A day in Dorchester

Dorchester is the county town of Dorset in south west England and on one sunny Sunday morning recently we decided to go along and explore this historic market town.  We left our car in the Fairfield long stay car-park which we were pleased to discover offered free parking all day Sunday making this a welcome start to our day.

Borough Gardens, Dorchester
Borough Gardens, Dorchester

The car park was on the edge of the town but not very far from the centre. Our first stop was to the Borough Gardens located just a few minutes further on.  These gardens were laid out in 1895 and are delightful for a gentle stroll.  The well tended flowerbeds were ablaze with late summer colour and an Edwardian bandstand and tall clock added to the charm.

Edwardian Bandstand Dorchester Borough Gardens
The Edwardian Bandstand

I could just imagine sitting on a picnic rug on the sloping grass surrounding the bandstand listening to some live music, but alas along with most of the things we enjoy each summer, it was temporarily out of use.

Cast Iron Clock, Dorchester Borough Gardens
Cast Iron Clock in Dorchester Borough Gardens

The magnificent cast iron clock tower was presented to the town in 1905 by a magistrate and hospital benefactor and has recently been restored to its former glory.  The park also contains a bowling green, tennis courts and children’s playground.

Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, Dorchester
Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum

We left the park by a gate at its far corner which brought us out near to the Shire Hall historic Courthouse Museum that had not yet re-opened.  It’s a museum that I would like to visit as it follows the footsteps of everyday people who were tried and tested in court and of the local Tolpuddle Martyrs who were held there before being brought to trial, sparking the Trades Union Movement.

Teddy Bear Museum, Dorchester
Teddy Bear Museum, Dorchester

Just down the hill from the Shire Hall stands yet another museum that I wished had been open as it was the Teddy Bear Museum, and as regular readers may be aware, I’m a huge fan of childhood and toy museums.

Dorchester High Street
Dorchester High Street

As the museums were closed, we turned our attention to shops which I’m pleased to report were open so we enjoyed a stroll down the high street and along the quaint and cobbled Antelope Walk with its collection of inviting small stores.  The Antelope Inn used to stand at one end of the walk and was one of Dorchester’s three coaching inns.  Its existence can be seen from the bow windows of the adjoining shops that were once part of the inn.

Antelope Walk, Dorchester
Antelope Walk

Wandering through the town we came across another impressive building known as The Keep.  It was constructed to resemble a Norman Castle and monumental gatehouse.  Constructed from Portland stone it was the administrative centre for the Dorsetshire Regiment and the county armoury.  It’s now a military museum which was due to re-open the week after our visit.

The Keep, Military Museum, Dorchester
The Keep Military Museum

It was then time for a bite to eat before taking a look at the new Brewery Square development on the site of the former Green Dragon brewery founded by Charles & Sarah Eldridge in 1837.

Dray House Yard, Dorchester
Dray House Yard, Brewery Square

The Victorian and Edwardian brewery buildings were designed in an exuberant style and after the Eldridge Pope brewery closed in 2002 a major £100m town centre regeneration project took place to transform the site with the opening of shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, a hotel and cinema. The new retail and entertainment complex is built around a square known as Dray Horse Yard, an open space intended for local food markets and live entertainment.

Brewery Square, Dorchester
Brewery Square, Dorchester

Where we had left the car was very close to Brewery Square so we were soon on our way once again, this time to Poundbury, a suburb on the outskirts of Dorchester.

Queen Mother Square, Poundbury
Queen Mother Square, Poundbury

This new urban development was commissioned by Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales who outlined his pioneering ideas in his 1989 book ‘A Vision of Britain – a personal view of architecture’. It’s an experimental new town that has been built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Poundbury
Prince of Wales Hotel, Poundbury

Parking was very easy and we soon found a space in Queen Mother Square which is surrounded by elegant buildings, the Prince of Wales Hotel, a statue of the Queen Mother and a Waitrose supermarket.

The Butter Cross, Poundbury
The Butter Cross, Poundbury

Poundbury is a unique and fascinating place to visit, not exactly a quintessential English village but with re-created village greens and stylish architecture it appears to work remarkably well.

Village Green, Poundbury
Village Green, Poundbury

Construction began in October 1993 and focussed on an integrated community of shops, businesses and housing.  Instead of a separate industrial zones, light industry is blended into the townscape.  There has been criticism for mixing too many different building styles and for the use of non-local materials inconsistent with Dorchester itself but I personally liked Poundbury’s style and layout, finding it very appealing.

Architecture, Poundbury, Dorchester
Interesting styles of building in Poundbury

Setting off once again we followed directions from the A35 along narrow, winding country lanes to Higher Bockhampton, the birthplace of the English author and poet Thomas Hardy.

Thorncombe Wood Trail, Higher Bockhampton
Thorncombe Wood Trail starting point from the car park

There is limited parking at Thorncombe Wood (£1 for two hours and £3 all day).  Please note that although the cottage is owned by the National Trust, the car park is run by Dorset County Council so is not free to NT members.  We managed to grab a space just as another car was leaving and opted for a two hour stay which gave us ample time to explore the nature trail and view the outside of Thomas Hardy’s cottage.

Signposts in Thorncombe Wood, Dorset
Signposts in Thorncombe Wood, Dorset

From the car park we picked up a leaflet and followed wooden finger post signs through the woodland reserve.  Thorncombe Wood is home to a large variety of trees and we enjoyed a short one mile loop walk that was the inspiration for Hardy’s works ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ and ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’.

Rushy Pond, Thorncombe Wood, Dorset
Rushy Pond, Thorncombe Wood

The ancient woodland opens out onto heathland around Rushy Pond, a small watering hole and where we came across several Dartmoor Ponies that graze in the woods.  Further on there’s a visitor centre which documents the life and works of Thomas Hardy which is free to visit.

Thorncombe Wood, Dorset
Thorncombe Wood, Dorset

Sadly the cottage and its garden are currently closed to the public but we were able to peer over the hedge to get a glimpse of the writer’s former home.  With its thatched roof and cottage garden it looked idyllic and I will look forward to having the opportunity of taking a look indoors once restrictions are lifted.

Thomas Hardy's Cottage
Thomas Hardy’s Cottage

The end of a very interesting day out exploring Dorchester and it’s surrounding villages.

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29 thoughts on “A day in Dorchester

  1. Pingback: A day in Weymouth – Love Travelling Blog

  2. Philip And Helan

    Hi we’re new to WordPress and blogging in general. We’d definitely love some support from you.
    Btw your post is too good. I mean I’ve always wanted to visit these places but I never got around to it. Your post just let me live it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words Philip and Helen. It’s so nice to hear that you enjoyed reading my blog post on Dorchester. I wish you every success with your website. Just remember that it takes several months to get established and for people to notice its existence so you need to be patient. In the meantime I suggest concentrating on writing quality posts and enjoy the blogging experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ThingsHelenLoves

    Poundbury looks lovely, the Prince of Wales hotel is a beauty. I can imagine those windows lit up and dressed up for Christmas. A shame about the museums being closed, it’s slow progress getting past all these restrictions and difficulties isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly is a shame that life is taking so long to return to normal but as long as we keep positive, make trips out and do as much as we feel able then I’m quite happy as there’s nothing we can do about the situation. You will love Poundbury Helen and if we hadn’t just had lunch in Dorchester we would have eaten at the Prince of Wales. Hopefully next time! M.

      Like

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