Dorset is little England at its most rural, cosy, and green. Apart
from Bournemouth, which was always traditionally in Hampshire,
it has no large conurbations. Its scenery embraces acres of rolling 
farmland, landscaped parks, and lots of small manor houses and 
castles, rather than a few big stately homes, all set beside villages 
with impossibly quaint names like Purse Caundle, Toller Porcorum 
or Hammoon, near Fiddleford. 

It also seems to have been a hotbed 
of Iron Age activity: every other hillock has been carved into a 
crumpled hill fort. And of course this is Thomas Hardy country. 
Its centre is Dorchester, the busy county town, where he became 
a fatalistic old curmudgeon and great poet, but the county is 
scattered with scenes memorably described in his novels. Hilltop 
Shaftesbury and warm-stoned Sherborne, with its astonishing 
abbey, are the two medieval market towns in the north. In the 
middle, the unpromisingly named 18th-century town of Blandford 
Forum proves to be anything but, a tasty backwater with a church 
and quirky costume collection. 

Bournemouth needs little introduction, 
a coastal boomtown on the site of the Victorians’ favourite watering 
place, its hillside villas change hands for rocketing prices almost as 
quickly as polite Poole’s next door. Across Poole Harbour, the Isle of 
Purbeck is the stonemason and quarryman’s heartland, a strange 
and until relatively recently all but forgotten corner of the south 
coast. Now it’s been designated a World Natural Heritage Site. No 
doubt the steam railway that goes puffing past one of the mos t
popular ruined castles of them all at Corfe, and has long provided a 
regular service for locals across Purbeck to rum old Swanage on the 
coast, will soon be linked into the national rail network. On the 
freshly branded ‘Jurassic Coast’, the most popular spots are still the 
rock arches at Durdle Door and the beach at Lulworth Cove, but it’s 
the wonder of Chesil Beach and the resort of Lyme Regis and its 
surrounding cliffs that have really earned the attentions of UNESCO.
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