In March 2011, we stayed at Hunter’s Moon Caravan and Motorhome Club Site, near Wareham, Dorset, and had the most wonderful weather. Two years later, also in March, we woke to a dusting of snow and bitterly cold winds. This time, exploring Dorset in early autumn, we were hoping for an Indian summer.
The first day dawned sunny, so we drove to Studland Bay, which is managed by the National Trust and offers visitors gorgeous beaches and heathland bordering Poole Harbour, just perfect for birdwatching.
We parked near the mouth of the harbour and walked along a boardwalk to beautiful Shell Beach, which is sheltered by dunes.
Returning towards Studland, we turned down a lane to Knoll Beach. Here, you can hire boats, canoes and paddle boards and stop at the excellent café, where we enjoyed tea and scones. There’s a magnificent view of Old Harry Rocks from here, but we were planning to get a bit closer.
We parked at South Beach, near the village, and picked up the coastal path, passing Grade II listed Fort Henry, a World War Two observation bunker. Studland and its beaches were used for training before the D-Day landings.
The chalk cliffs are popularly known as Old Harry Rocks, but strictly speaking, it’s only the outer stack that is so named. This is the end of the Jurassic Coast, which starts at Exmouth, and on a gloriously sunny day, the white cliffs and stacks were stunning against the brilliantly blue sea.
The weekend was approaching and I had spotted that the Lulworth Ranges – military firing ranges located between Wareham and Lulworth – would be accessible to the public. We wanted to visit the abandoned village of Tyneham, now on the range, which was evacuated in 1943 to support the war effort.
The villagers expected to return after the war, but that didn’t happen, so the place remains deserted. The ruins of Post Office Row greet the eye, comprising a cottage, the post office and the head teacher’s house.
From the village, it’s a 20-minute walk to the coast and the beautiful, secluded Worbarrow Bay. Retracing our steps, we visited Tyneham Farm, which has been partially restored. Unsurprisingly, there are no facilities at Tyneham, so we drove to Swanage, where we found ourselves in the midst of the Swanage Folk Festival.
We had the best BLTs ever at the Sea Breeze restaurant, with a front-row seat to watch some of the lively festival troupes dancing along the promenade.
Next day, we drove to the Isle of Portland, which is not an island at all, but is linked to the mainland by a causeway starting at Chesil Beach. The road climbs up to provide a great view of the famous pebble beach stretching into the distance. Portland Bill is the tip of the isle, marked by the iconic red and white lighthouse.
We sat, admiring the view, and devoured our scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream. After a stroll and a fascinating chat with a man who used to inspect lighthouses, we moved on to Weymouth.
This is a typical buckets-and-spades seaside resort, set in a crescent-shaped bay with a long promenade. There’s a huge sailing community here and Weymouth hosted this element of the 2012 Olympic Games. Walking on the prom, we came across a large sand sculpture. Apparently, Weymouth sand is perfect for sculpting!
Next morning, another sunny day, we drove to Studland Bay, offloaded our bikes and took the chain ferry that crosses Poole Harbour to Sandbanks, home to the rich and famous. Cycling through Sandbanks, we picked up the promenade route and continued via Bournemouth to Hengistbury Head, and a trail through the nature reserve.
We lunched overlooking Christchurch Harbour, then continued until we reached a pretty beach and the ferry to Mudeford.
Castles and churches
For a change from coastal visits, we drove inland to Sherborne, where you can explore the fine abbey, almshouses and two castles. There was a Saxon cathedral here, then a Benedictine abbey church, and these days, the parish church. Sherborne is quite a compact town and easily walkable.
We strolled up Cheap Street, packed with independent shops with quirky names and plenty of eateries. We paused at Reeve the Baker for chicken baps, before walking to the ruined 12th-century castle just outside town. This is known as the Old Castle and from there, we spotted the 16th-century castle, aka the New Castle, a fine house built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594.
Next day, we were back at the coast again, to enjoy the spectacular views. We drove through the Lulworth Estate to the car park above the iconic and much photographed limestone arch of Durdle Door. We walked down to the edge of the cliffs for the best viewpoint. Afterwards, we puffed back up the hill, bought some bottles of water and continued up again to Lulworth Cove.
Another weekend, and this time we drove into Wareham for the market. Based at the attractive quay, there was a large fruit and vegetable stall, a fish van, and a stall selling huge pork pies and Cornish pasties.
We treated ourselves to some locally made cheese, then stopped for lunch at the Quay Inn, a charming 18th-century hostelry.
Wareham is a former Saxon settlement with an interesting ‘walk the walls’ trail. The walls are now grassy earthworks, with information boards dotted along the route. On the way, we came across St Martin’s Church, which dates from 1030. This simple but beautiful building houses an effigy of TE Lawrence, who lived nearby. The red stars painted on one of the walls are thought to represent 17th-century plague victims.
Sailing to Brownsea
We were nearing the end of our holiday, but had two more visits planned. We’d booked tickets for the Poole to Brownsea Island ferry, trusting the weather would hold.
It’s a 20-minute trip to Brownsea’s jetty, where we alighted and set off to explore. We took a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed while looking across the water to Poole.
In 1907, Lord Baden-Powell set up an experimental camp on the island, which led to the formation of the Scout movement. These days, Brownsea is a nature reserve, managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust. There’s a colony of red squirrels here and, on our return walk, we were lucky enough to come across five youngsters, scurrying up and down a tree: what a delight it was to see these lovely creatures.
Not wanting to waste a minute of our holiday, we’d also booked tickets for a visit to the nearby Bovington Tank Museum. On entering the first room, there’s a large collection of tanks to be explored, starting with the first tank ever built, nicknamed ‘Little Willie’. Next to this is its successor, known as ‘Mother’, which could cross obstacles more easily.
Many tanks are displayed in this truly fascinating collection, from all over the world, including US Shermans and German Panzers, as well as the most recent British model, the upgraded Challenger 2.
We were lucky enough to enjoy sunshine and blue skies every day and our Indian summer showcased the beautiful coastline and countryside of Dorset to its best effect.
If you’re looking for other great touring inspiration, be sure to take a look at our guide to the UK’s best caravan parks, where we share our top picks to stay at.
Where to stay
Hunter’s Moon Caravan and Motorhome Club Site
Address Cold Harbour, Wareham, Dorset BH20 7PA, www.caravanclub.co.uk
- Open: All year
- Pitches: 122
- Charges: £19.45-£36.80
When to go
Hunter’s Moon Caravan and Motorhome Club Site is open all year, and there are plenty of walking paths and cycling trails, but the area does get busy in the summer months. Spring and autumn are good times to visit.
Way to go
From Lancashire, we took the M6, M6 toll, then M42, exiting onto the M40. We left at J9 for the A34, then joined the M3 and M27 (west). We took the A31, then the A35 via Christchurch and Poole, and the A351 towards Wareham. Follow the direction for Bere Regis on the roundabout just before Wareham.
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