Family Days Out In Dorset

Bridport Museum photo from their website

With all the lovely beaches along the Jurassic Coast you may not want to stray far from the seaside but if you fancy a change there’s lots of attractions for families in the area. Here’s a quick round-up, picked to all be within a 45 minute drive of the cottage. From Monkey World to the Tank Museum, a Sea Life Centre to local animal farms. And a bit of seaside fossil hunting too. Just click on the links to find out more, get directions and check opening times, some of the attractions are seasonal.

In and around Dorchester

Old Teddy Bear ExhibitThe ancient county town of Dorchester is 16 miles away, roughly a 30 minute drive. Attractions include Thomas Hardy’s town house, shops, pretty streets and churches and child-friendly eating places. There are several little museums serving up an eclectic mix. These include a Dinosaur Museum, a Teddy Bear Museum, and Tutankhamun, Mummies and Terracotta Warriors exhibitions. Sadly these display copies rather than the actual Tutankhamun treasures, mummies or warriors. Individually they seem pricy given the size of the exhibits but you can get a saver ticket which combines entry to all five of them. The Dorset County Museum is better value. There’s also a military museum, Keep Museum.

Maiden CastleTraces of Dorchester’s prehistoric roots include the Maumbury Rings and Maiden Castle, an ancient earthwork on the outskirts of the town. The largest iron age hillfort in Europe, Maiden Castle dominates the skyline and once protected hundreds of residents. Excavations have revealed occupation began more than 6,000 years ago. Have a climb, a walk and enjoy the superb views. Free entry and parking.

Near Dorchester is Kingston Maurward gardens and animal park, a grade II-listed gardens set around a large Georgian English country house (now an agricultural college). Children will especially love the animal park, with its pigs, alpacas, cows, ponies, sheep, ducks and hens and plenty of room to play and have a picnic.

Bridport and inland

Rope machine photo from museum websiteBridport Museum on South Street is worth popping into when you are in the town. It’s recently undergone a major refurbishment. Find out about Bridport’s history from prehistoric times onwards. There’s a special emphasis on the story of the rope and net making industry which has shaped many of the town’s streets and buildings. This informative little museum has free entry and is child-friendly with interactive exhibits and a dressing-up box.

Kingcombe CentreKingcombe Centre, a 25 minute drive inland from the cottage near Hooke, has natural history, wildlife, craft and art courses throughout the year. Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve surrounds it. The centre has activities such as pond dipping and nature walks for families and children. Have a look here to see if anything appeals.

In and around Wareham

Monkey World WarehamRoughly a 45 minute drive from the cottage, Monkey World in Wareham is a monkey sanctuary, a rescue centre, for primates. It has decent sized enclosures for the animals and a very large outdoor adventure playground for children. A perfect outing for any monkey fan.

Tank MuseumWest of Wareham, the Tank Museum in Bovington (again about 45 minutes drive) is, not surprisingly, a museum with lots and lots of tanks. Good for a rainy day if you like tanks, or you know someone who does.

Also near Wareham is Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park. Loads for young kids to see and do with lots of animals and activities including go-carts and pedal tractors.

Heading west along the coast

Charmouth FossilsThe Jurassic Coast is where you’ll find some of the best fossil hunting in the UK and Charmouth is the very best place to start. Entry to Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is free and it’s packed with interactive displays and fun things to do. There’s a fossil display which contains some remarkable finds. You can rent a hammer to hunt on your own or follow a guided walk led by one of the centre’s experts. Either way it’s a great day out and will always reveal exciting finds. Book online for a fossil hunting walk or rock pool ramble. But be careful, the cliffs around Charmouth are very unstable.

Pavement Outside Lyme Regis MuseumLyme Regis is a lovely town for families to visit and in particular it’s a good place for fossil and dinosaur enthusiasts. In 1811, after a storm caused parts of Lyme Regis’ East Cliff to collapse, Mary Anning, twelve years old and already a keen fossil-hunter, discovered a complete dinosaur skeleton, an ichthyosaur over 5 metres long. There are two museums in Lyme with fossil exhibits, Dinosaurland Fossil Museum and the Lyme Regis Museum. One of the buildings on the Cobb houses an aquarium too.

Heading east along the coast

Situated near Burton Bradstock, The Jurassic Fun Centre at Freshwater Beach Holiday Park is a handy rainy day destination. Activities include a fun pool with slides and a ten-pin bowling alley.

Pigs at Vurlands Animal FarmKeep going along the beautiful coast road to Swyre and you reach Vurlands Animal Farm. This is a family run business suitable for a day out with young children. There are plenty of farm animals to see, a play area, and, in the summer months, a free bouncy castle. It’s wheelchair and buggy friendly. Your ticket is valid for a further seven days for free re-entry. The Eggcup Tearooms are on site for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.

At the swannery in SpringGo further east along the coast to Abbotsbury where you’ll find three superb attractions all located within a mile of each other around the village, Abbotsbury Children’s Farm, Subtropical Gardens and the Swannery. If possible visit the Swannery during cygnet hatching time between mid May and the end of June. The gardens have spooky illuminated fright nights near Halloween. You can buy a passport ticket which allows three visits to an Abbotsbury attraction.

Falling ManOn Portland there’s Tout Quarry Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve. Entry and parking is free. An abandoned quarry has been turned into an sculpture park, the sculptures carved in the Portland stone. It’s an atmospheric place with lovely views over Chesil Beach and Lyme Bay. The park is a maze of pathways through the quarry with sculptures dotted around. Keep your eyes peeled to spot them! The hidden sculptures include a fish, a Viking boat and the famous “falling man” by Antony Gormley. Wear decent shoes. Afterwards you could head out to Portland Bill, the most southerly part of Dorset, to see the red and white lighthouse and the waves crashing around Pulpit Rock.

Weymouth

Weymouth makes a good day trip. The Sea Life Adventure Park is a facinating aquarium, with general tickets including access to the Jurassic Skyline viewing tower. The park has a new play area called Caribbean Cove. It includes a splash zone so pack swimming costumes even if you are not planning on a beach day.

Alternatively the Victorian Nothe Fort, located at the entrance to Weymouth Harbour, is a labyrinth of (apparently haunted) underground passageways and outdoor areas with plenty of space for children to run free. The interactive exhibits are full of interesting facts about the fort, the harbour and Weymouth as well as more general military history. Kids love finding the hidden mice too! It has a brilliant view over the harbour from the ramparts.

If you’ve read all this and haven’t yet booked accommodation for your trip to the area, we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage if you wish, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.

Films Set In West Dorset Part One – Jurassic Coast

Far from the Madding Crowd at Eype 2015

When I read that this summer’s blockbuster film Dunkirk has some scenes filmed in Weymouth it prompted me to look into what other films have West Dorset locations. Filmmakers have been drawn to West Dorset over the years by the unspoilt countryside, coast, picturesque villages and historic houses. Notably the area is the backdrop for several period dramas, in particular adaptations of Thomas Hardy’s novels where the scenery is as integral to the story as the plot and the characters.

There’s too many films for just one post so I’ll split them over a few, grouped by locations in West Dorset. First up, movies with scenes set along the Jurassic Coast but not including Lyme Regis, Portland and Weymouth, they’ll need a separate post or two. Next time you watch one of these films see if you can spot the local sights. Or why not explore the beautiful local coastline by tracking down some of the film locations?

Jurassic Coast

Small Back Room 1949 - on Chesil bankThe British film-making team of Powell and Pressburger made The Small Back Room in 1949, a psychological drama. It’s famous for a rather gloomy look at the war effort and its twenty minute bomb-defusing finale. Michael Powell said he made the film specifically to use Chesil Bank as both a location and a story setting. Dorset’s now-vanished Abbotsbury Station appears in the film. You can also see St Catherine’s Chapel overlooking Portland and Chesil beach itself, where the bomb-defusing scene takes place.

Dam Busters PosterDespite local tourism claims, none of 1954’s The Dam Busters dramatic scenes were shot in Dorset. However “bouncing bomb” inventor Barnes Wallis acted as the film’s technical advisor and his own 1942 actual footage of test-drops of dummy bombs over the Fleet Lagoon was used throughout, including in the final raid scenes. The Fleet Lagoon thus ‘doubled’ for the real German dam-lakes in the final dams attack sequence.

The Navy Lark 1959 - West Bay HarbourThe Navy Lark, released in 1959, was filmed in and around West Bay. In it West Bay is a small fictitious channel island called Boonzey Island. Pier Terrace is the Naval Headquarters of the island. This was a spin off from a BBC radio comedy series about an incompetent crew of a Royal Navy ship. Similar to the ‘Carry On’ and ‘Doctor’ films, this black and white film’s stars included Cecil Parker, Leslie Phillips, Hattie Jacques and Gordon Jackson.

Far from the Madding Crowd 1967The original 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch, was directed by John Schlesinger with Nicolas Roeg as cinematographer. Twenty locations across two counties were used including the Tithe Barn in Abbotsbury where Bathsheba’s wedding dance is held. This barn, dating from the 1390’s, is the largest thatched building in the world. It is now home to Abbotsbury Children’s Farm. Cottages in Abbotsbury village form the backdrop when Troy disembarks from a cart on his wedding night.

Bedknobs and BroomsticksDisney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks (1971) mixes animated characters into live-action settings. It’s not set in Dorset but the script’s finale calls for a deserted area where an army of ghostly knights line up to oppose a German U-boat landing a raiding party. The ruined castle seen in these shots is clearly Corfe Castle. One scene is said to use the old railway station at West Bay. I’ll have to watch it again and keep a look out!

The Scarlet Tunic 1998The Scarlet Tunic, a version of Hardy’s fact-based tragic short story of the Napoleonic Wars era entitled The Melancholy Hussar Of The German Legion, is an independent low-budget film made in 1998. Filmed at Chideock, Seatown and Bridport using a local crew, it was admired for its photography and scenery but generally reviews were poor and it received little distribution.

The Burrows in Harry PotterThe swampy reed beds of the fleet lagoon near Abbotsbury Swannery were used as the entrance to the Weasley family home in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The filming took place in 2007 in a huge field of reeds less than half a mile west of the Swannery with body doubles used instead of the principal actors. To create the studio set filmmakers harvested lots of reeds and moved them to Leavesden Studios for the shots where you can clearly see the actors.

Far from the Madding Crowd Poster 2015The most recent film version of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene was filmed in several locations around the county. West Dorset residents took part as extras on the film. The cliffs over which Gabriel Oak’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) sheep are driven by the out-of-control young sheepdog are just down the coast from West Bay at Eype (see top picture).

On Chesil Beach 2018The film On Chesil Beachadapted by Ian McEwan from his own book, is due to be released early 2018. It is set in the early 1960s and centres on a young couple who spend a fraught wedding night at a hotel there. It stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as the couple, with Samuel West and Emily Watson also in the cast. Principal photography began in October 2016 on Chesil Beach. There is no actual hotel there.

Next time find out about some of the movies filmed inland in West Dorset, including those with scenes at Mapperton and Athelhampton House. Coming soon to a screen near you!

est Dorset’s unspoilt countryside, coast, picturesque villages and historic houses has made it an ideal location for many films, in particular various period dramas and especially adaptions of Hardy novels.