church-holiday-cottage-in-studland-view1What does the word ‘Dorset’ conjure up to you? Cream teas and rolling hills? Thomas Hardy (especially with the new film adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd storming cinemas at the moment) and Broadchurch? Fossils and geology?

Perhaps less well known is the fact that Dorset is a bit of a hotspot for big cats, with 223 first-hand accounts described in Roaring Dorset! At any time of the year, our book A Dorset Country Calendar describes what to look for, with lovely pen and ink drawings by the author to help you spot things.

Have you heard of the Dorset Knob (which has a whole festival dedicated to it in May in Cattistock)? Or the Cerne Giant, a sight to see in his magnificent manly glory, adorning a hillside above the ancient village of Cerne Abbas (not sure what the monks would have made of that!). There are plenty of other odd goings-on in the Isle of Purbeck according to David Leadbetter’s book Paranormal Purbeck.

Whilst visiting Thomas Hardy’s Cottage in Bockhampton near Dorchester and Max Gate, the home he built for himself and his first wife Emma (both run by the National Trust) you can gain an insight into their lives with She Opened the Door: The Wife and Women who Haunted Thomas Hardy. Other more contemporary writers are featured in Dorset Voices, a great holiday read of short stories and poetry, with photographs – an all Dorset production.

Lawrence of Arabia’s unusual home at Cloud’s Hill near Bovington (also run by the NT) is worth a visit, with beautiful window engravings by Laurence Whistler in nearby St Nicholas Church, Moreton.

You might explore Europe’s largest hill-fort, Maiden Castle , with views of the Prince of Wales’ model town of Poundbury. Afterwards visit the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester to see some of the finds from here, as woven into Defenders of Mai-dun: A Story of the Roman Assault on Maiden Castle, which brings this period in history to life.

Swanage-Beach31If you want to get behind the scenes and see what most visitors miss, then our Lesser Known guidebooks to Swanage, Weymouth, Lyme Regis and Christchurch may be just the job. Get away from the crowds and explore the backstreets and local haunts. The Magic of Purbeck also has some great walks and photos of the stunning Jurassic Coast, ancient chalk downs and National Heaths around Studland, to inspire more exploring.

The Isle of Portland is definitely worth a visit, with its sacred geology and geometry, Masonic influences and history of ley lines, holy wells and Druids, revealed in The Spirit of Portland.

Step back in time and Discover Old Swanage. Swanage is so much more than just a traditional seaside resort, with loads of music festivals and even a dedicated Walking Festival in September.

If staying in Weymouth, be sure to check out neighbouring Preston, Bowleaze and Overcombe (and the book of that name). Jordan Hill has remains of a Roman temple and is a great

viewpoint, overlooked by King George III (a frequent visitor to Weymouth) on his grey stead cut into the hills above Preston. John Constable loved the area so much he honeymooned here, painting several local scenes.

Finally, if you still need a reason to come to Dorset, then Secret Places of West Dorset will be sure to inspire you. Follow secluded lanes and ancient tracks, prehistoric sites, nature reserves and timeless villages, mingling with ghosts and other folklore. Through it, discover the ‘genius loci’ or spirit of the place that is Dorset, and gain a richer insight and deeper understanding of why Dorset is such a special place.

If looking for a place to stay, Dorset Cottage Holidays offer hand-picked self-catering cottages that offer something special (http://dhcottages.co.uk/, tel 01929 481547). All our Roving Press books are available at www.rovingpress.co.uk, tel 01300 321531, with free p&p.