Top 10 family days out in West Dorset - 1

Fossil hunting on Charmouth beach

Charmouth is the best place to explore the Jurassic Coast, England's first and only natural World Heritage Site. Rocks along the 95 miles of shore record 185 million years of the Earth's history. On the beach you can pick up belemnites and ammonites but keep your eyes peeled, as bigger monsters have been found in among the pebbles. Entry to the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is free and it's packed with interactive displays and fun things to do. Book in for a fossil hunting walk or rock pool ramble, led by one of the centre's friendly and enthusiastic experts.

Visiting Bridport and West Bay

This pretty little town has a real busy and buzzy feel to it, especially on Saturdays and Wednesdays when market stalls line the wide pavements. It's free to go into the museum where you can see some of the weird and wonderful things in the collection, including dolls, ancient Roman artefacts and an example of The Bridport Dagger – the hangman's noose. Bridport was at one time the rope and net-making capital of the world. At nearby West Bay, a fishing trip is recommended on a sunny day. There's a fun, nine-hole pitch and putt course at the local golf club and the near-vertical East Cliff is a challenge for any family. Round it off with fish and chips from one of the kiosks around the harbour, an ice-cream from the esplanade or a seafood snack from the easy-going Watch House Café

Conquering Maiden Castle, near Dorchester

Pretend to be ancient Britons battling Roman soldiers as you work off your picnic and march along the ramparts of this ancient earthwork on the outskirts of Dorchester. The largest iron age hillfort in Europe, Maiden Castle dominates the skyline in these parts and once protected hundreds of residents. Excavations have revealed occupation began more than 6,000 years ago in neolithic times. In AD43 it was taken by the Romans and its inhabitants moved to the new town of Durnovaria, modern Dorchester. From its summit you can now see Poundbury village, Prince Charles' pet project, with its mix of architectural styles that locals invariably love or hate. Afterwards, head off to the pretty village of Martinstown for a cup of tea and cake at Stevens Farm Shop where children can see pigs, goats, sheep and rabbits in the animal corner. 

Exploring Mapperton Gardens, near Beaminster

One of the loveliest stately homes in Dorset, where ancient, rolling countryside tumbles into the golden stone wall formality of the Italianate garden and Elizabethan manor house. It's the lushest of spots and children love it too. After the more formal bits, they can whizz around the "wild" part of the garden as it descends into a hidden Dorset combe. They might even bump into the lord and lady of the manor, the Earl and Countess of Sandwich. Indian runner ducks and bantams patrol the estate while families enjoy picnics in the car park or wander around the gift shop, with its Fairtrade global products, locally-made items and plants grown in the garden. Lunches and teas are also served at the Sawmill Café. 

Climbing Golden Cap, between Bridport and Charmouth

It's a bit of a climb to the summit of Golden Cap, at 191 metres the highest point on the south coast. But once you and the family are up there, stand back and admire the view. On a clear day you can see across Lyme Bay to Dartmoor and spectacular views east to Bridport and Chesil Beach. There are 25 miles of footpaths around the estate, which is National Trust-owned, and you can do as much or as little as you like. An all-ability circular trail takes you through the woodlands of Langdon Hill Wood. Years ago, this was a notorious haunt for smugglers and you can follow in their footsteps by downloading a new family-friendly trail.


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