Footpaths and food in Dorset

By Michael Manton, Wednesday 16 January 2013

Dorset is the ideal destination for a short break or holiday, being more easily accessible to most of us than Devon or Cornwall. On a short family holiday there last autumn, Michael Manton was reunited with a beautiful countryside peppered with picture-postcard villages, sweeping beaches and a host of seaside attractions.

Golden Cap and the Jurassic CoastGolden Cap and the Jurassic Coast
Honeysuckle Cottage, Harcombe Bottom

We stayed at the sublimely-named Honeysuckle Cottage with cottages4you, in the pretty hamlet of Harcombe Bottom, between Axminster and Lyme Regis. This detached cottage was 50 yards down the road from Harcombe House, an old Victorian Gentlemen's Residence, where we could make unlimited use of the indoor swimming pool, tennis court and games room.

The cottage offered the best of both worlds – a tranquil and secluded residence away from other holidaymakers, but with a wealth of leisure activities outside our front door when we wanted to work off a few holiday pounds and have some fun.

The Jurassic Coast

Top of any Dorset visitors must-see list has to be the Jurassic Coast, which covers 95 miles of stunning coastline from Orcombe Point in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks in Dorset. It remains England's only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site and an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Of course, with 95 miles to choose from, you have to pick your place to join. We decided upon Seatown, a pretty seaside village sitting on the eastern side of the mighty Golden Cap. At 615-feet high, this magnificent rocky shoulder is the highest point on Great Britain's south coast.

For me, it was a welcome return – my grandparents had retired to Seatown in the 70s and I had spent much of my youth here. Pleasingly, very little had changed, and its mix of scenery, access to local walks, beach and pub had continued to make it a popular haunt in the summer months.

Golden Cap

Back in the 18th century, Seatown was a thriving fishing village and smuggler's haven. In fact, during this time it is estimated that practically every family in Seatown and it's companion village Chideock were involved in the smuggling trade, with Golden Cap being used as the perfect look-out post.

If you want to climb to the top of Golden Cap, you can undertake a four-mile, 191-metre climb from Seatown – AA Golden Cap walk. For the less adventurous, the National Trust's nearby Langdon Hill offers a pleasant footpath trail through coniferous woodland to the southern tip of Golden Cap.

As a young child, I remember scouring Golden Cap's cliff for fossils with my grandfather, and success wasn't as hard to come by as you'd imagine. Not surprisingly, the coastline around Seatown has now been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and those with a passion for fossils can join regular guided walks with a geologist and marine biologist hosted by Lyme Regis Museum.

Lyme Regis and Axminster

A couple of miles along the coastline from Seatown, Lyme Regis is a delightfully picturesque seaside town, with narrow streets and pretty cafes set around a sweeping bay and a harbour (called the Cobb) made famous by The French Lieutenant's Woman film with Meryl Streep.

On the other side of Harcombe Bottom to Lyme Regis is the market town of Axminster, which has lent its name to the carpets made here. It doesn't really hold the same tourist attraction for visitors, but foodies will know it as home to the canteen and deli owned by everyone's favourite old-Etonian, farm-running chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

River Cottage

As you would imagine, the River Cottage Canteen showcases food using only the best seasonal ingredients from local suppliers and we had a lovely lunch here. By happy coincidence, our visit here also coincided with the annual River Cottage Autumn Fair, so the following day we headed over to Britain's most filmed farm which, it turned out, was only two miles from Honeysuckle Cottage.

We were wowed by falconry displays and duck-herding sheep dogs (yes, really), and met the main man himself, who was signing copies of his latest book, Three Good Things. There were also cookery displays from many of the famous faces from the TV shows, covering everything from cooking with chocolate to making the perfect sausage.

It was a unique and thoroughly enjoyable day out, with something for all ages. Much like Dorset itself.

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