Wanting a winter break by the coast for myself, my parents and their dog, Lily, we didn’t really have any specific place in mind so were just looking to find a reasonable deal somewhere. Happy to stay in a static caravan, lodge or cottage, we eventually plumped for a break with Darwin Escapes staying in a lodge in Dorset. Although not right on the coast, their Wareham Forest site was a 10 minute drive from the beaches in Poole and no more than a half hour drive in either direction from coastal towns including Bournemouth, Swanage, Lulworth and Weymouth. The site promised seclusion and peace and quiet with none of the usual club houses etc you’d find on many of the other chain holiday parks and there were plenty of country parks, woodlands and countryside walks nearby should we tire of the beach.
With a later than normal check in time of 4pm, we set out from our Midlands base early afternoon arriving in the dark down the not-at-all-well-lit country roads. We were more than pleasantly surprised by the cosy lodge which met us and after unloading our car, immediately switched off into holiday mode.
That evening, we drove the short distance into Upton for fish and chips before relaxing back at the lodge in front of the television and flame effect fire.
On our first full day in Dorset, we opted to drive the short distance to the nearest beach to the holiday park. Lake Beach is one of Poole’s beaches, situated on the shores of Poole Harbour. We parked on the car park by the old pier from where we had the choice of walking across the beach or taking a path through the dunes behind leading to Ham Common.
With Lily itching to get in the water, we strolled along the pretty stretch of beach to begin with. As the beach tapered off, the tide hitting the cliffs and eventually stopping us from walking any further, we followed the steps leading up to the coast path turning left at the top to walk towards Ham Common viewpoint.
While it was possible to continue around the Haven Holiday Park ahead of us and pick up the coast path again on the other side, we instead decided to loop around back to the Lake Beach car park, this time walking along the coast path rather than back along the beach. The path took us past a large lake – perhaps the lake the beach is named after, before curving back towards the old Lake Beach Pier and we arrived back at the car park just in time for a picnic lunch.
After lunch sat inside our car, we drove the short distance down the road to Hamworthy Beach. The beach was backed by a large public park with playing fields, a play area, paddling pool (closed of course for the season!) and cafe.
After giving Lily a run round on the playing fields, we headed down the the beach. The wooden breakers along the sands and unfortunate placing of the steps to access the beach meant we couldn’t walk in one continuous end to end stroll along the beach so we instead made do with a walk along the promenade past the colourful beach huts, occasionally stepping down onto the sands whenever Lily decided she wanted another splash in the sea! Then, reaching Poole Yacht Club at the far end of the beach, we turned around and walked back through the park to the car park.
It was now late afternoon so after stopping to grab some groceries, we decided to drive back to our lodge where we spent another evening relaxing.
Day 2, we decided to drive a bit further and take a trip to Weymouth. The site of many a happy family holiday as a child in the early ’90s, I had returned to the popular resort just once since for a flying visit 10 years earlier so I was looking forward to returning once more.
Realising we were travelling into the town the route we used to take and past one of the holiday parks we used to stay at in Osmington, we decided to pull over at a view point for Dorset’s famous White Horse – a figure cut into the limestone of the hills – something I loved to stop and see as a child.
Disappointingly, we found the figure to be more the green and muddy horse than the white horse. I guess the figure is not kept in its bright white state out of the holiday season!
Driving past the pebbly north end of Weymouth’s seafront, we parked near the old Pier Bandstand from where we could easily reach the long, sandy stretch of beach – much better for Lily’s paws! – we walked right the way along to Weymouth Pavilion in the distance.
From here, we took a stroll around the picturesque harbour, reminiscing about some of the now long gone attractions we had visited here many years ago over tea and cake at one of the harbourside cafes.
Taking a slow stroll back along the promenade to the car, we sat and had a late lunch before driving back to the lodge for a lazy late afternoon.
The next day we drove to Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic Coast wanting to see both the small horseshoe cove there and the popular Durdle Door a bit further along the coast. We parked at the large and rather expensive car park at Lulworth’s visitor centre and took the short stroll down through the pretty village to the beach.
With the tide in, there wasn’t much beach to walk along so we instead followed the coast path up towards Stair Hole.
There were great views of Lulworth Cove from the path from where you could really get a better sense of the curvature of the bay and when we reached Stair Hole, just a short way up, it was fun to watch the waves crashing through the rocks.
We followed the coast path a bit further towards Dungy Head but with my parents struggling with the muddy paths, decided to turn back to the car park. Seeing the signposted path to Durdle Door leading up and over a rather large, steep hill, I realised my parents were not going to cope with the walk there and back again so we instead drove the short distance there, paying another rather steep fee to park in the car park nearby.
From the car park there was still a bit of a walk to the Durdle Door viewpoint but the clifftop path was more gently sloping so taking our time, we were able to all make it there and back. The views of both Man o’ War Beach and Durdle Door itself were really pretty although Durdle Door did really remind me of the Green Bridge of Wales in Pembrokeshire.
Swanage was our destination the following day, somewhere none of us had visited before so we were unsure what to expect. We arrived to rainy weather and parked up on a car park next to a sports field and just a short walk from the sea front. It was a good job Lily had chosen to have a run around on the playing field as we found the sea to be rapidly coming in leaving very little beach for us to walk on.
Heading north, we began our walk along what beach was left until we eventually had to climb the steps up onto the path behind the sands, leading past more colourful beach huts. We soon came to a private section of beach where, during the summer months, dogs are not allowed, but as it was out of season, we could continue further along. Soon, the path tapered off as we reached a cliff-lined section of beach. With the tide still racing in, we decided to turn around and walk back in the other direction.
Reaching the cafe we had started our beach-walk from, the rain started to fall harder so we decided to return to the car for a picnic inside, sheltered from the rain before driving down to Swanage town where we parked up to take another walk.
From the town, we walked back down towards the beach where the sea now covered the sands completely and the waved slammed against the sea wall.
We walked south along the promenade towards Swanage Pier and Harbour then followed the signposts along the coast path towards Peveril Point, reaching a pretty cliff top area looking out to sea.
The coastguard lookout house was perched nearby and information boards around it detailed wrecks and disasters that had occurred nearby.
After looping around the cliff top, keeping well back from the cliff edge, we walked back into the town and its quaint high street lined with independent stores, cafes and bakeries. We couldn’t resist buying a delicious looking cake each from one of the bakeries before driving back to our woodland lodge to eat it alongside a warming cup of tea!
With just 2 full days left in the area, we still had a long list of places to visit, both coastal and inland. After Lily had missed out on getting much beach time the previous day, we decided to drive to the popular seaside resort of Bournemouth which we knew had a good stretch of sandy beach no matter what the tide was doing.
With it being out of season, we managed to park up right on the seafront, saving my parents a walk down the cliffs to reach the beach. Starting towards the Boscombe end of the beach, not far from Boscombe Pier, we walked in the direction of Bournemouth, Lily having the time of her life running around the beach chasing her ball, diving into the waves to chase sticks and meeting and greeting plenty of other dogs out for a stroll along the way.
Walking against the wind, and stopping regularly as Lily played, we didn’t get as far as we were planning and as the rain once again started to fall, we decided to return to the car. After lunch, we gave Lily another quick stroll, this time walking towards Boscombe and under the pier and back before driving back.
With one last day left in Dorset, there was one place we’d hoped to visit that we’d not yet made it to – Sandbanks. Situated between the towns of Poole and Bournemouth, Sandbanks is known as the home of the rich and sometimes famous. Driving in, we passed huge houses backing onto the beach or overlooking the marina full of expensive-looking boats.
It was the weekend and reaching the beach car park, it seemed like everyone in the area had had the same idea to visit that day!
The pretty stretch of beach was too busy to give Lily much of a run around on but we walked sown towards the shore and gave her a paddle in the sea before weaving our way through the crowds to walk along the golden sands.
After lunch, we decided to drive the short distance back to Bournemouth which although still busy, had a lot more room as there was more beach for people to spread out along. Lily once again had lots of fun racing around after her ball and burning off some excess energy before it was time to once more return to our cabin.
Despite the cold, wintry weather, it had been fun to spend some time exploring the Dorset coast and with plenty more to see and lots of walks along the coast path to do, I hoped to return sometime soon.