sea level.
Weather & climate
Dorset is the third most southerly county in the UK and benefits from this position with warm summers and mild winters. It is also less affected by winds that the more southerly counties of Devon and Cornwall can experience. The county has higher average winter temperatures than the rest of the UK and higher summer temperatures than Devon and Cornwall. For up to date information for the weather in Dorset, check the Met Office website.
Dorset is one of the few English counties not to have a motorway within its borders but the A303 from London to Devon and Cornwall briefly passes through the county. There are several A roads that branch off the A303 allowing easy access to towns and villages across the county. The A31 is a bypass road allowing people joining the county from the M27 to bypass towns in the south of the county.
London is easily accessible via train with two main lines running through the county. Northern towns such as Gillingham and Sherborne are served by the West of England Main Line which runs from London Waterloo to Exeter St David’s. The South Western Main Line runs through Bournemouth, Poole and Dorchester before terminating at Weymouth.
There is only one passenger airport in the county found in Bournemouth which serves a multitude of European cities and tourist destinations with extra flights put on seasonally. Dorset is also connected to the continent by ferry services from Poole and Weymouth along with ferry services to the Channel Islands.
Economy and industry
Dorset’s primary industry today is tourism with recent estimations putting the number of people employed in the industry in Dorset at 37,500. The region attracts over 3 million British tourists each year with a further 300,000 foreign visitors.
The agricultural industry used to be the largest employer in the county but this has been on the decline since the 19th century and in recent years numbers of livestock have been falling. Major employers inside Dorset include Bournemouth University, Cobham PLC, Sunseeker International, BAE Systems and J.P Morgan.
Dorset has some traits of the Westcountry dialect but is not as strong as other counties in the area in the region and is only prominent in a small portion of the population. The motto of the county is ‘Who’s Afear’d’ meaning ‘To be afraid’.
There are thousands of buildings of historical significance in the county with over 1,500 Scheduled Ancient Monuments and 12,850 listed buildings including Portland Castle and Corfe Castle. Dorset is also famed for its strong literary links with author and poet Thomas Hardy who was born in the county. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams also had a home in Stalbridge.
Dorset has only recently adopted a flag which is known as the Dorset Cross or St Wite’s Cross with the final design being decided upon after a public vote. The winning design has a white cross with a red border on a golden background with colours representing the flag of England along with the sandy beaches of Dorset. All three colours also feature on Dorset County Council’s coat of arms.
Many dishes served in Dorset today are simple dishes that are cooked with locally sourced, organic food. There are a number of farmers’ markets, farm shops and food fairs where local food can be found.
The most famous dish to be produced in the county is Dorset Knob which is a hard dry savoury biscuit. There is currently only one producer of the biscuit and it is only available for a limited time of the year. Traditionally eaten with Dorset Blue Vinney cheese, the biscuit is said to have been a favourite of Thomas Hardy. Every May Cattistock hosts a Dorset Knob throwing competition.
Due to Dorset’s location in relation to the English Channel, the sport that the county is most renowned for is sailing. The Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy hosted sailing events during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. The venue still holds events which attract the world’s best sailors today. Other water sports that are popular in the county include; windsurfing, surfing, kite surfing and water skiing.
Dorset only has one professional football team and that is AFC Bournemouth who play in the Sky Bet Championship, the second tier of English football. Poole Town, Dorchester Town and Weymouth Town all play in the Calor Premier Division and these are the highest ranked non-league teams in Dorset.
Poole Stadium is home to the Poole Pirates who are one of the most successful speedway teams of all time and play in the Elite League Speedway. The stadium has also hosted the Speedway World Cup attracting over 7,000 spectators to the venue. Regular greyhound racing meets take place throughout the year.
Famous people from Dorset
The below list of people have links to the county after having been born in Dorset or living there for a sustained period of time.
- Perrie Edwards (Little mix singer)
- Alan Carr (Comedian)
- Martin Clunes (Actor)
- Kate Adie (Journalist)
- PJ Harvey (Musician)
- Robert Newton (Actor)
- Jamie Redknapp (Footballer)
- Harry Redknapp (Football manager)
- Christian Bale (Actor)
- Virginia Wade (Tennis player)
- John Le Carre (Spy and writer)
- James Meade (Nobel prize winner)
- Christopher Chataway (Athlete and politician)
- David Croft (Writer)
- Thomas Hardy (Novelist and poet)
- Sir Christopher Wren (Architect)
- Buster Merryfield (Actor)
- Billy Bragg (Musician)
- Katy Hill (Television presenter)
- Tony Blackburn (Radio DJ)