From breath-taking storm beaches to idyllic fields and traditional villages, Dorset’s dramatic scenery covers a spectrum of characters and moods. As the birthplace or holiday location of some of the UK’s most highly regarded authors, it is no wonder that the region has been cited as the inspiration behind an array of literary settings. The landscape has not only spawned numerous fictional alter-egos, it has also provided the stunning backdrop for big and small screen productions.
So whether you know it as Dorchester or ‘Casterbridge’, Corfe Castle or ‘Kirrin Castle’, or cannot help but view the magnificent East Cliff as the brooding crime scene from Broadchurch, you’re sure to be awestruck by Dorset’s cultural landmarks.
Born and raised in the hamlet of Bockhampton, Dorset made a huge impression on Thomas Hardy and he, in turn, left his stamp on the region. Inspired by the county’s people and townships, Hardy based his semi-fictitious world of ‘Wessex’ on his surroundings and much of the local landscape is identifiable in his writing.
Many literary aficionados make the pilgrimage to explore the Hardy Trail, which is a route around numerous significant locations that played an integral role in the writer’s development. From Dorchester, which formed the basis for ‘Casterbridge’ in The Mayor of Casterbridge, to the cottage in Bockhampton where he was born, or even St Michael’s Church in Stinsford, where Hardy’s heart is buried (separately from his body, which is in Westminster Abbey), you can trace the life and work of one of Britain’s best-loved authors.
Also known as Bridport Harbour, West Bay is no stranger to accommodating film crews. The sandy beach, set in the shadow of the daunting East Cliff provides a strikingly dramatic backdrop, which has been used to full effect on both the big and small screen.
Perhaps best known as part of the setting for ITV crime-thriller, Broadchurch, the cliffs came to play a particularly influential role as an imposing crime scene. Such was the popularity of the show that tourism to the region subsequently skyrocketed as fans flocked to walk the brooding beach for themselves.
The cliffs played a similarly dramatic role in the 2015 film adaptation of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, as the setting for the notable and shocking sheep scene.
One of the finest storm beaches in the world, Chesil Beach is 18 miles long, stretching from Portland to Burton Bradstock. As you travel from west to east, the stones that make up the shingle get larger and legend has it that, at night, local smugglers could tell exactly where they were along the beach by feeling the size of the pebbles.
Known for fantastic sea views, the spot was chosen by Ian McEwan as the setting for his Booker Prize shortlisted novel On Chesil Beach. The beach provides a romantic and tempestuous backdrop for the tale about two young honeymooners.
Set in Shaftesbury , the highest town in Dorset, this steep, cobbled street offers beautiful views across quintessential cottages and countryside. The location’s archetypal British air was not lost on the advertisers from Hovis who, in the 1970s, chose Gold Hill as the setting for their iconic ‘Boy on Bike’ advert. Such is the public affection for this advert, which was directed by Ridley Scott, that to many, the spot is simply known as ‘Hovis Hill’.
However, the bread company were not the first to notice the scenic potential of the spot, as it also featured in the 1967 adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd. If you take the journey to the top of the street, you can visit the Gold Hill museum, which is dedicated to preserving artefacts related to local history.
The most westerly town in Dorset, the picturesque streets and dramatic sea views found at Lyme Regis fully justify its nickname as the ‘Pearl of Dorset’. Famed as a fantastic spot for fossils, the town can also boast of its literary connections to authors who have been captivated by the mystique of its moody blue cliffs.
A favourite location of Jane Austen, who was known to visit regularly, Lyme Regis was used as a setting in her last novel, Persuasion. Subsequently, no less than three screen adaptations of the book have used the town as a filming location. Similarly, local author, John Fowles, set his popular novel The French Leiutenant’s Woman in the town. If you’re a fan of the 1980s film adaptation, you can grab an ice-cream and wander to the spot of Meryl Streeps’ famous scene at the iconic Cobb Harbour.
Although born in South London, prolific children’s author, Enid Blyton, drew much of her inspiration from her regular trips to Purbeck. The creator of Noddy, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven is widely claimed to have used the Dorset landscape as the source for many of her magical realms. While never explicitly stated, popular belief suggests that the romantic ruins of Corfe Castle informed ‘Kirrin Castle’ in the Famous Five collection, while Toytown, the fictional setting for the Noddy tales is said to be based on Swanage.
Taking the heritage railway from Swanage to Corfe Castle is a wonderful way to take in the views that made such an impression of one of the UK’s most successful writers.