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 Four – Weymouth And Portland

Oliver Reed Weymouth 1961

Did you see my other posts about movies with locations around West Dorset?  I’m concluding here with Weymouth and Portland. The films are mainly war films, including the 2017 summer blockbuster, Dunkirk. Not exclusively though, that’s a picture of Oliver Reed in Weymouth above, taken during the filming of Hammer Horror The Damned (see below).

Weymouth and Portland

In Which We ServeWeymouth and Portland have been used for several war and sea based dramas. Noel Coward, John Mills, and Richard Attenborough starred in the wartime drama In Which We Serve, a patriotic war film made in 1942 directed by Noel Coward and David Lean, with scenes filmed around Portland.

Cruel Sea Poster

The film adaptation of Nicholas Montsarrat’s novel The Cruel Sea (Ealing, 1953) gave a first screen role to Donald Sinden and follows the adventures of the frigate Compass Rose, under Captain Jack Hawkins during the Second World War. Barry Norman described it in his list of the Top 100 Films as “a compelling study of ordinary men doing their best in extreme circumstances”. It is not set locally, but Portland was used to film some scenes. Portland Race was used for its rough waters to portray the “cruel sea” itself (the North Atlantic in winter). Portland Docks were seen in the scene where Donald Sinden emerges exhausted after being all night watching the radar plot, and later when Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden go to inspect their new frigate. The Harbour is seen in the final shots, when the frigate anchors for the last time.

The ship that died of shame - Richard AttenboroughThe Ship That Died of Shame (Ealing, 1955) is a black-and-white crime film starring Richard Attenborough, George Baker and Bill Owen. This story, also by Nicholas Montsarrat (although his book is not set locally), featured three demobbed sailors who rescue their old motor gun boat from the scrapyard and use it for smuggling along the south coast. It was filmed around Poole Harbour, Poole Quay, Weymouth waterfront and other places along the coast.

The Key 1958The Third Man’s director Carol Reed later directed The Key, a 1958 British war film set in 1941 during the Battle of the Atlantic. An American salvage tug captain now in the Royal Navy (William Holden) becomes involved with a beautiful Swiss-Italian woman (Sophie Loren) after being given the key to a flat. Again Portland Docks was used to replicate the wartime dockyard and  the esplanade at Weymouth was converted to look as if it was during wartime too.

The Heroes of TelemarkVarious town, dockside, and ferryboat scenes were filmed at Poole and Weymouth in another war film, The Heroes of Telemark (1965) in which the lead character (Kirk Douglas) hijacks the ship to cross the North Sea so he can obtain British help. The sea crossing / minefield scene was filmed in Weymouth Bay.

Dunkirk PosterIn 2016 filming took place in Weymouth harbour and Swanage for this summer’s blockbuster Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan’s depiction of the 1941 Dunkirk evacuation stars Tom Hardy, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy,Mark Rylance and and One Direction’s Harry Styles. Having filmed on-location in France and Holland as well as Dorset, Nolan has been at pains to impart an authenticity to the film by using outdoor sets to recreate the sights, sounds and feeling of the operation. Not so accurate though, the Jurassic Skyline, only built in 2012, can be seen for a moment in the film’s trailer!

Colin Firth in The MercyIn 2015 Colin Firth was spotted on Portland filming scenes for The Mercy. It is based on the true story of the disastrous attempt by the amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst to complete in a race to sail around the world  in 1968, and his subsequent attempts to cover up his failure. The film is (finally!) due for release in February 2018. A local paper reported at the time that Colin Firth “appeared at Chesil Cove around 6pm dressed in a yellow sou’wester. A set had been built on the promenade and Firth filmed a scene where he climbs the mast of a yacht in a storm.”

The Damned Poster 1963Oliver Reed, Macdonald Carey and Shirley Anne Field starred in the Hammer Studios “apocalyptic sci-fi classic” The Damned (1963), based on H.L. Lawrence’s novel The Children of Light. The film follows a tourist in Weymouth as he gets mixed up in a military plot where radioactive children are kept hidden from the world in a secret cliff side military base. A biography of it’s director, US expatriate Joseph Losey (a 50s refugee from the Hollywood blacklist), mentions how he was “drawn to the two locations, hand-picked in Dorset: Portland Bill, a strange, bleak peninsula, and Weymouth, the old-fashioned seaside town.”  The film is generally reckoned to be the strangest Hammer one ever made. Filmed in May and June 1961, it was not released in Britain for two years, and only then in a cut-down version. It has since become something of a cult film.

And finally, back with the 1967 adaption of Far from the Madding CrowdBathsheba and Troy meet up again on the seafront in front of the Royal Hotel on the Esplanade in Weymouth, and make a sudden decision to get married.

Have a look at this short video to see Weymouth seafront in the movie, plus a dashing Terence Stamp in his prime. Not a bad sight to finish on!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this round-up of films with West Dorset locations. Maybe you’ve been reminded of a film you haven’t seen in years? Next time you watch one see if you can spot any of the local sights. If you’re a film fan why not combine your interest with some holiday sightseeing. Explore the Jurassic Coast and beautiful countryside whilst you track down a film location or two.

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

Long-eared furry thing

I read about a superstition concerning rabbits and the Isle of Portland the other day. Good excuse to find a bunny picture I thought…

There is an unwritten rule in Portland that you do not use the word ‘rabbit’ as they are associated with bad luck. Mention rabbits in a Portland pub and, as tradition has it, you could clear the bar. Instead they are referred to as underground mutton, long-eared furry things or just bunnies. The superstition is believed to derive from quarry workers because burrowing can cause landslips in quarries. They would see rabbits emerging from their burrows immediately before a rock fall and blame them for increasing the risk of dangerous, sometimes deadly, landslides. If a rabbit was seen in a quarry the workers would pack up and go home for the day until the safety of the area had been assured. Local fishermen too would refuse to go to sea if the word was mentioned.

This superstition came to national attention in 2005 when a special batch of advertisement posters were made for the Wallace and Gromit film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit replacing the film’s title with the phrase “Something bunny is going on.”  There’s no mention of the dismay it must have caused Portland locals when they went to see the film and heard the word ‘rabbit’ throughout though!