You’d be hard-pressed to find a more under-stated and modest county with so much to offer than Dorset. A rose-tinted view provides something of an Arcadian, pastoral idyll – a county filled with a landscape that’s not overly dramatic but pleasantly undulating to provide variation to the sweeping Jurassic Coast (its UNESCO World Heritage Site masterpiece).
In amongst, you’ll find enchanting villages that, while forward thinking, are an illustration of a forgotten past. Look out for the magnificent old cob and thatched cottages and you’ll see what we mean.
Bordered by the counties of Devon and Somerset in the west, Wiltshire to the north and Hampshire and the New Forest to the East, Dorset has contributed well to a nation’s history. That could be a land for dinosaurs on Chesil Beach that’s 185 million years old (now that’s history!); Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy (not to be confused with the author of the same name), who held the dying Lord Nelson in his arms at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805; the Tolpuddle Martyrs who paved the way for Trade Unions in 1834; or Enid Blyton’s representation of Corfe Castle and the Purbeck Hills in many an inspiring adventure story during the 1940s. And that’s not to dismiss Dorset’s contribution to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, when Weymouth, and Portland Harbour, was used for the sailing events. Whichever you choose on your motorhome tour of Dorset, you’ll find a museum, a monument, a shop, an activity or attraction to occupy your time.
And Dorset is brimming full with campsites, from coastal holiday parks offering amazing sea views of Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door to adult-only sites and hideaway paddocks with little more than a water tap and a flock of sheep for company. Wherever you choose to mark your pitch, be sure to have your camera at the ready – for you’ll find ancient abbeys, cobbled streets, Georgian seafronts, cottage gardens, and maybe the occasional giant footprint on the beach – left by a former Dorset inhabitant.
Things to do
1.Go in search of fossils along the Jurassic Coast. If you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be looking for, join a fossil hunting walk and talk from Charmouth or Lyme Regis with an expert guide.
2.See if you can spot a red squirrel on Brownsea Island, the only place in the south of England where you’ll be able. Located in Poole Harbour, the island is also important to the Scouts – it’s where the movement was founded. You can get to the island for nature walks by ferry from Poole Quay and Sandbanks.
3.Don’t miss the Cerne Abbas Giant, a burly chalk figure of a naked man on the hills above the village of Cerne Abbas. At 180 feet tall, and considered as a symbol of fertility, suffice to say he is well endowed! The best place from which to see him is the viewing area on the main A352.
4.For fans of slightly morose but beautifully written literature, Hardy’s Cottage is a must. This evocative thatched and cob building is the birthplace of author Thomas Hardy and was built by his grandfather. Hardy wrote some of his first novels and poems here.
5.Visit Abbotsbury Swannery, the world’s only managed colony of nesting mute swans. Established by Benedictine monks in the 11th century, you can watch the adorable cygnets, born between May and June, or help to feed the swans – all 600 of them!
When to visit
Dorset’s main annual events tend to be during the summer months. In May, The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is a great one for fossil hunters, while you could also participate in the quirky Dorset Knob Throwing Festival (for the uninitiated, a Dorset Knob is a kind of dry, savoury biscuit unique to the county)! June brings the Bridport Food Festival, followed in July by music celebrations, the Larmer Tree Festival near Tollard Royal (not taking place in 2022) and the huge Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle.
Bournemouth is the place to be on the August Bank Holiday for the giant (and free) Bournemouth Air Festival, with spectacular displays from the likes of the Red Arrows above the beach. And to celebrate all that’s great about the county, the Dorset County Show comes to Dorchester in September.
From the west, access Dorset off the M5 followed by the A30 and A35. From the east, take the M3, the M27 and the A31, which provides a picturesque route through Hampshire’s New Forest before arriving in Dorset. From the north, use the A37, the A36 and the A338, all spurs off the A303.
Motorhomes will find little trouble with the rural roads around Dorset. No routes are particularly quick, but that is part of the attractiveness of the county – as soon as you cross the border, slow down and enjoy the scenery as it passes.
When we first wrote this guide, we highlighted that motorhome parking in council-owned car parks in Dorset was difficult. We’re pleased to report that things have changed over the years and there are now 22 council-owned car parks where motorhomes are permitted, including Wimborne Minster, Weymouth, Bridport, Dorchester, Charmouth, Portland and Lyme Regis.
In Bournemouth, motorhomes may park in the Highcliffe Castle and Steamer Point car parks. For Swanage, motorhomes may park in Broad Road, North Beach and Main Beach car parks.
Cheap overnight stops
As things stand currently, there are no facilities linked to the Practical Motorhome Nightstops Scheme, but keep checking back as we are continually adding new overnight stops.
For now, your best option for cheap overnight stops is utilising CLs and CSs (if you’re a member of the relevant club – The Caravan Club or The Camping & Caravanning Club – as there are many five-van sites within the county from as little as £4 per night. There are also a handful of Brit Stops sites in Dorset, all utilising pub car parks.
Don’t forget, you can find your perfect campsite or touring park within our annual Top 100 Sites Guide. This is based upon our annual awards, as voted by you and motorhome parks in Dorset always fare well. Of the five sites that made it into the 2021 guide, three are open all year.
Local transport links
Public bus routes criss-cross the county well, linking all the main towns and providing bus stops close to many major tourist attractions. Many rural routes, however, often operate on one day per week. A great way to see the coast inexpensively by pubic transport is to hop on a Purbeck Breezer bus. Trains also run along the south coast between Bournemouth, Poole, Dorchester and Weymouth.
Or you may wish to approach Swanage and Corfe Castle by using the steam train on the Swanage Railway. You can park at the Park and Ride at Norden, next to the railway station.
If you wish for traffic-free cycling, you can use the traffic-free Route 26 of the National Cycle Network from Dorchester to Weymouth. It takes you to Chesil Beach, Portland Bill and Portland Beach.
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You'd be hard-pressed to find a more under-stated and modest county with so much to offer