Dorchester in Winter

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Dorchester High West Street

Gone are the days when Dorset might have hibernated for the winter - it’s definitely an all-year destination now. Although you’ll probably need a coat and perhaps you can leave the swimwear behind, there is still plenty to keep you entertained. Dorchester is a particularly good place to visit; it’s a working county town and so does not close down at all over the winter months. We think it’s still a wonderful place to be in winter and so we’ve highlighted some of our favourite things to do at this time of year:

Museums & Houses

Dorchester is blessed with more than its fair share of worthwhile museums, and they are all open all year. For the first time, the local National Trust properties are staying open all year this winter.

The Dorset County Museum is a must-see, with a wide-range of eclectic exhibits documenting the history of the county, from a fossilised pliosaur skull to Thomas Hardy’s study, and plenty of Neolithic, iron age, roman and medieval exhibits in between, all housed in an historic building with a lovely galleried Victorian Hall which is worth visiting just for itself. It will be a particularly exciting place from 10th February until 8th May 2018, when the famous Dippy skeleton, from the National History Museum, starts its nationwide tour at the museum. The Museum is open Monday-Saturday during the winter.

Dorchester’s other top museum is The Keep, which presents the history of the Dorset & Devon Regiments. Sounds dull? Not a bit of it! The museum effectively shows the history of the British Army and its many campaigns through the eyes of the local regiment. This is an intimate, personalised history, which seems to make the victories more triumphant and the many tragedies much more poignant. There are some lovely artefacts and all very well presented – with the bonus of grandstand views of Dorchester from the open-air rooftop. Open Tuesdays-Fridays during the winter.

Thomas Hardy enthusiasts will be pleased to know that his two houses are now being opened all year round by the National Trust. Hardy’s Cottage, his birthplace, and Max Gate, the home he designed himself and occupied in his later life, are both open Thursdays-Sundays during the winter. They are both atmospheric places for anyone with an interest in one of our greatest writers, and are both presented as they might have been during his lifetime, with the help of the usual knowledgeable National Trust volunteer guides.

A little further afield, Bovington Tank Museum, the Fleet Air Arm Museum and the Etches Collection fossil museum are all world class at what they do, and are all open all year round. The Tank Museum remains open every day; not only does it have the finest collection of preserved tanks in the World, but they are very well presented with hands-on (and walk-in!) exhibits which makes this a great visit even for those without an initial interest. The Fleet Air Arm Museum, open Wednesdays-Sundays, similarly presents its exhibits in an exciting and accessible way, especially the Concorde and the aircraft carrier ‘experience’. The Etches Collection presents the personal collection of Steve Etches, all discovered on the Jurassic Coast, in a purpose-built facility, and remains open every day.

Coast & Countryside

Dorchester is the central touring point for the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Jurassic Coast. The landscape is just as breathtaking in the winter, sometimes even more so because the air on fine days can be clearer without the warm summer haze. Some of the views are even more expansive when the trees and hedgerows are bare and no longer blocking sightlines.

The coast no longer completely closes down for the winter. A few businesses and beachside kiosks will close and the packed summer crowds will have gone, but these days there is still plenty of life in the coastal towns all year, and any number of places to  get a drink or a bite for lunch.  

Dorset Towns


Dorchester is also the central touring centre for Dorset’s gorgeous coastal and country towns. Apart from the county town itself, we’d recommend Lyme Regis, Bridport, Sherborne, Shaftesbury and Wimborne as the best. They are full of independent shops and retain their buzz all year. The run up to Christmas can be a special time to visit, when the decorations and lights are out and there is festive cheer in the air.

Lyme and Bridport (at West Bay) have access to the Jurassic Coast with long coastal views and crystal fresh air at this time of year, and fish & chips which always taste better by the sea! Sherborne’s Abbey and Wimborne’s Minster are wonderful churches, comparable to most cathedrals. Shaftesbury has the iconic Gold Hill, well known to anyone who remembers the 1970’s Hovis adverts, and vast panoramic views down over the Blackmore Vale. Lyme, Bridport and Sherborne have museums open all year, and they all have coffee shops and little cafes, often serving local produce, which are so snug and welcoming in winter.

Country Pubs

Sun Inn Dorchester

Dorset is renowned for its traditional country pubs, and these come into their own in the winter. With snug open fires, exposed beams and comfort pub food, there are few better ways to spend a dark winter evening. There are far too many options in all parts of the county to mention, but our guests have a couple of favourites just outside Dorchester. The Sun Inn is a quintessential country pub but is barely a mile outside town in Lower Burton. It is warm and very cosy, and serves very traditional pub food, with some modern twists. The Saxon Arms is only a little further out of town, less than ten minutes’ drive from Aquila Heights in Stratton. It is a cosy thatched pub with a menu which is just a little more adventurous than most pubs. We also get positive feedback from guests on any number of other local village pubs and, a little further afield, Dorset has some top award-winning places which are undoubtedly worth the drive.    

Aquila Heights is open all year except 2nd-28th January 2018. Click here for our booking page.

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Guest Reviews

Visited Dorchester last weekend for a Christening and booked in to Aquila Heights without looking at reviews just on webpage description. The welcome, service, room and food were simply the best we have experienced. Thankyou Derek and Wendy - wonderful hosts. 

Steviebarley - via TripAdvisor
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