National Trust places in Dorset to visit in 2023
One look at the National Trust map of Dorset shows that it is peppered with NT destinations. From the stunning sandy beaches of Studlands to the Venetian splendour of Kingston Lacey, there is such a richness in this part of the country to explore all through the year. When the winter months appear like they will never end, embrace the great outdoors, and discover all Purbeck and beyond has to offer. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty tesselate across Dorset with hidden aesthetic and historical treasures. It’s not just the Jurassic Coast in all its glory, there are also the landmarks of the writer Thomas Hardy to visit. A place of inspiration and contemplation, Dorset has excellent gardens to visit too, as well as chocolate box cottage charm.
The Kingston Lacey estate comprises an extraordinary garden, parkland which fosters rare Red Devon cattle, and a house that contains one of the National Trust’s most significant art collections. Established as a depository of world culture and art by Wiliam John Bankes, the walls are hung with Renaissance paintings by the masters Titian, Sebastiano, and Rubens. The Philae obelisk is a testimony to Bankes’ passion for curating the treasures of the world back in his Dorset country home. Once at the gateway to the temple of Isis on Philae, the obelisk and other Egyptian artifacts and hieroglyphics can be encountered here in this country estate. The full collection of art and artifacts can be viewed online to prepare for encountering this treasury in situ. This Venetian palace found in the rolling hills of Dorset was the “richest ever gift” to the National Trust, as it houses so many precious items from all around the world. The different rooms and their dedicated interiors offer a glimpse into the incredibly lavish lives of the Bankes family and their servants over generations.
Shown in the photo above By Vauxford – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71694032
The garden at Kingston Lacey
There is nothing that provides more solace in winter than the sight of snowdrops tentatively adorning the winter ground. The garden at Kingston Lacey is home to 40 varieties of snowdrops and cyclamen that appear during the inclement months of January and February. Pitching a magnificent contrast in the Japanese garden they often appear amongst the bamboo. Witchhazel provides some striking winter colour and the early camellias ensure the show must always go on. Created in the early 1900s the Japanese garden brings the East to the West with the signature Kingston Lacey aesthetic. In the early 20th century, it was considered a horticultural marvel and as be maintained as such to this day. A large kitchen garden and a new play area bring other dimensions to the various walks around the garden. Close by is Holt Heath, one of the largest remaining heathlands, roiling with wildlife and protected species. Badbury Rings are also easy to access from Kingston Lacey, taking the historical journey back to the 11th century. The Stables Café is around Kingston Lacey for refreshments. Entrance to the house gives you access to the gardens.
The iconic ruin of Corfe Castle on the Purbeck ridgeway is the subject of many misty morning photographs and GCSE geography projects. This majestic ruin presiding close to the Jurassic Coast speaks volumes about the passing of time. Originally established by William the Conqueror, Corfe was partially destroyed in the Civil War. The village of Corfe clusters around the base of the tumuli and hills. Ancient burial mounds add to the undulating mystery of this splendid vista point. The open nature of the site with its steep slopes and historical gravitas captivates children of all ages. From Corfe you can walk the ridgeway to Old Harry Rocks, and in season catch the steam train back from Swanage. Old Mill picnic area provides picnic tables next to Corfe River and there is a village tearoom, gift shops, and secondhand book shop to nose about in. A great stopping off point on the way to one of the beaches on this extraordinary coastline.
The birthplace of the poet Thomas Hardy was a simple thatched cottage in Upper Bockhampton, where he lived his younger years and began to pen his first poetic works. Part of the Hardy trail in Dorset, this cottage is open for weekend guided tours where you can walk in the footsteps of the young Hardy and his family. Close by are the Thorncombe Woods which you can also wander through, drinking in the natural solace and inspiration that was so important to Hardy’s creative connection with this place. Hardy continued in the tradition of his father as a stone mason before he established himself in literature as a Victorian realist with his novels and poetry. His sensitivity to nature and a sense of place is most evident in his poetic works which are imbued with a deep love for Dorset.
Max Gate in Dorchester became Hardy’s Dorset home after his marriage to Emma. To book a guided visit the National Trust website. Max Gate has been restored to evoke the life that would have been lived by Hardy, Emma, and his later wife Florence. Designed by Hardy himself the house, the house was built by his brother and the gardens remain as they were in Hardy’s time. You can walk through this home where Hardy wrote most of his significant works and where Emma found solace in her painting and sewing in the attic. Hardy died at Max Gate in early 1928. The garden features various gravestones, some carved by Hardy himself for the animals that also lived at Max Gate over time. As Hardy’s work was so significantly based on the surrounding landscape it is best to explore Hardy Country as a whole, including Max Gate but not being restricted only to this location.
Studland Bay is a generous four miles of perfect sandy beach surrounded by dunes and low cliffs. The gentle bathing waters with shallow waters make it an excellent place for youngsters to learn to swim and to practice various watersports. The views extend for miles across to the Isle of Wight and Old Harry Rocks in the panorama. Popular with families and dog walkers, whatever the weather there is a vibrant community of people enjoying this exceptionally kind shoreline. The Knoll beach Café provides drinks and snacks, and the Knoll Beach shop has everything you might need for an adventure-packed day on the beach. As far as seaside holidays go in the UK, Studland is exceptional. Viewing the green cliffs and pine trees of the shore from the fresh salty sea is an unexpected wonder for any swimmer or paddleboarder to enjoy.
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