Sunday, 5 July 2009

County of Dorset

Dorset's motto is 'Who's Afear'd'.

Dorset (pronounced /ˈdɔrsɪt/) (or archaically, Dorsetshire), is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester, situated in the south of the county at 50°43′00″N 02°26′00″W / 50.716667°N 2.433333°W / 50.716667; -2.433333Coordinates: 50°43′00″N 02°26′00″W / 50.716667°N 2.433333°W / 50.716667; -2.433333.

Dorset Downs

Between its extreme points Dorset measures 80 kilometres (50 mi) from east to west and 64 km (40 mi) north to south, and has an area of 2,653 square kilometres (1,024 sq mi). Dorset borders Devon to the west, Somerset to the north-west, Wiltshire to the north-east, and Hampshire to the east. Around half of Dorset's population lives in the South East Dorset conurbation. The rest of the county is largely rural with a low population density.

Kimmeridge famous for its fossils and
footprints in the sand dating back to the first visitors here.

Dorset is famous for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which features landforms such as Lulworth Cove, the Isle of Portland, Chesil Beach and Durdle Door, as well as the holiday resorts of Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth, Swanage, and Lyme Regis.
Dorset is the principal setting of the novels of Thomas Hardy, who was born near Dorchester.
The county has a long history of human settlement and some notable archaeology, including the hill forts of Maiden Castle and Hod Hill.
The earliest recorded use of the name was in AD 940 as Dorseteschire, meaning the dwellers (saete) of 'Dornuuarana' (Dorchester)
The first known settlement of Dorset was by Mesolithic hunters, from around 8000 BC.
Their populations were small and concentrated along the coast in the Isle of Purbeck, the Isle of Portland, Weymouth and Chesil Beach and along the Stour valley.

Chesil Beach looking towards Abbotsbury
Chesil Beach, sometimes called Chesil Bank, in Dorset, southern England. is one of three major shingle structures in Britain, often identified as a tombolo, although research into the geomorphology of the area has revealed that it is in fact a barrier beach which has "rolled" landwards, joining the mainland with Portland Bill, giving the appearance of a tombolo.
The shingle beach is 29 kilometres (18 mi) long, 200 metres (660 ft) wide and 15 metres (50 ft) high. The beach and the Fleet are part of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the location for a book, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.
At the eastern end of the beach at the village of Chiswell, against the cliffs of the Isle of Portland, the beach curves round sharply to form Chesil Cove. This part of the beach protects the low-lying village from flooding. Westwards the shingle forms a straight line along the coast, enclosing the Fleet, a shallow tidal lagoon. The beach provides shelter from the prevailing winds and waves for the town of Weymouth and the village of Chiswell, which would otherwise probably not exist
Varying with the Bank's unbroken increase in height, to 14.7 metres (48 ft), above mean high water, the size of the flint and chert shingle varies from pea-sized at the north-west end (by West Bay) to potato-sized at the south-east end (by Portland). It is said that smugglers who landed on the beach in the middle of the night could judge their position by the size of the shingle.

These populations used tools and fire to clear these areas of some of the native Oak forest. Dorset's high chalk hills have provided a location for defensive settlements for millennia, there are Neolithic and Bronze Age burial mounds on almost every chalk hill in the county, and a number of Iron Age hill forts, the most famous being Maiden Castle. The chalk downs would have been deforested in the Iron Age, making way for agriculture and animal husbandry.
Dorset has notable Roman artefacts, particularly around the Roman town Dorchester, where Maiden Castle was captured from the Celtic Durotriges by a Roman Legion in 43 AD under the command of Vespasian, early in the Roman occupation. Roman roads radiated from Dorchester, following the tops of the chalk ridges to the many small Roman villages around the county. The Romans also had a presence on the Isle of Portland, constructing - or adapting - hilltop defensive earthworks on Verne Hill. In the Roman era, settlements moved from the hill tops to the valleys, and the hilltops had been abandoned by the fourth century. A large defensive ditch, Bokerley Dyke, delayed the Saxon conquest of Dorset from the north east for up to two hundred years. The Domesday Book documents many Saxon settlements corresponding to modern towns and villages, mostly in the valleys. There have been few changes to the parishes since the Domesday Book. Over the next few centuries the settlers established the pattern of farmland which prevailed into the nineteenth century. Many monasteries were also established, which were important landowners and centres of power.
The ruins of Corfe Castle

In the 12th-century civil war, Dorset was fortified with the construction of the defensive castles at Corfe Castle, Powerstock, Wareham and Shaftesbury, and the strengthening of the monasteries such as at Abbotsbury. In the 17th-century English Civil War, Dorset had a number of royalist strongholds, such as Portland Castle, Sherborne Castle and Corfe Castle, the latter two being ruined by Parliamentarian forces in the war. In the intervening years, the county was used by the monarchy and nobility for hunting and the county still has a number of Deer Parks.

Sherborne Castle

Throughout the late Mediaeval times, the remaining hilltop settlements shrank further and disappeared. From the Tudor to Georgian periods, farms specialised and the monastic estates were broken up, leading to an increase in population and settlement size.
During the Industrial Revolution, Dorset remained largely rural, and retains its agricultural economy today. The Tolpuddle Martyrs lived in Dorset, and the farming economy of Dorset was central in the formation of the trade union movement.

Bradbury Ring at Cranbourne Chase

Physical geography
Most of Dorset's landscape falls into two categories, determined by the underlying geology. There are a number of large ridges of limestone downland, much of which have been cleared of the native forest and are mostly grassland and some arable agriculture. These limestone areas include a band of chalk which crosses the county from south-west to north-east incorporating Cranborne Chase, the Dorset Downs and Purbeck Hills. Between the areas of downland are large, wide clay vales (primarily Oxford Clay with some Weald Clay and London Clay) with wide flood plains. These vales are primarily used for dairy agriculture, dotted with small villages, farms and coppices. They include the Blackmore Vale (Stour valley) and Frome valley.

The Cranborne Chase
The rolling chalk downlands of the Cranborne Chase, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was once a medieval hunting estate, and is an archaeological gem, with priceless Iron Age and Roman remains.
The village of Cranborne is the site of the former Chase Courtland Prison, later used as a hunting lodge. Cranborne Manor dates back to the Middle Ages, when King John was a regular visitor hunting trips on the Chase. Known as ‘Chaseborough’ in the novels of Thomas Hardy, the village was also popular with poet Rupert Brooke who stayed at the Fleur de Lys and wrote a poem in its honour
The hamlet of Cashmoor, nestled on the southern edge of the Cranborne Chase, provides an ideal base for those who enjoy walking. The area is also known for the wonderful variety of butterflies and for the ancient barrows that help to characterise the rolling chalk downland of the Chase.
Farnham is a picture-postcard thatched village, on the estate of the late archaeologist General Pitt-Rivers (which includes the Larmer Tree Gardens and neighbouring village of Tollard Royal).
Sixpenny Handley lies on Cranborne Chase, between the Romano British village of Woodcutts and the roman road of Ackling Dyke. Its name is derived from two medieval “hundreds” ‘Sexpenna’ and ‘Handlegga’ which over the years, local Dorset folk reduced to the memorable 6d Handley. Through the centuries the village suffered a series of fires and, in 1892, the whole village was virtually destroyed. The village church, dating back to the 13th century, remains and several small traditional shops line the main street.

South-east Dorset, around Poole and Bournemouth, lies on very non-resistant Eocene clays (mainly London Clay and Gault Clay), sands and gravels. These thin soils support a heathland habitat which supports all seven native British reptile species. The River Frome estuary runs through this weak rock, and its many tributaries have carved out a wide estuary. At the mouth of the estuary sand spits have been deposited turning the estuary into Poole Harbour, one of several worldwide which claim to be the second largest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney Harbour, though Sydney's claim is disputed).

Poole Harbour looking to Browne Sea Island

The harbour is very shallow in places and contains a number of islands, notably Brownsea Island, famous for its Red Squirrel sanctuary and as the birthplace of the Scouting movement.

shallows at Poole Harbour
The harbour, and the chalk and limestone hills of the Purbecks to the south, lie atop Europe's largest onshore oil field. The field, operated by BP from Wytch Farm, produces a high-quality oil and boasts the world's oldest continuously pumping well (Kimmeridge, since the early 1960s) and longest horizontal drill (8 km/5 mi, ending underneath Bournemouth pier). The pottery produced by Poole Pottery from the local clays is famous for its quality.

Sandbanks at Poole

Durdle Door natural arch

Most of Dorset's coastline was designated a World Heritage Site in 2001 because of its geological landforms. The coast documents the entire Mesozoic era from Triassic to Cretaceous, and has yielded many important fossils, including the first complete Ichthyosaur and fossilised Jurassic trees. The coast also features examples of most notable coastal landforms, including a textbook example of cove (Lulworth Cove) and natural arch (Durdle Door). Jutting out into the English Channel is a limestone island, the Isle of Portland, connected to the mainland by Chesil Beach, a tombolo.

Lulworth Cove

In the west of the county the chalk and clay of south-east England begins to give way to the marl and granite of neighbouring Devon. Until recently Pilsdon Pen at 277 metres (909 ft), was thought to be the highest hill in Dorset, but recent surveys have shown nearby Lewesdon Hill to be higher, at 279 metres (915 ft). Lewesdon is also a Marilyn.

White Horse near Weymouth

The county has the highest proportion of conservation areas in England— including an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (44% of the whole county), a World Heritage Site (114 km/71 mi), two Heritage Coasts (92 km/57 mi) and Sites of Special Scientific interest (199.45 km2/49,285 acres). The South West Coast Path, a National Trail, runs along the Dorset coast from the Devon boundary to South Haven Point near Poole.
The climate of Dorset has warm summers and mild winters, being the third most southern county in the UK, but not westerly enough to be afflicted by the Atlantic storms that Cornwall and Devon experience. Dorset shares the greater winter warmth of the south-west (average 4.5 to 8.7 °C or 40° to 48 °F), while still maintaining higher summer temperatures than that of Devon and Cornwall (average highs of 19.1 to 22.2 °C or 66° to 72 °F). The average annual temperature of the county is 9.8 to 12 °C (50°–54 °F), apart from the Dorset Downs. In coastal areas around Dorset it almost never snows.

Rufus Castle

The south coast counties of Dorset, Hampshire, West Sussex, East Sussex and Kent enjoy more sunshine than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, receiving 1541–1885 hours. Average annual rainfall varies across the county—southern and eastern coastal areas receive as little as 741 mm (29.2 in) per year, while the Dorset Downs receive between 1,061 and 1,290 mm (41.7–50.8 in) per year; less than Devon and Cornwall to the west but more than counties to the east.
Dorset is famed in literature for being the native county of author and poet Thomas Hardy, and many of the places he describes in his novels in the fictional Wessex are in Dorset, which he renamed South Wessex. The National Trust owns Thomas Hardy's Cottage, in woodland east of Dorchester, and Max Gate, his former house in Dorchester.

Stalbridge Village high street. my nan lived
in a bungalow just before you get here

Several other writers have called Dorset home, including Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), who lived in Stalbridge for a time; Ian Fleming (James Bond), who boarded at Durnford School, poet William Barnes; John le Carré, author of espionage novels; Tom Sharpe of Wilt fame lives there as does P.D. James (Children of Men); satirical novelist Thomas Love Peacock.

Lyme Regis Harbour

John Fowles (The French Lieutenant's Woman), lived in Lyme Regis before he died in late 2005; T F (Theodore Francis) Powys who wrote the classic Mr Weston's Good Wine which is set in a real or fictitious Tadnol near Dorchester; John Cowper Powys, his elder and better known brother, who set a number of his most famous novels in Dorset and Somerset; and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde while living in Bournemouth.
Dorset is also the birthplace of artist Sir James Thornhill, musicians John Eliot Gardiner, Eddie Argos, Chris Martin, P.J. Harvey and Robert Fripp, photographer Jane Bow.

Lyme Regis Bay

Palaeontologist Mary Anning and archbishops John Morton and William Wake. Explorer Sir Walter Raleigh lived in Dorset for some of his life, while scientist and philosopher Robert Boyle lived in Stalbridge Manor for a time; the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace was also a resident, and is buried at Broadstone.

Dorset is a popular home for celebrities. Those who have moved to or own second homes in Dorset include Madonna and Guy Ritchie, actor Martin Clunes, singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, Jonathan Ross, Oasis singer Noel Gallagher, composer, conductor and musician Peter Moss, and footballer Jamie Redknapp. Many of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's television programmes are filmed at his home, just outside of Bridport. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web lived in Colehill near Wimborne. Classical composer Muzio Clementi lived and worked near Blandford in Dorset.
Settlements and communications

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury

Fortuneswell and Chesil Beach

Weymouth promenade

Dorset is largely rural with many small villages, few large towns, and no cities. The largest conurbation is the South East Dorset conurbation which consists of the seaside resort of Bournemouth, the historic port of Poole and the town of Christchurch plus many villages. Bournemouth was created in the Victorian era when sea bathing became popular. As an example of how affluent the area has become, Sandbanks in Poole was worthless land unwanted by farmers in the nineteenth century, but is said to be amongst the highest land values by area in the world, becoming a popular play and beach area. Bournemouth and Christchurch were added to the county from Hampshire in the county boundary changes of 1974.

Sherborne Abbey

The other two major settlements in the county are Dorchester, (the county town), and Weymouth, one of the first tourist towns, frequented by George III, and still very popular today. Blandford Forum, Sherborne, Gillingham, Shaftesbury and Sturminster Newton are historical market towns which serve the farms and villages of the Blackmore Vale (Hardy's Vale of the Little Dairies).

Shaftesbury high street

Sturminster Newton, no longer a cattle market

Blandford Forum was a large Roman town and is home to the Badger brewery of Hall and Woodhouse. Bridport, Lyme Regis, Wareham and Wimborne Minster are also market towns.

Wareham Town

Bridport, West Street

Villages worth mentioning although there are plenty more not mentioned here


Milbourne Port

Milton Abbess

Okeford Fitzpaine

Abbots House at Cerne, home of the chalk giant

Tithe Barn at Abbotsbury, home of the Swannery

Affpuddle Church

Village and parkland of King Stag, with its deer park

Worbarrow Bay

Dorset is connected to London by two main railway lines. The West of England Main Line runs through the north of the county at Gillingham and Sherborne before reaching Crewkerne (Somerset) and Axminster (Devon) where it provides a service for those who live in the western districts of Dorset.

Looking from Stonebarrow to Lyme, love the patchwork fields

The South Western Main Line runs through the south at Bournemouth, Poole, Dorchester and the terminus at Weymouth. Additionally, the Heart of Wessex Line runs from Weymouth to Bristol. Dorset is one of only four non metropolitan counties in England not to have a single motorway. The A303, A31 and A35 trunk roads run through the county. The only passenger airport in the county is Bournemouth International Airport, and there are two passenger sea ports, at Poole and Weymouth, however the development of these towns both as ports and as industrial centres has over the years been severely constrained by under investment in infra-structure. There are no major trunk routes to the North and both towns remain cut off from the UK motorway network.

Swyre Head, round barrow

West Bay, Bridport, beautiful sandstone cliffs


Despite these disadvantages, a flourishing bus service has been built up in the last fifteen years taking advantage of central and local government grants. To compensate for the missing rail link west of Dorchester one service bus runs regularly along the southerly A35 from Weymouth to Axminster. The Jurassic Coast service provides through travel from Poole to Exeter, exploiting a popular tourist route. Other routes connect towns in Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. The number of services available to rural towns and villages has also increased over recent years.

1 comment:

  1. My parents really love Dorset. So they planned to have Holidays in Dorset including us, their children. I hope it would be fun.