Dorset is a Wessex county of chalk downs, a charming coast and the home of the stately and rural life lovingly captured in the novels of Thomas Hardy, a Dorset man, and before him by the Rev. William Barnes. The downs reach a height of over 900 feet in the west. Dorset’s farmland and the look it has bequeathed to the landscape has thankfully been little touched by excessive modern development.
The limestone cliffs of the Dorset coast are rich in nature and in other ways; Purbeck marble, Portland stone, and from the cliffs of Lyme Regis innumerable dinosaur fossils. Another curiosity of this coats is Chesil Beach, a unique pebble bank which runs some eight miles to the Isle of Portland, projecting into the English Channel south from Weymouth.
Weymouth and Poole Harbour are top yachting havens. Poole Harbour, a great island-studded inlet between Purbeck and the town of Poole, is one of the largest natural harbours in the world. Dorchester is a confident market town. The rest of the county is a landscape of farmland and villages with smaller historic towns.
County Town: Dorchester
Main Towns: Abbotsbury, Bridport, Dorchester, Gillingham, Lyme Regis, Poole, Portland, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Herbourne, Swanage, Weymouth, Wimborne Minster.
Main Rivers: Axe, Frome, Stour.
Highlights: Brownsea Island; Cerne Abbas Giant; Chesil Beach and Portland Bill; Durdle Door; Lulworth Cove; Maiden Castle.
Highest Point: Lewesdon Hill, 915 feet.
Area: 980 sq miles
County Flower: Dorset Heath