Devon and Dorset, or anywhere else in England
May 30, 2018 12:10 AM   Subscribe

Girlfriend and I are taking a short trip to England this summer and aren't sure where to go. We're thinking SW, but we need to factor in transit, etc. Any suggestions for Devon and Dorset, or should we be aiming for another part of the country altogether?

This is my first trip out of America in more than a decade. We'll be in Ireland, and from there we can get a cheap flight anywhere in the UK. All we know is that we're leaving Ireland on a Monday and will be getting to London by Thursday or Friday (flying out Saturday).

We're thinking Devon and Dorset: Girlfriend lived in England but has never been SW, and I have friends in coastal Dorset I'd love to see. We're "nice walks in the country" types more than "hitting every museum" types, but obviously won't go out of our way to avoid that sort of thing. Girlfriend is hoping for at least one castle or ruined castle to visit.

I am frankly baffled by the UK's rail system, where a 100 mile trip can take twice as long as a 200 mile trip elsewhere, which is why I'm having such a hard time figuring this out. That said, I would like to avoid renting a car and driving, since I'm convinced I would get us both killed. I'm assuming that means rural villages and parks are unfortunately inaccessible for us, or are they?

I was thinking we could fly into Exeter, and take the train along the coast, stopping in Dorset on our way to London. Are there nice, quiet places to stay within easy rail/bus distance of Exeter? Are we better off going someplace else entirely? Bath? Further north?

Basically: if you only had a few days to see England, had friends in Dorset, and had to get around exclusively by rail (and buses, within reason), where would you think of going?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'd suggest flying Dublin (or Cork) to Southampton rather than Exeter, as you can literally get out of the plane and into a train at Southampton within 10 minutes, and it's much better connected to Dorset by rail. You'll save masses of time that way.
posted by ambrosen at 12:53 AM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Firstly, Dover and Dorset are a long way apart, and not well connected by train. You would need to go through London to get from Dorset to Dover. Dover itself isn't much to see, just a port town; there's a castle and some cliffs but nothing you wouldn't see in Dorset.

So your plan to fly to Exeter, hang out in Dorset then go to London would be the best option, without worrying about Dover.

Next question - what to do in Dorset?

There are many walks along the Jurassic Coast, with classic areas being Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. Corfe Castle is in my view one of the best ruined castles in England and the surrounding village of Corfe is very pretty. From there you can get the steam railway to Swanage which is the quintessential English town and has beaches and walks on the Purbeck hills.

Nearest regular station to all of this is Wareham, plan your journeys and book fares on the rail journey planner

EDIT - I agree flying to Southampton will be much better
posted by el_presidente at 12:56 AM on May 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


OH jeez, my brain is awful! I meant DEVON, not Dover. Thus Exeter. Sorry, I've got a migraine.

How accessible are some of those sites by rail or bus? I've been to Corfe Castle, but we drove.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:01 AM on May 30, 2018


If you stayed in Wareham there seem to be decent bus & train connections - e.g. 17 mins bus to Corfe every hour, or train to Wool (1 stop) then 3 buses a day to Lulworth Cove. Or budget a bit for taxis - you will need to book them but using 2 or 3 times will be similar to car hire costs
posted by el_presidente at 1:13 AM on May 30, 2018


Corfe Castle will definitely scratch your ruined castle itch and as el_presidente says there is a steam railway from there to Swanage. Starting last week there is also a service direct from Yeovil or Weymouth to Corfe Castle on a Saturday throughout the summer. It might take a bit of organising to catch it but it's a big deal locally as it's the first mainline service to Corfe in nearly 50 years. Failing that there is a regular bus service from Wareham station to Corfe.

Another option would be Weymouth which is at the end of two lines from both Southampton and Westbury (where you can connect to lines to Devon). It's a larger resort than Swanage but remains traditional - it still has a Punch and Judy show and donkey rides on the beach. From there you can easily get a bus to Portland and from there to the Fleet & Chesil Beach. All are great options for half or full-day walks. The Guardian recently did a travel piece on Chesil & cafes in the area.

You could get a taxi (or bus) from Weymouth to Lulworth and walk back - it's about 10 miles, fairly hilly, but it hugs the coast the most of the way with spectacular views the whole way.
posted by jontyjago at 1:20 AM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


[Typo fixed.]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:30 AM on May 30, 2018


I am frankly baffled by the UK's rail system, where a 100 mile trip can take twice as long as a 200 mile trip elsewhere, which is why I'm having such a hard time figuring this out. That said, I would like to avoid renting a car and driving, since I'm convinced I would get us both killed. I'm assuming that means rural villages and parks are unfortunately inaccessible for us, or are they?
How are you getting around in Ireland? The Irish rail system is nowhere near as extensive as that in the UK and driving conditions are pretty similar, although most of Ireland away from Dublin is quieter. If you're driving in Ireland you can drive in the UK. Automatic cars are available to hire so gear changes are easy, and the wrong-side thing really isn't that tough - if you're anything like me, after the first few miles of "oh my god I'm on the wrong side what do I do?!" it clicks and feels normal. We have to deal with it whenever we go to another country!

Dorset is beautiful! Definitely head for Portland, it's pretty spectacular and there are fantastic views out from the top of the 'island' right up and down the Jurassic coast. Weymouth is a quirky, quite young town in contrast with a lot of British seaside towns which can skew a bit older these days. The Purbeck coast is lovely - there's also a fun little ferry from Studland over to Sandbanks (and thence to Bournemouth by car or bus) but watch out if it is high summer because it all gets a bit queued. I'm not a fan of Wareham, it seems like a bit of a nothing town and I had the worst curry I've ever had there, but it would work as a base if you aren't driving.

Please don't fall into the trap a lot of Americans fall into when planning a visit to Britain - "oh, it's a tiny country, we can see it all in a week". It's no fun unless you like looking at nondescript countryside out of train windows. Stay in one area like Dorset and really explore and get under the skin of the place, it's more interesting. I'd also steer clear of Bath. It's a beautiful city, but just too touristy and overcrowded. I don't find being in such places especially fun - you just feel like you're marching a well-worn path around town with a million other people.
posted by winterhill at 7:46 AM on May 30, 2018


My partner and I recently did this Dart Valley Trail walk booked through Let's Go Walking. It was the second walking holiday we've done in England, in which we walk from town to town through public rights-of-way through farmer's fields, something that is incredibly lovely and totally not possible in Canada. The company just picks up your luggage at the B&Bs it has booked for you, and transfers them to the next one, where they are waiting after your day of lovely walk-pub lunch-lovely walk.

This particular walk was great, but was not as spectacular as our first outing, which was in the Cotswolds (The Windrush Way walk, booked through Cotswold Walks). Might be because the first time for anything seems nicer, but I think it was also partly the scenery and built heritage of the Cotswolds.

My family lives in the UK and we often have a short time to travel around when we go over to visit. We didn't want to drive because I don't drive standard and driving on the wrong side seemed like too much stress for a holiday. But we wanted to see the country side. So the solution was walking.
posted by girlpublisher at 7:47 AM on May 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


I would probably just go to Dorset. You only have three complete days. You could easily fill that just on the Isle of Purbeck.

Get a cheap flight from Dublin to Bournemouth on the Monday and maybe spend the day in Bournemouth for a more cosmopolitan seaside experience before heading over to Swanage (1 hour by bus) to stay for a few nights. Swanage itself is a very typical small British seaside town with a pier and nice enough places to eat and a large country park and nature reserve in walking distance.

Take a visit to Corfe Castle by steam train on Tuesday: go round the ruined castle itself, go to the beer garden of the Greyhound Inn with the view of the castle, the food is good and the view is amazing because you also get to see the steam train; go to the place with the model of Corfe Castle, take a short hike starting on the well-signposted footpaths near the castle, admire the beautiful village buildings.

Take a trip to Brownsea Island on Wednesday (red squirrels, beautiful walks, first ever Boy Scouts) by bus, chain ferry and boat (really easy and not at all far).

You could meet your friends on any of the above days, or to do something else with them on Thursday (if they have a car then you have more options, like Dorchester, or Monkeyworld or the villages of Purbeck) travel to London on Thursday or Friday (bus to Bournemouth, train to Waterloo) possibly with a day in London, where there is always something new to do.
posted by plonkee at 3:43 PM on May 30, 2018


Thanks so much! Really helpful info! I was thinking Devon only because I've been to Dorset before and it seems sort of funny to spend our time in the ONE place in England I've already been; that said, I went in the winter more than a decade ago and didn't even see very much of it. Plus, obviously, that's where my friends are. I would have wanted to see Dartmoor, but it looks like that's pretty inaccessible without a car. It does look FAR easier to fly into Southampton than Exeter (I'll look into Bournemouth).

If it turns out friends are unavailable, I'll float the idea of doing that walking tour in the Cotswolds, if it's not too expensive.

How are you getting around in Ireland?

Ireland is a whole other thing, and it's complicated, but the short answer is that we won't be driving. I'd be willing to give driving a try (especially on quiet rural roads), but it may ultimately not be worth the hassle (cost, fuel, parking). I'll keep it in mind, though, especially if it'll open up rural nature spots that we'd otherwise not be able to get to (like moorland, for instance).
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:26 PM on May 30, 2018


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