Written by: Jill Jones
Dorset possesses not only a stunning coastline featuring some of the best beaches in the U.K., but also boasts bucolic rolling hills and vast woodland wilderness, perfect for those who favour long walks and hikes. It is also a decidedly dog-friendly destination. Dogs are welcome at most of the local beaches, parks, and preserves, as well as at many pubs, restaurants, and overnight accommodations. Why leave your dog at home when you can bring her along for a weekend seaside break full of active adventures you both will enjoy?
Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Dorset countryside beckons with sweeping vistas showcasing open heathland, grazing animals, and picturesque, historic thatched roofed villages—commonly described as some of the prettiest in the country. In addition to its beautiful beaches, Dorset’s expansive coastline features varied terrain ranging from dramatic, soaring cliffs to wind-chiseled sand dunes to quiet, secluded coves. Declared a World Heritage Site (the only one in England), the western coast of Dorset is often referred to as the “Jurassic Coast” because of the ancient rocks and fossils that abound there. The entire county offers endless possibilities for outdoor exploration.
Situated on the southwestern coast, stretching from Devon in the west to Hampshire in the east, and bordering Somerset in the north, Dorset is wonderfully accessible from much of Britain, convenient for a weekend visit. As is the case with many coastal locations, the ocean has a moderating effect on local temperatures making it a compelling getaway locale in all seasons.
Whilst a two-day weekend is not enough time to see everything Dorset has to offer, following is a sampling of some of our favourite destinations, starting in the western part of the county and heading east, to help you and your four-legged companion get started. Since we are partial to the coast, we will focus on it, though there are really wonderful destinations inland as well.
South West Coast Path
Image source: visitcornwall.com
No discussion of the southwest coast of England would be complete without mentioning the spectacular South West Coast Path which meanders 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in the eastern region of Dorset. Dog friendly and skirting some of the most beautiful areas in the country, it is ubiquitously accessible throughout Dorset and definitely deserves a stroll during the course of your visit.
Image source: Owners Direct
A good place to start in the region is in the delightful, ancient coastal town of Lyme Regis on the Devon-Dorset border. Featuring a scenic historic harbor set against millions-year-old cliffs, this tranquil town offers interesting educational and cultural attractions, many of which welcome dogs. There are several unrestricted, dog-friendly beaches nearby including Cobb Gate, East Beach, and Monmouth Beach, providing plenty of opportunities for fossil hunting and romping in the gentle waves. Another beach nearby, Charmouth, is commonly described as one of the top beaches in England, but some dog restrictions apply.
Image source: Thorncombe Village Trust
About a half-hour’s drive north from Lyme Regis is a perennially popular attraction, Forde Abbey, a stately working estate with stunning formal gardens, an arboretum, and expansive lawns inviting visitors to poke around and explore. Dogs are welcome everywhere except in the house.
Chesil Beach and More
Image source: pebblebank.co.uk
Heading southeast along the breathtaking coast, there is a plethora of beautiful beaches to enjoy with your dog along the way to Weymouth. In the Bridport area, you will find inviting beaches at West Bay, Cogden and West Bexington. Nearby at Abbotsbury is situated the fascinating Chesil and Fleet Nature Reserve, as well as stunning views across the water to Weymouth and Portland. Chesil Beach, an 18-mile pebble beach that stretches from West Bay to Portland, separated from the mainland by the Fleet Lagoon, is an excellent venue for walking and cavorting in the shallows with your dog.
A little further east along the coast, Weymouth Beach is the place to go for a bit of canine socializing, but not in summer, since dogs aren’t allowed. In summer, head to nearby Bowleaze Beach instead.
For a break from the beaches and to grab a bite to eat, head a half-hour northeast by car to Milborne Saint Andrew, a lovely, quintessential Dorset village featuring charming pubs and restaurants where dogs and humans alike are welcome.
Lulworth Cove and Nearby Attractions
Image source: Blue Chip Holidays
Returning to the coast, check out a magnificent famous local landmark, Durdle Door, adjacent to Lulworth Cove. Durdle Door is an astounding natural limestone arch formed by thousands of years of pounding waves. Situated in a beautiful cove outlined by a sand and shingle beach, Durdle Door is a perfect destination for both sightseeing and playing with your dog.
Heading toward Poole in the eastern part of the county, is the last of our favourite destinations we will cover in this post: Harbour Lake, a sheltered sandy beach where dogs are welcome year-round. It is bordered by a nature reserve, the home of some local seals frequently seen swimming in the harbour.
Dog Supplies for Travelling
Even when travelling to a dog-friendly destination such as Dorset, some advance preparation is in order to keep your dog safe and sound. Here’s what you need:
● Bring a sturdy lead and ensure your dog wears a collar with identification. Ideally, she should be microchipped as well in case her collar comes off unexpectedly.
● Pack enough dog food for the weekend, as well as portable food and water bowls.
● Include dog toys and treats ; they’re always useful to have on hand.
● Since you’re bringing your dog to the beach, odds are she’s going to get wet. Bring along rag towels to dry her off. If you care about keeping your car clean, you will also want to use a car seat protector.
● Don’t forget her bed ; having her own bed along will help her settle down at night in a strange place.
Bring along water and a portable travel cup everywhere you go with your dog—whether it’s a weekend adventure in Dorset, or a destination closer to home. She needs a constant supply of fresh water, particularly if she’s active in warm weather. And, we’ve said this before and will say it again, NEVER, EVER leave your dog in a hot car.
Mind the Cliffs
One of the Dorset coast’s appealing aspects is its dramatic, craggy, fossil-laden cliffs. But take care to keep some space between you (and your dog) and the top edges of the cliffs you encounter, as many of them continue to crumble with time. Similarly, when you’re on the beach down below, stand at a healthy distance from the cliff wall to minimise the chances of getting hit by falling rocks. And you should probably avoid the clifftops in foggy weather.
Other final notes include being mindful of the tides; don’t get trapped on a beach surrounded by steep walls when the tide comes up. Also, since it’s the coast, the weather is fickle, so be prepared for sudden changes.
To end on a positive note, Dorset is a fabulous holiday destination, no matter how much time you have. And it’s always fun to bring along a companion, whether human or canine. As residents of an island, we are particularly blessed to have one of the world’s most spectacular coastlines. Take the time to get out there and enjoy it.