Dorchester in Winter

Monday 04 February 2019

Dorchester High West Street

This time last year we were all getting very excited by the arrival of Dippy the Diplodocus for his stay at the Dorset County Museum - and what a wonderful treat that turned out to be, he looked absolutely amazing in the Victorian Hall!

The replica dinosaur is not in town this year, and the County Museum itself is closed for 2019 for it's £10m extension....so is Dorchester still worth visiting this winter? Absolutely, of course! Here are some of our highlights:

Museums & Houses

The County Museum is closed (except for a little pop-up museum in Brewery Square), but instead we recommend the Shire Hall, which re-opened last May following an extensive restoration. Built in 1797, when the carriages from London were still calling in at The Royal Oak opposite, the Hall housed the crown court until 1955. Its most famous trial was that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs which gave birth to the trade union movement; and Thomas Hardy was also a magistrate here. It has been refurbished as a museum of justice, with the courtroom restored to how it was at the time of the Tolpuddle trial, together with the cell where the Martyrs were held. The building has been really well restored, and tells the history of justice - or lack of it - over the centuries. Open every day.

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

Jurassic Winter

Dorchester is the central touring point for the Jurassic Coast and the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 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 Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famed both for its beauty and its 185 million years of fossilised history. You will be afforded much more elbow room if you visit in winter, and the sea and coast can be even more breathtaking at this time of year. The coastal towns no longer completely close down for the winter. A few businesses and beachside kiosks will close and the summer crowds will have gone, but these days there is still plenty of life along the coast all year, and any number of cosy places to  get a drink or a bite for lunch.  

Dorset Towns

Sherborne

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 every day until 2nd Jan 2020. Click here for our booking page.

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Guest Reviews

This guest house is amazing, Perfect is every way. Friendly and helpful owners. The breakfast choice is unbelievable something for everyone whatever their tastes. In walking distance of the town, buses and railway stations. Very near a good choice of eateries for the evening meals. An excellent base for exploring Dorset after a good nights sleep.
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