My Insider Style Guide to Dorset – Where to shop, walk, eat and sleep

Silvana de Soissons is the face behind botanical handmade soap & body product company, Farm Soap Co (https://farmsoapco.com/) based in Dorset. But she’s also a passionate blogger and expert digital native, with nearly 8000 followers on Instagram and a background that includes award-winning food blogging and running a deli & independent homewares store in Bath, Somerset. After visiting Dorset for over 30 years, Silvana’s finally achieved her dream of living here, so we asked her to share her style tips on where to shop, walk and eat and why there’s so much more to the county than the crown jewels of Bournemouth, Sandbanks and Poole.

Dorset. The rural backdrop of Thomas Hardy’s bucolic novels, bordered south by the185 million year old World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast, to the west by the gentle, rolling hills of the Marshwood Vale, to the north by historic towns like Sherborne and Shaftesbury and to the east by the 380 square mile Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty known as the Cranborne Chase.

If you’re looking to move here, hurry. Many are thinking just the same after the last six months of scrolling Rightmove for an escape to the countryside or signing up to estate agent alerts for seaside boltholes.

SYLVANA DE SOISSONS Katharine Davies Photography – www.katharinedaviesphotography.co.uk

Dorset has it all – coast and country- and a quieter, gentler pace of life, away from the motorways and massive conurbations, especially if you head west.

Bournemouth, Poole and Sandbanks in the east have their colleges, universities, high rise modern flats, busy beaches, millionaire mansions and bright night life, but if you head down the A35 as if towards Devon you will enter a very different pace of life, one almost unaltered for generations. There’s normal time and then there’s Dorset time. Whatever the pace and the kind of life you are looking for, Dorset can offer you a slice of that dream. 

Rambling Life

Eggardon Hill

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/eggardon-hill
An Iron Age hill fort and downland with views across the Marshwood Vale to the coast. So peaceful and deserted, it’s such a vast and green landscape filled with wonder. You are on top of the world – heady and light, the wind in your face and the soft grass beneath your feet.

Ringstead Beach

A beautiful, sheltered pebbly beach on the Jurassic Coast, run by the National Trust, with tiny rock pools and little coves for sitting in, overlooking Weymouth. You can go seaweed and fossil hunting around Osmington, further along the coast. It’s a gentle walk to the best bits – take comfortable, sturdy shoes, a picnic blanket, hot drinks and biscuits.

Cerne Abbas

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cerne-giant
A favourite village with so many people who dream of the quintessential English country life – it’s got a great village shop, wonderful walks and attractive pubs. THE place to walk the pooch because there are so many dog walkers here – so friendly and chatty. Head for the Abbey House, go into the cemetery and then out the other side into glorious open fields and woodland.

Milton Abbas

www.visit-dorset.com/explore/villages/milton-abbas
So quaint and implausible, built by the Earl of Dorchester, owner of Milton Abbey, in 1780, 36 identical thatched houses all in a neat row.  Some house-names give clues to the original inhabitants of the village: bakerblacksmithbrewery, etc. Today the houses are white-washed, and the main street also features a public house (the Hambro Arms), a Post Office-shop, the Tea Clipper Tea Rooms, a now redundant school building, and a Wesleyan chapel.  It’s like the perfect setting for an Agatha Christie film.

A large brick building with grass in front of a house

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Other great walks: around Bulbarrow, Plush, Minterne Magna, Melcombe Horsey, Dewlish and Ibberton. Grab an Ordnance Survey map, a pair of stout walking boots, a thermos flask of tea and crack on. You have never seen such beautiful countryside anywhere. Mind the cows.

Market Life

Bridport Market

www.visit-dorset.com/
Bridport is such a fun, inclusive town, filled with wonderful cafes, restaurants and shops – and the market has so many good stalls do make sure that you arrive early to get the best of what’s on offer and get a parking space (Rope Walk is the best car park).

Whenever I go, I head first to the Soulshine Café for breakfast and people-watching, followed by a walk along all the different stalls. Hay Penny Market Garden is the must see flower, herb, fruit and vegetable stall of dreams. I love to drop into Malabar TradingYellow Gorse and Ink & Page shops as well as the second hand bookstore and the health food store. Coffee and pastries at Gelateria Beppino are followed by lunch at Eat Dorshi.

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The St Michael’s Trading Estate is filled with antique shops – do have a look at Old Albion – a mix of reclamation, vintage kitchenalia and gardenalia and theatrical lighting. The owner Sharon always has fabulous furniture and accessories you won’t find anywhere else. The Bull Hotel on the High Street is now a Fuller’s Pub and is good for drinks and mussels and chips for dinner – always busy so do book.

Seaside Life

The 630 mile South West Coast Path stretches all round the southernmost tip of Dorset, taking in such landmarks as the Black Ven landslide complex, Chesil Beach, Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.  

The Hive Beach House and The Club House in West Bexington need no introduction, they are both so famous for fresh seafood, fish, outdoor dining and the views, straight on the beach. 

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Lyme Regis, of course, is a wonderful destination with its Cobb harbour. Mark Hix is back in business at The Oyster and Fish House – take a seat right at the front, by the windows, looking out on the immaculate gardens and the stunning waterfront. It’s a lunch you’ll never forget.

I love Swim  – again, right on the seafront, the coffee and pastries are great, lunch is fun and it’s part of the same family group that also owns Rise Cafe and the Rise Bakestore, which is a wonderful mini-farm shop on the outskirts of Bridport.

 The Seaside Boarding House 

www.theseasideboardinghouse.com
A wonderful Burton Bradstock hotel and restaurant, with great views, delicious cocktails and food and a stunning location. The menu is really quite short (always a good sign), super fresh and seasonal and the dishes are stunningly simple and perfectly cooked. Sit on the terrace, gazing out at the crystal blue sea, sipping something cold and fragrant, and you really won’t want to go anywhere else for your holidays. Top marks all round.

Shopping Life

Other than Bridport, there are also a number of destinations for retail lovers. 

Beaminster – a lovely, friendly, walkable town, no bigger than a large village really. It boasts the multi-award winning  Brassica Restaurant and just across the road a beautiful and ever changing lifestyle emporium called Brassica Mercantile.

Shaftesbury is home to the very chic and useful Botanical Candle Company that sells the very best gifts, homewares and little luxuries of life that are actually necessities, especially in a pandemic.

A store in a brick building

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You will be spoiled for choice at Ryder & Hope on the high street in Lyme Regis – such a magnificently edited and curated collection of fashion, toiletries, accessories, books, plants and presents – you won’t be able to stop yourself.

The same with Indica Interiors just a few doors down – an oasis of beautifully chosen goods.

At Molesworth & Bird they specialise in all things seaweed – the owners harvest and dry Jurassic Coast and Cornish seaweeds and create artworks, stationery, designs and textiles – it’s now a cult shop, featured in lots of glossy magazines.

Don’t listen to the voices that denigrate calm and peaceful Poundbury – designed by Dorset’s very own top architect and aesthete Ben Pentreath who lives nearby with his husband, the acclaimed gardener – florist, Charlie McCormick .  A wonderful shop called Cherryade will make you smile with surprise – housed in a light, white, bright, palazzo as if it were in a chic Manhatten department store. There is also an excellent and much acclaimed farm shop called a Brace of Butchers – spotless, well stocked and a destination.

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Sherborne has a very long and varied high street, with lots of side lanes, filled with little book shops, clothes shops and restaurants. Part café, part vintage and interiors shop, D’Urbeville is a lovely place to meet and eat. Artichoke Sherborne has an eclectic and interesting mix of decorative antiques and restored furniture, tucked behind the Abbey. Do get hold of a copy of The Sherborne Times – the excellent local magazine that tells you everything you need to know about the town.

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Foodie Life

As well as all the aforementioned restaurants and cafes, it’s worth noting that Dorset boasts 14 entries in The Good Food Guide, 2020.

The plot-to-plate ethos is at the core of eating at The Pig On the Beach, as it is with all their sites. The Studland location makes it a wonderful place for a staycation, with pampering spa treatments, a long list of cocktails and comfortable reception rooms filled with newspapers and squashy sofas.

The Ollerod in Beaminster is a hotel and restaurant serving fine food, and it has a lovely garden too. The Jetty at Christchurch is famous for fresh seafood, harbour side views and an excellent wine list.

A group of pubs stand out for relaxed atmosphere, seasonal cooking and a friendly atmosphere: The Brace of Pheasants at PlushThe Fontmell Arms in Fontmell Magna and The Anchor Inn at Seatown.

Dorset is home to a well renowned cookery school at All Hallowes Farmhouse, where top cook Lisa Osman teaches Aga cookery classes.

At Tamarisk Farm shop in West Bexington you can buy their excellent organic meat, grains, vegetables and wool.

On the Symondsbury Estate you can shop, eat, stay and relax, again near the seaside.

Dorset Shellfish sell the very best quality fish and seafood at regular Dorset farmers’ markets – check the website for details.

Fluffetts have a charming farm shop in Wimborne, selling their own eggs and a wide variety of fresh, farm produce. The town also has an excellent butcher, a greengrocer and a wonderful wholefoods shop called, Spill The Beans. And tucked away down a side lane, the Deans Court Café serves seasonal lunches and cakes.

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