The best things to do in Dorset with kids
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She sells sea shells on the sea shore – and 200 years on, you can still walk on that very beach and search for the sea’s treasures yourself. Because the tongue twister has its own fascinating history, the story of Mary Anning.
Born in Lyme Regis, in Dorset, she spent her life searching for fossils to sell to tourists, trying to earn enough for the family to live on – along the way, discovering an ichthyosaur, a plesiosaur and other dinosaurs, helping contribute to the understanding of extinction, central to the theory of evolution.
Having felt the thrill of unearthing a dinosaur bone on the Isle of Wight last year, I can’t think why we still haven’t been to the Jurassic Coast, and why Dorset so often gets skipped over on our way to Devon and Cornwall. Because that is only the start of the county’s attractions, though easily one of the best things to do in Dorset.
1. Beach comb
Charmouth is one of the best places to find fossils – the visitor centre runs guided walks – while Kimmeridge Bay has some of its own, and is also wonderful for rockpooling. Or at certain times, you’re all but guaranteed to spot ammonites at Seatown.
But there’s plenty more to discover: the pebbles of Chesil Beach, the dramatic rock arch of Durdle Door, the chalk stacks near Swanage Bay which once extended all the way to The Needles. And there’s sand too, the nature reserve of Studland Bay (just watch out for the naturist section) and the traditional seaside between Weymouth and Poole, including the fabulous sand creations at Sandworld Sculpture Park.
Wyke Dorset Cottages have places to stay that are just minutes from Charmouth’s beach as well as others along the coast, so you never need to walk far with your finds.
2. Dive into the deeps
What’s better than wandering along the beach? Diving below the waves. In Weymouth, check out the Sea Life Centre with its sharks, rays and cunning octopus while at The Oceanarium in Bournemouth, you can discover penguins and sea turtles, along with dwarf crocodiles and otters (plus huge numbers of fish, of course).
If you’re visiting Bournemouth with older kids, you can even fly over the waves (and make believe you’re going to keep going under) with the RockReef Pierzip Line which speeds you from a 25m high platform to the beach in 30 seconds. Suitable for kids over 1.3m.
3. Meet the animals
Creatures great or small love Dorset – Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre is home to chimpanzees, orangutans and gibbons (among others), helping work against the primate smuggling trade. Less exotic but equally beloved are the farm animals at Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park, along with alpacas – plus plenty of indoor options for less than glorious British weather.
4. Uncover history
Trace a thousand years of history at the now ruined Corfe Castle – not least the fact it inspired Kirrin Castle in the Famous Five books. With its murder holes, secret places and tales of treachery and treason, not to mention rumour of royal death and its place in the Civil War, it’s perfect to let imaginations run wild
Or its younger cousin, Portland Castle – still a venerable 470-something years old – was built by Henry VIII to protect against French and Spanish invasion. Kids can dress up, explore a Tudor kitchen and discover its own wartime history, from the Civil War to the Second World War.
5. Find a Gruffalo
Away from the coast lurks a fearsome monster, with a poisonous wart on the end of his nose – and purple prickles all over his back. Well probably. Moors Valley Country Park & Forest has been one of the locations for the string of Julia Donaldson trails, including the most recent Gruffalo version with its augmented reality app.
This year, watch out for the Highway Rat, not to mention plenty of places to walk, cycle or watch the scenery from a narrow gauge steam train – along with a more adrenaline-fuelled option on the Go Ape Junior High ropes course, for anyone who fancies themselves the scariest creature in the wood.
Disclosure: compiled in association with Wyke Dorset Cottages*
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