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The county town of Dorchester is located at the heart of Dorset. It has a long history dating from Neolithic times through to the Iron Age, the Romans and civil wars. Its thriving town centre and pretty riverside walks make it a great place for a long weekend or short break.

If you happen to be here on a Wednesday or Saturday, you might like to stop at the Town Market opposite Brewery Square (held every Wednesday morning) or the Farmers Market at Queen Mother’s Square, Poundbury (held in the morning of the first Saturday of the month).

Day 1

To get a feel for the town as well as having some fun along the way, take part in the Dorchester Treasure Trail. It’s a self-guided murder mystery themed trail starting at the Top 'O' Town pay and display car park. Explore this historic home town of famous writer Thomas Hardy plus see the Roman Town House, ancient buildings, Hangman's Cottage as well as the array of shops in the town centre.

For lunch, pick up a picnic from one of the delis, bakeries or sandwich shops and head for Borough Gardens.

Dorchester's Borough Gardens in the spring

In the afternoon, visit Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum where 200 years of justice, injustice, crime and punishment are brought to life. Discover the depths of the cold, dark cells, and stand in the dock of the historic courtroom, where novelist and poet Thomas Hardy was a magistrate. They have a brand new family trail to follow with cartoon cat Bert to see if you can spot all the weird and wonderful objects in Shire Hall.

There is a cafe at the Museum where you can enjoy some afternoon tea and cake.

In the evening, head for the restaurants, cafes and bars at Brewery Square to grab something to eat or drink. Or perhaps catch the latest movie at Brewery Square's Odeon Cinema or the Plaza Cinema on Trinity Street.

Restaurants, water fountains and Odeon cinema at Brewery Square in Dorchester, Dorset

There are lots of options for staying overnight either in the town centre or nearby.

Day 2

Spend the morning finding out about Dorset’s most famous writer, Thomas Hardy, at the Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre. Read about his early life and enjoy the local landscape which inspired his works. The Visitor Centre is located on the edge of Thorncombe Wood Local Nature Reserve and a short walk from Hardy's Cottage where he was born.

Next to the Visitor Centre you’ll find the Under the Greenwood Tree Café, which is perfectly located for a coffee or lunch stop.

The Roman Road through Thorncombe Woods, Dorset

Photo - The Roman Road through Thorncombe Wood Local Nature Reserve

In the evening, there are lots of opportunities to eat out in Dorchester or nearby Poundbury. Or if you’re in town on a Thursday (and Tuesdays in School Holidays), you might like to join a Ghost Walk to hear about the grisly history of Judge Jeffreys and ghosts that haunt the taverns and alleyways.

Day 3

This morning, set off early for a walk to Maiden Castle – an Iron Age hill fort dating back 6000 years and one of the largest in Europe. It'll take about 30 minutes to walk or if you are driving, there is a car park nearby.

Maiden Castle, an Iron age hill fort near Dorchester. Photo copyright Historic England

Photo © Historic England

After walking back to the town centre, join a Roman Tour of Dorchester visiting the Roman wall and Roman Town House while exploring Dorchesters rich heritage. Tours are hoping to re-start in October and last up to 1 hour.

In the afternoon, see over 100 birds of prey at Dorset Falconry Park. Daily flying demonstrations will allow you to see the majestic owls, fast flying falcons and powerful eagles showing their natural abilities.  You can even adopt one of the birds as a gift or birthday present.

If you haven’t stopped for lunch yet, there is a tea room on-site plus a picnic area.

Eagles on display at Dorset Falconry Park

Optional extras for wet weather days and further afield:

Related

Dorchester
Market Town
credit Mark Simons

Historic Dorchester is the county town of Dorset with fascinating connections to Thomas Hardy and Roman Britain.

Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum
Museum
Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum

Shire Hall Historic Courthouse has now re-opened. Executed for arson - Transported for asking for fair pay - Given six months hard labour for stealing clothes. 200 years of justice, injustice, crime and punishment are brought to life at Dorchester’s Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum. The new immersive museum enables visitors of all ages to explore the history of law and order, as well as past and present efforts to achieve justice for all people.

Brewery Square
Family Fun
Brewery Square

Brewery Square is a vibrant and stylish regeneration in the heart of Dorchester which currently boasts a variety of shops, eateries and leisure facilities including; Nando's, Zizzi, Hobbs, Phase Eight, a Premier Inn Hotel, Anytime Fitness and an Odeon Cinema. As well as the well known brands of shops, eateries and leisure facilities, Brewery Square is also home to various independent businesses, such as Cafe Meru, Curiositea, Woods Furniture, Avenue Interiors and more.

Hardy's Birthplace and Thorncombe Woods
Country Park/Nature Reserve
Thornecombe Woods

Thorncombe Woods (and its car park) remains open during November. Check their website to check which facilities are open. Discover more about Thomas Hardy's early life at the Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre. The Centre is located on the edge of Thorncombe Wood Local Nature Reserve and a short walk from Hardy's Cottage. Thorncombe Woods is home to a great diversity of trees including mature Oaks, Sweet Chestnut and Beech. It is a mixed woodland and heathland nature reserve, covering 26 hectares. Explore the paths and connecting rights to way to Puddletown Forest and Dorchester. Running through the site is a well preserved Roman road which would have stretched from Dorchester to Badbury Rings near Wimborne.

Hardy's Cottage
National Trust Property
Hardy's Cottage - Thomas Hardy's birthplace

*LATEST UPDATE* Hardy's Cottage is currently closed. Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in this small cob and thatch cottage, which was built by his great-grandfather and is little altered since the family left. His early novels Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd were written here.

Dorchester Ghost Walk
Performance
Two of the tour guides for Dorchester Ghost Walks

This entertaining and enjoyable 90 minute walk around historic Dorchester highlights some of the places, people and events that have contributed to the town's 6000 year story. From pre-history through the Roman period to Judge Jeffreys and his Bloody Assize. The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the writings of Thomas Hardy and William Barnes all feature in this walk.

Maiden Castle
Historic Site
Maiden Castle, an Iron age hill-fort near Dorchseter, Dorset

The finest and one of the largest Iron Age hill forts in Europe.

Roman Tours of Dorchester
Show/Display
Roman Tours of Dorchester

*LATEST UPDATE* Tours hoping to re-start in October. Take a journey through time to ancient Roman Durnovaria, guided by resident Roman soldiers, who'll show you through the town and give an educational insight to how our ancestors lived here 2000 years ago. Visit the Roman wall and Roman Town House while exploring Dorchesters rich Roman heritage. Tours running every 2 hours, starting at 11am, 1pm and 3pm. Pre-booking your place 24 hours in advance is required. Due to Covid-19 we are running family private events. If your family group and another of a family wish to book a private tour we can tour with a maximum of 10 people so far. Social distancing is required.

Roman Town House
Historic Site
Roman Town House

*LATEST UPDATE* The Roman Town House and its grounds are currently closed for renovations. They are hoping to re-open the grounds towards the end of September. The only Roman Town House to be seen in its entirety in Britain.

Dorset Falconry Park
Animal Collection
Dorset Falconry Park www.visit-dorset.com

Closes 01/11/2020 Reopens Spring 2021 date TBC Dorset Falconry Park has now re-opened. Dorset Falconry Park is set in a beautiful rural 7 acre site in Lewell near the A35.  It has over 100 birds of prey on display which include Owls, Hawks, Eagles, Falcons and Vultures.  See them fly in daily flying demonstrations and enjoy the friendly atmosphere of this tranquil site. We pride ourselves on being personable and helpful and are confident you will enjoy your visit here.

1 Comments

Comments

  1. byzbee33
    It looks quite stunning,there seems plenty to do, a list of endless places to see and do. My O/h would like the birds of prey. I couldn't hold one on my arm, but he would love to. Its a very long way to go down there its about a 6 hour drive I should think. So would probably come down and stay a bit longer. I loved reading and looking at your Dorset website.

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