12 Unusual Things to Do in Dorset

Dorset’s Most Weird & Wonderful…

It’s so often those quirkier holiday outings that we remember most fondly, weird and wonderful places we stumbled upon or arrived at perchance.

In celebration of these off-kilter and impromptu outings, Mr Toad of Toad Hall Cottages has picked out a selection of Dorset’s most unusual and unexpected attractions. It’s time to hop along the road less travelled…

Trekking with Llamas

Explore the idyllic rolling hills of West Dorset in the company of llamas and alpacas. This totally unique experience is organised by the Dorset Llama Trekking Experience which allows you to walk side-by-side these gentle and elegant animals. Navigate the undulating pathways of the majestic Jurassic Coast or weave your way along the rural trails that encompass the pastures and stables of New House Farm, where you can also enjoy a traditional cream tea. These hardy Andean creatures are well known for their kindly nature around humans and their relaxing and calming influence – a once in a lifetime experience!

 

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Bridport Hat Festival

Celebrate the end of another glorious summer with a trip to one of Dorset’s most historic towns for a day of all things hats. Be part of the jostling crowds on Bucky Doo Square for a ‘Haturday’ to remember. Throw your hat in the ring and join the party adorned by your very own inventive or eccentric headware or watch the hatful procession during one of the West Country’s quirkiest get- togethers. Expect live music, street entertainment, trade stalls and a bustling market at the Bridport Hat Fest.

 

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The Cerne Abbas Giant

Standing an impressive one hundred and eighty feet tall on a hillside in the beautiful Cerne Valley, the Cerne Abbas Giant has been constructed from chalk rubble and is widely believed to be either an effigy of a venerated Saxon deity or a homage to the ancient Greek hero Hercules; although some believe it to be a mockery of Oliver Cromwell. Wielding both a large club in his right hand and a pronounced phallus – adding fuel to the popular theory that the giant is in fact a fertility symbol – this cultural icon strikes a dramatic pose upon the verdant slopes of one of Dorset’s most enchanting corners.

 

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Dorset Nettle Eating Competition

Believe it or not, Dorset has a proud tradition of nettle eating, but there’s nothing ‘weedy’ about this age-old rite of passage. Every year, the bravest nettle munchers descend upon the gorgeous thatched cottage pub known as The Bottle Inn to partake in the World Stinging Nettle Eating Championships. Watch the region’s bravest hedgerow munchers go head-to-head or go one better and enter this extraordinary contest…at the very least you’ll get a free lunch!

 

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The Blue Pool, Furzebrook

Nestled into the Purbeck Hills, not far from the romantic ruins of Corfe Castle, lies one of the county’s naturally reclaimed wonders. The Blue Pool is a flooded clay pit surrounded by the roaming wooded acres of the Furzebrook Estate. The suspension of the Purbeck ball clay within the pool entertains spectacular diffractions which produce a spectrum of greens, reds, russets and turquoises. This magical scene continues to attract wildlife enthusiasts and walkers who follow the many sun-dappled trails that entwine this precious landscape. One of Dorset’s most cherished and tranquil beauty spots.

 

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Dorchester Roman Town House

Ancient history buffs won’t be able to resist a visit to the Roman Town House, discovered by archaeologists (almost by chance) in 1937 and believed to date back to the fourth century AD. This site includes the remains of eight further buildings, offering a fascinating insight into Roman life in Dorchester or ‘Durnovaria’ as they once called it. The Town House is the most prominent of the unearthed buildings and remains open to the public, free of charge, all year round. Many of the relics discovered during the dig now rest on display at the Dorset County Museum, but the elaborate mosaics (which are enclosed and protected behind toughened glass) remain in situ and can be viewed as part of the tour. The Roman Town House also provides a backdrop for plays, theatrical performances, re-enactments, art exhibitions and concerts…perfect for all you culture vultures.

 

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Scratch Arse Ware & The Dancing Ledge

It’s one of the best-loved scenic spots on the Purbeck coast and home to some of the county’s most memorable toponyms. Follow the grassy tracks and kissing gates through the ancient grazing fields – affectionately known as Scratch Arse Ware – before descending the limestone headland to the Dancing Ledge; a former quarry with flat and sea-polished remnants that has been compared to a ballroom dancefloor. Depending on the tide, you might also be able to enjoy a wild dip in the naturally formed pool. This particular corner of the Dorset headland is riddled with old smugglers’ tales and steeped in folklore, not least the windswept sycamore tree once believed to have felt the deadweight of the hangman’s noose. The historic coastal town of Swanage is also nearby, as are several characterful waterside inns.

 

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Tyneham Ghost Village

Once occupied by farming and fishing folk, Tyneham was the only community in Dorset to be permanently evacuated during the Second World War to allow for the Ministry of Defence’s D-Day preparations. Stuck in time, the village remains exactly as it was in 1943 when all 225 of its inhabitants were ordered to pack up and leave within thirty days. The village was comprised of a scattering of cottages, a derelict schoolhouse, a post office, a farmstead, church and rectory, all of which remain in a state of dilapidation. The parish notice board and telephone kiosk are among the many bygone features to have stood the tests of time and are part of what’s best described as a ‘village time capsule’. Tyneham is open to the public during the weekends bar a handful of dates.

 

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The Gold Hill Cheese Race

Nothing much to see here, just a bunch of hearty locals racing up one of the steepest hills in the county with a massive hunk of cheese weighing heavy on their shoulders? Yes, you heard it correct, the annual Gold Hill Cheese Race sees young and old take on Dorset’s most idyllic cobbled street, made famous by director Ridley Scott for his classic Hovis baker’s boy advert of the 1970s (later voted as the nation’s favourite ‘ad’). Every May, as part of the Shaftsbury Food & Drink Festival, contestants gather outside the Town Hall of this mid-Dorset town to register for the race, all hoping to become this year’s ‘big cheese’. Maybe you fancy your chances or perhaps you’d prefer to spectate upon this slightly madcap event and enjoy one of the region’s most picturesque hilltop views? Just a quick word of warning to any would-be cheese runners: every one of these racing cheeses contains 500 pints of milk, so lugging them up the winding cobbles of Gold Hill is far from ‘cheesy peasy’.

 

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Abbotsbury Swannery

Considered one of the best things to do in Dorset, when you take a trip to Abbotsbury Swannery you’ll find yourselves in the heart of a vibrant colony of Mute Swans, six hundred or so to be a little more precise. The best time to enjoy this unique experience is during the midday and late afternoon feeding sessions. The swannery is located on a magnificent stretch of the Dorset coast and was established by Benedictine Monks during the 11th century, who farmed the swans as food fit for their ‘lavish’ banquet tables; thankfully, today, swans are a much-loved and protected species only to be admired. The monk’s tenure was ended during the disbandment of the monasteries in the sixteenth century by Henry VIII and today the swannery falls under the care of the Ilchester Estates. As well as being a haven for one of the UK’s most cherished bevy of swans, this popular family attraction also plays host to the largest willow maze in the country, and we think it’s seriously worth getting into a flap about.

 

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Bovington Tank Museum

This next attraction is bound to place you on the right track. The Bovington Tank Museum will guide you through the fascinating history of tank warfare, from World War One to the high-tech machines of the present day. What’s more, you’ll be able to explore the tanks for yourselves as they are housed in the museum’s six grand halls. Listen to first-hand accounts and exciting tales as you embark upon a unique tour of this priceless collection comprised of more than three hundred vehicles – considered the best in the world – including the first tank ever built, Little Willie, the notorious German Tiger, and the present-day Challenger 2. This engrossing day out is certain to leave a ‘big impression’.

 

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Tout Quarry Sculpture Park

Set in a disused pit on the Isle of Portland, Tout Quarry is both a sculpture park and nature reserve. The abandoned limestone has become a canvas for creatives who over the years have chipped, carved and polished a collection of amazing models. The park is also a learning and educational centre which runs sculpture and stone carving courses. For many, the summer months remain the best time to visit the quarry, a duration when the common blue, rare silver studded blue and grayling butterflies are in abundance and the sparkling views of Chesil Beach and Portland Harbour are at their most scintillating. If you need to scratch your creative itch, this unusual enclave is well worth a visit.

 

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Take your pick from our exclusive collection of holiday cottages in Dorset. Tucked away in the rolling hills and scattered up and down the magnificent Jurassic Coast, it’s time to discover your perfect South West getaway.