A Day Out In Dorchester
As the County Town of Dorset, Dorchester has a lovely traditional feel. It is rich in historic and literary treasures. There are signs of former inhabitants all around. The Roman influence in particular, is still present throughout the town. And the nods to its most famous resident, Thomas Hardy, are also plentiful.
Surrounded by wide tree lined walks you can happily spend time simply wandering around the edge of the town centre. However delve slightly deeper and you can discover a number of gems. Here are a few of the many highlights you can experience on a day out in Dorchester.
Set on a sloping hillside, Dorchester has number of main streets which make up its town centre. South Street is the main pedestrianised shopping area which has a few arcades and side streets adjoining it. Trinity Street has a number of independent shops as does High West Street and High East Street which runs up the length of the town centre. Brewery Square is also a great spot to visit. The recently redeveloped brewery site has a mix of hotels, restaurants, residential properties and a range of retailers.
There is no shortage of great culinary experiences to be had in Dorchester. Brewery Square has a number of quality national chain restaurants such as Nandos, Zizzis, Pizza Express, Wagamama and Cote Brasserie. Luccio’s is a new restaurant to this area which is being run by the son of celebrity chef Marco Pierre-White.
For a more independent experience we recommend trying, Taste Brasserie, Yalbury and Yvon’s, Myra’s Kaiseki or The King and Thai. All serve fresh locally sourced ingredients and regularly receive great reviews.
After a long refurbishment costing over £5m The Kings Arms Hotel in High East Street has recently reopened. This building has featured in Hardy novels and also accommodated a number of famous bands including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Their menu features some exciting and very tasty dishes.
If you fancy catching the latest blockbuster when you’re visiting Dorchester then you have a couple of great options. There are three screens at the Odeon at Brewery Square. It is a modern cinema set up which has the latest speaker system set up bringing you all the latest must-see films.
Alternatively there is the independently run Plaza Cinema in Trinity Street which is simply wonderful. They have four screens showing the latest films but the cost is just £3:50 per person making it a very affordable day out even if you are in a large family group. The staff are friendly and they even serve wine and beer – what more could you wish for?!
Green spaces in Dorchester
The town is fortunate to have a number of fabulous green spaces. They provide lovely areas for children to play and run around and get a lungful or two of fresh air.
Borough Gardens is a particular highlight. The Victorian design has not changed in over a century. As such the park is dotted with a traditional bandstand, flower beds, tall clock tower and a large ornate fountain. More modern features have also been added over recent years. The children’s play park is fabulous and full of apparatus to keep any budding gymnast occupied. There is also an outdoor gym for adults to burn off some energy as well as a number of tennis courts. A cafe is open during the summer serving drinks, snacks and ice cream. This is also the location for a number of community events and fundraisers including the annual Dorchester Cider Festival.
Just to the south of the centre is Maumbury Rings. It is a high banked green space formally used as a Roman amphitheatre. Whilst there are no facilities here it does provide a great area to have a run around or a picnic. Like Borough Gardens, in the summer it is used as a venue for community events and mini festivals.
If you fancy a good stroll then head over to Maiden Castle. It is a mile or so outside the town. This massive hill fort is the largest of its kind in England. It is surrounded by huge ramparts built up by the Romans which they used as defensive structures. Nowadays the chalk hills are mostly inhabited by flocks of sheep and ground nesting birds such as sky larks. Climb to the top and you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views over Dorchester and beyond.
From the statue at the Top O’ Town roundabout to the permanent exhibition at the Dorset County Museum, there are memorials to Thomas Hardy all around the County Town.
Take a short trip out to the village of Higher Bockhampton and you can visit Hardy’s birthplace. This is set on the edge of Thorncombe Woods which is an area of ancient woodland. You can take a tour of the cottage and gardens here and get a taste of what it was like for Hardy to grow up in Victorian rural Dorset.
Another of Hardy’s properties is Max Gate located on the eastern edge of Dorchester. Designed by Hardy this property is also open to visitors. Max Gate was Hardy’s home for forty years, until he died in 1928 but whilst there he wrote some of his most famous works, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, The Dynasts as well as numerous poems and short stories.
Today, Max Gate is under care of the National Trust, as is the Hardy Cottage in Bockhampton. Both of these historic locations are well worth a visit if you are following the Hardy Trail.
If you like museums then you’ll be spoilt for choice when in Dorchester. There is a variety of places to visit to get a taste of local history and other specialist areas.
Dorset County Museum is in the process of completing a multi million pound refurbishment. It will reopen with new galleries, a learning centre, collections storage, a library and visitor facilities.
Military enthusiasts will love The Keep Military Museum and for a taste of ancient Egypt head to the Tutankhamun Museum in the centre of the town.
One of the new museums in the town is the Shire Hall. It is a big hit with visitors of all ages. There are free audio guides and helpful volunteers to aid your visit. Walk in the footsteps of people whose lives were forever changed in the historic court and witness what it was like to be in the cells before ascending to the dock.
For younger visitors there is also the Dinosaur Museum and the Teddy Bear Museum. Both have a number of great small exhibitions which children love to interact with.
There is also the Roman Town House which is an outdoor museum. It is the only example of a fully exposed Roman Town House in the country. Located next to County Hall, it is free to visit and is just five minutes’ walk from the town centre.