Looking for the perfect place to take time out and recharge? Dorset is packed with historical landmarks, stunning beaches, and some of the UK’s most dramatic coastline. Explore walking trails, nature reserves and submerge yourself in the history of this iconic county…
With a multitude of places to explore along the South West coast, Dorset ranks as one of the top locations to visit in England. What makes it so special? Boasting jaw dropping scenery, unique craggy cliff’s, pristine award-winning beaches and scenic countryside, this region has something for even the most discerning traveller.
Dorset may just capture your heart in more ways than one....
I decided to pack my suitcase and explore ‘What She Seeks’ style to find out about some of the hidden treasures of this South Western corner of England. With my camera by my side i felt excitement at the opportunity to capture some photos for my photography portfolio. If you love to immerse yourself in nature and find history equally intriguing, then take a wander with me...
In this blog
Dorset’s Jurassic Coast
Discovering Nature in Southbourne
Coastal Walks & Hengistbury Head
Exploring Christchurch’s History
Dorset and The Jurassic Coast
Dorset is situated in the South West of England with its coastline part of the English Channel. Whilst some areas are densely populated (Poole and Bournemouth come to mind), over half of the county is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
On top of that, three-quarters of the coastline form part of the Jurassic Coast which is a World Natural Heritage Site. Some notable landmarks found here are the Isle of Portland, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door.
Our connection to nature and majestic landscapes such as the ones found on the Jurassic coast have been well documented by painters and photographers capturing this iconic coastline. Dorset’s coast has many stories to tell about our evolution and existence on planet earth.
Read more about the incredible Jurassic coast here.
Did You Know This?
The Jurassic Coast stretches 95 miles from Exmouth in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks, Studland Bay, Dorset. It forms an area of outstanding geological significance dating back 185 million years. Here you will find rock formations from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Coastal erosion has created unique natural features such as coves, arches and stack rocks. Parts of the coastline are prone to landslides. The area made the World Heritage List in 2001 and was the first wholly natural World Heritage Site to be designated in the United Kingdom.
Connecting with Nature in Southbourne
I spent a few tranquil days discovering the small town of Southbourne, a suburb situated between Christchurch and Boscombe. Southbourne is a typical sea-side town in the sense that it has all the things you would expect to see; a few weather-beaten beach café’s, perfectly appointed beach huts and a scattering of family friendly seaside attractions.
For those looking for free things to do on a day out, Southbourne has its fair share to explore.
A town attracting a mature demographic, Southbourne has a tempo that is welcomed by those seeking time out from the hustle and bustle of life. Southbourne beach is a popular alternative in the summer months to Bournemouth’s often over-crowded beach.
Despite my visit being in the chillier month of October it was still the perfect weather to walk along the sand and admire the views on a crisp Autumn morning (Image below).
Did you know this?
Southbourne beach holds a Blue Flag award. These awards are given to well-managed beaches with excellent water quality and environmental education programmes.
Check out what beaches in South East England hold Blue Flag Awards here and plan a visit!
Where Town and Country Meet
What really makes Southbourne special is that its bursting with a broad spectrum of nature and wildlife all on its doorstep. Where trees and fauna grow freely and flourish to make the perfect home for some of the smaller inhabitant’s we share green spaces with.
On my walks I noticed there were plenty of dedicated areas for wildlife to thrive, some next to busy roads and roundabouts. Nature reserves with clearly signposted walking trails can be found right next to the town centre and along the River Stour which runs through Tuckton, Southbourne.
The River Stour situated inTuckton, Southbourne has a beautiful riverside walk from the town to the popular coastal headland, Hengistbury Head (see more about this below). One morning, I took a gentle walk along the river and through a small nature reserve called Wick Fields which is home to an array of wildlife, grasslands and the occasional otter! (I didn’t see one on this occasion!)
It was the perfect start to the day.
Love walking trails?
Check out some of the walks on offer in Southbourne on Ordnance Survey.They give you the length of the walk, duration and printable map!
Coastal Walks at Hengistbury Head
Along from Southbourne beach, there is a wonderful cliff top walk which offers panoramic views of the neighbouring nature reserve, Christchurch harbour, Bournemouth Bay and across to the Isle of Wight. You can also see the Needles in the distance which I used to visit when I was a child.
Heading along the promenade to the sandstone headland of Hengistbury head, the scenery illustrates how vast the natural landscape is here. There is such a diverse ecosystem in this small area from wetlands to woodland and heathland. So much so, it has been classified as one of the most important Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in England and declared a local nature reserve in 1990. This place has some serious credentials!
Check out this walking itinerary of Hengistbury Head here.
or dig deeper with these FAST FACTS !
19th Century Mining Impact
Throughout history, humans have not always lived in harmony with this area. During the mid - 1800’s the headland was intensively mined for it Ironstone which led to 120 metres of the coastline being lost. Nearing the top of Hengistbury Head, I stumble upon a beautiful lake nestled amongst the trees, shrubs and blackberry bushes (still looking rather plump for mid -October and rather edible!).
The lake used to be part of the quarry and was filled with water to stop erosion after mining ceased in the 1870’s. The north entrance to the quarry to Christchurch Harbour was dammed to protect wildlife and further erosion.
Read more about the events that occured on the headland during the 19th century here.
My Best Photo
I saw a family of mallard ducks basking in the sun rays and managed to capture a wonderful image of the clouds reflecting off the lakes water. This is definetly my favourite photo of the trip!
Five Facts about Hengistbury Head
-The site has evidence of human settlement dating back 12,000 years to the Upper Palaeolithic period (old stone age). -In the 1800’s part of the headland was heavily mined for ironstone boulders which was known for its high iron content. The ‘Iron Doggers’ as they are known formed the base of Hengistbury Head which has been greatly weakened from the excavations as a product of erosion after the quarry’s closure. -Between 1939 and 1945, the entire headland was requisitioned as a Second World War military base. -The Southern facing cliff is suffering from an erosion process called Longshore drift which is primarily caused by the sea. The land mass has lost over 150 metres in the past 200 years. - There are around 500 plant species and 300 types of birds found here along with the rare Natterjack toad.
Interested in discovering more of Hengistbury heads archaeology and history? Read more here.
Check out my photography over on Pinterest!
A glimpse of days gone by in Christchurch
With the lure of a recommended Thai restaurant, I decide to take a walk into Christchurch on one of the days. I took advantage of the Autumn sunshine and enjoyed the 30-minute walk to my destination.
I decided prior to my mega lunch (it was a lot of Pad Thai but I managed it!), I visited a couple of historically important sites that were situated a stones throw from the main high street and eateries.
Perfectly elevated, the ruins of Christchurch Castle are testament to what was once a symbol of power during the Norman Period. Dating back to the 12th century all that remains of the Grade 1 listed building are two of the keeps walls.
I loved how the ruins stood proudly above the town and imagined what it would have looked like with the moat surrounding it centuries ago.
I managed to capture the castle partly shaded in the sunlight. I am sure it would make a great photo at sunrise or sunset (known as the Golden Hour in the photography world).
Maybe I will return to capture it....
According to English Heritage, the castle ; ‘Begun in 1100 under the de Redvers family then was passed to the Crown in 1293. It was attacked during the Civil War by Parliamentarian troops before being dismantled in 1651’.
Did you know this?
Christchurch was formally named Twynham? The town changed its name after the construction of Christchurch Priory in 1094.
Opposite the castle ruins, Constable House is quite an impressive building and is a rare example of Norman domestic architecture in England. It was part of the Castles grounds so not a poor family living here!
The building was situated right next to the River Avon where people were enjoying a walk or rest on one of the many benches situated next to the river’s edge.
After my Thai feast I did a little shopping and then retired for the day. I had hoped to visit Christchurch Priory and a couple of the enticing café bar’s, but time had run away with itself.
Rambling through nature reserves - As a nature bunny, one of my highlights was rambling through the nature reserve situated next to Southbourne Beach. It was so tranquil and full of the vibrant colours that Autumn brings to nature. I managed to capture some lovely shots of the autumnal landscape.
Brisk Coastal walks – There is nothing better than a refreshing walk along the beach listening to the crashing waves whilst admiring the views. There is something so magical about the sound of the sea don’t you think?
My favourite image – Whilst my No.1 shot is the quarry lake image, below is my runner up which i took of Southbourne beach then edited in Affinity Suite. Which one do you like most? You can see more of my photos from this visit over on What She Seeks Instagram.
What I didn't see……
On this occasion I didn’t manage to get to Mudeford Quay which is just past Southbourne but hope to do that next time. Apparently, some of the UK’s most expensive beach huts are here so I would love to take some photos of these. I also hope to go back to Lulworth Cove one day as it must be around 25 years since my last visit!
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my trip to this corner of the world. I learnt a lot about this area and hope it has ignited your wanderlust wings to explore it.
Have you visited Dorset? I would love to hear about your memories in the comments below or ping me an email!
Love Autumn photos? Check out my Autumn Captures Album over on Facebook
Explore my photo diary which has some great shots of my past travels.
Further reading and resources
History of Hengistbury Head: https://www.hengistbury-head.co.uk/hengistbury-head-history.php
Christchurch Castle & Constable House:
Visiting The Jurassic Coast by fellow bloggers, Anywhere We Roam: