As can be expected of any area that boasts a Jurassic Coast, a trip to Dorset is ideal for those wishing to step back in time. Aside from its celebrated fossils, there is a fantastic diversity of intriguing human history waiting to be discovered. Whether you want to wander around the stirring remnants of a Norman stronghold, take the wheel in a modern war machine, or marvel at the beautiful architecture at the ‘cathedral of Dorset’, the county is a haven for history buffs and the arts. And if the weather is unkind, then a trip on a heritage railway is sure to get your holiday back on track!
For a fascinating insight into the development of armoured vehicles, the Tank Museum in Bovington is in a league of its own. From its battlefield initiation in WWI to the contemporary role performed in global conflicts, the museum’s six grand exhibition halls house over 100 years of military history, in which the tank takes centre stage. With close to 300 vehicles from 26 countries, this is the largest collection of tanks in the world.
Look out for Little Willie, the first ever tank, and also the only remaining example of a working German Tiger I, the fearsome machine that saw use in WWII. Experience a lesson in history with a difference at the live action displays, featuring life-like explosions, driving demonstrations and expert commentary, to provide an informative yet spectacular show for guests. Or if you fancy getting really stuck in, you can book
Dating back to the 11th century, the romantic ruins of Corfe Castle are the remains of a mighty stronghold that was erected by William the Conqueror following the Norman invasion. Resting above the village of the same name, the former royal fortress makes a great day out for adults and children alike. The National Trust runs a calendar of events that is bound to entertain little princes and princesses, with activities such as battle re-enactments, archery and even teddy bear zip wires throughout the year!
For those who want to know what the castle may have looked like before its destruction, the Corfe Castle Model Village provides the chance to step back to 1646 and wander around a reliable replica in all of its miniature glory!
However, for those who manage the climb, the reward speaks for itself. The Jurassic Coast is Britain’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site and this is one of its very finest vantage points.
Originally built in 1901 by Merton Russell-Cotes as an extravagant birthday present for his wife, Annie, the couple proceeded to populate this cliff-top mansion with works of art and objects from their travels around the world. By 1907, Annie donated the hall and its contents to the town of Bournemouth and it has existed as a museum and art gallery ever since.
The house is a spectacle in itself; enjoying panoramic sea views, it stands as a fine example of late-Victorian Art Nouveau architecture. Visitors can delight in the museum’s four fine art galleries and the array of unusual oriental trinkets. On warmer days, the tropical style garden with a Victorian stone grotto, proves particularly popular.
For those looking for a nostalgic journey around some of Dorset’s most beautiful scenery, you may well want to make tracks for the award-winning Swanage Railway. The heritage line, which opened in 1885, takes passengers through six miles of stunning countryside, passing Corfe Castle ruins and running to the Blue Flag beach at Swanage.
A great all-weather activity, you can even enjoy cream tea or a local ale while relaxing on the buffet coach. Alternatively, there are catering outlets at the railway terminals and picturesque picnic spots. For a unique experience, book in for the chance to drive a train, feeling the power of the locomotive as you follow orders from the guards and navigate gradients, guided by the skilled team.
Renowned as one of the country’s most beautiful parish churches, Sherborne Abbey is known to many as the ‘Cathedral of Dorset’. Built in 705AD as a Saxon cathedral, the abbey is ingrained in the history of the region. Two Saxon kings are believed to have their tombs here, as does the Tudor poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Sir Walter Raleigh is known to have worshipped at St Katherine’s Chapel, which was added in the 14th century.
While many cultural tourists are drawn purely to view the burial places, don’t forget to look up as well! The Grade I listed building is famed for its distinctive, fan-vaulted ceiling, which was introduced during a 15 th century remodelling. The abbey remains at the heart of Dorset’s Christian community as a place of prayer and worship.