Dorset

Greentraveller's Guide to the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Written by Harriet O'Brien
Artwork for Greentraveller's Guides by Tina Smith and Mark Edwards

Foreword by Andy Foot, Dorset AONB Chairman and farmer

Living and working in Dorset, I’ve got to know some amazing places and people, many tucked away and off the beaten track. We are pleased to work with Green Traveller on this guide, to show you some of the hidden gems that make Dorset so outstanding.

Perhaps all visitors to the Dorset AONB head to the coast, and we don’t blame them! We’re very proud of the Jurassic Coast – England’s first natural World Heritage Site.

But follow the Jurassic Coast geology inland and you’ll see such a varied landscape it’s hard to believe it’s all within the same county. The vast lowland heath in Purbeck and the rolling chalk downlands of Hardy Country. The valleys of North Dorset where I farm, and the clay vales and wooded hills of West Dorset. These landscapes each have a very different feel to them and are well worth an explore.

Our job is to conserve & enhance the Dorset AONB, and we couldn’t even begin to do this without the local businesses, communities,landowners, museums, wildlife groups and arts organisations who all share a great pride and passion for this outstanding landscape. By trying out some of the places & activities highlighted in this guide, you can really support these local partners too. Explore some of our suggestions for great tastes, great views and great culture – your custom and interest really does make a difference.

Dorset AONB logo

What our writers discovered in Dorset

From its 71-mile shoreline along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site in the south, to dramatic Hambledon Hill in the north, the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offers a rich variety of landscapes to explore. The deep valleys and greensand ridges of the west give way to open heathland in the eastern Purbeck Peninsula; in the north, the chalk downland provides a highly important conservation habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna. To this mosaic of strikingly beautiful terrain add geological wonders, remarkable prehistoric sites, captivating villages and haunting ruins.

Hambledon Hill

Chris Woodley-Stewart explores the Jurassic Coast and the South West Coast Path, and says Dorset is "arguably England's best county for wildlife".

Dorset Museum

In celebration of Dorset's artistic inspirations, Harriet O'Brien, the author of our Guide to Dorset's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, provides a history of Dorset’s creativity.

Bridport Food Festival

As we publish our Greentraveller's Guide to Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the author of the guide, Harriet O'Brien, provides an overview of the region's real-food revolution

Stay, Eat, See & Do

Our pick of places across the Dorset AONB

Written by Harriet O'Brien

Google Map Key:
Click on the coloured icons for more information about each listing
Green = Places to stay
Blue = Places to eat
Yellow = Attractions 
Purple = Activities

Click on the square brackets top right of map to reveal expanded map

  • Dorset has a very long history and the South Dorset Ridgeway boasts a concentration of prehistoric barrows & henges similar to that of Avebury and Stonehenge.
  • Dorset AONB is the 5th largest in the family of AONBs and one of the oldest, being designated as a nationally important landscape in 1959.
  • Wildlife in the AONB is particularly outstanding – with 90% of British bird species found here, 80% of British mammal & butterfly species and all the British reptile species.
  • Local food is a big thing in Dorset and there’s some real characters... look out for the Dorset Knob, with it’s very own festival, on your travels!
  • Iron age hillforts are very commonplace in the AONB, there are over 20 in the AONB, including one of Europe's largest at Maiden Castle.

Map of Dorset AONB, England

Map of Dorset

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