Dorchester Things to Do

  • Entrance to Max Gate
    Entrance to Max Gate
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  • Side view
    Side view
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  • Living Room
    Living Room
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Most Recent Things to Do in Dorchester

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    Max Gate - The home of Thomas Hardy

    by CDM7 Written Jun 19, 2014

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    As i had already visited the first home of Thomas Hardy (where he was born) last year i thought it was about time that i made a visit to Max Gate,the home that he designed himself.This grand old house which is some 400 years old is set in a large well kept garden.
    On arrival i found the staff very helpful and friendly,especially Daphne,who gave me an introduction into the history of the house.You are then free to wander around at your leisure,visiting the many rooms in the house as well as the garden and the pet cemetery where several of T.Hardy's dogs are buried.
    Parking is on the roadside with limited spaces and i can imagine that it could be a problem at busy times.
    Further information and photos can be found on the travelogue.

    Entrance to Max Gate Side view Living Room Study Thomas Hardy's Bedroom
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    Visit Thomas Hardy's birthplace.

    by CDM7 Updated Sep 22, 2013

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    This delightful cob and thatch cottage,which is situated in woodland close to the town of Dorchester is where the famous novelist and poet Thomas Hardy was born.Although trained as an architect working in London he soon became successful at writing and gave up architecture.It was at the cottage he wrote "Under the Greenwood Tree" and "Far from the Madding Crowd".
    The cottage has changed little from when he lived here.The rooms are small,a large fireplace is in the main room and a bread oven in the adjoining room.Although the front of the cottage now has a nice garden,in his days there would have been a builders yard as his father was a stonemason and builder.
    On the day we visited the actor,storyteller,folksinger and concertina player Tim Laycock was at the cottage.This added to the occasion as he read some of "Under the greenwood tree",before singing a song accompanied by the concertina.

    Front of the cottage. Hardy's Cottage. Where T.Hardy was born in 1840.
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    Visit Athelhampton House

    by CDM7 Updated Jun 26, 2013

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    This is a 15th century privately owned country house which is open to the public from March to October - Sunday to Thursday.
    The house was built by Sir William Martyn,the earliest parts of the house are Tudor.The great hall is an excellent example of early Tudor architecture.
    Thomas Hardy was a frequent visitor to the house and painted a water colour of the house at the age of 19.
    Restaurant available which serves drinks,lunches and cream teas.

    FURTHER PHOTOS AND INFO ON TRAVELOGUE PAGES.

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    • Photography

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    Roman Town House

    by ettiewyn Updated May 6, 2012

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    The Roman Town House was my favourite attraction in Dorchester, besides Maiden Castle of course. I found it really fascinating and interesting and stayed here for a long time. Unfortunately the self-serving machine selling guidebooks did not work.

    The house was only discovered in the 1930s. It dates from the 4th century A.D. - construction began at about 300A.D. and it was often altered with the last phase of construction in 500A.D. During the four different phases of construction, different new buildings were added to the house, and it developed from three simple and small buildings into the impressive home of a wealthy family.

    The remains of the house are now covered by steel frame with transparent walls, so that they are protected from the elements but visitors can still see everything. Unfortunately taking pictures is a little difficult due to the reflections.

    Picture 1: The most beautiful mosaic was located in the owner's office
    Picture 2: The Roman Town House seen from the entrance, you can see the steel frame and roof protecting it
    Picture 3: A well located in the centre of the house
    Picture 4: Another one of the beautiful mosaics in the house
    Picture 5: The hypocaust, an underfloor heating system

    Admission free!
    Open all day, all year

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    Holy Trinity Church

    by ettiewyn Updated May 6, 2012

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    Holy Trinity Church is a catholic church in the centre of Dorchester. It was not open to visitors when I was there, but what I loved was the beautiful small garden located at the back of the church. It looked so inviting and was a great place for a short break in the sunshine. According to the town walk this area is called Grey School Passage, but I could not find out why.

    Holy Trinity is located upon the remains of a church from the 11th century, but the present church is Victorian. It is a grade II listed building in the style of the Gothic revival. The church was already mentioned in the Domesday Book. As I said, I did not see the interior of the church, but the website says that there is a wooden panelling in which the names of all the clergymen who have ever served there since 1302 are carved! Wow!

    The present building was finished in 1876 and became a catholic parish church in 1976, previously it belonged to the Church of England.
    In the 17th century, John White was the rector of Holy Trinity (as well as of St Peter's) - for more information about his interesting life see the tip about his house in Off The Beaten Path.

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    • Religious Travel

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    Dorset County Museum

    by ettiewyn Updated May 6, 2012

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    Dorset County Museum is one of the main sights in Dorchester and it shows many things of very different topics connected to Dorset.
    First of all, the building itself is interesting from the outside, and parts of the interior are very beautiful. The Victorian Hall is one of the main exhibition spaces and it is wonderful. It was built in 1884 when the museum was founded. When I visited, the Victorian Hall was showing Roman exhibits like mosaic floors, but the leaflet of the museum said that a new exhibition about the museum will be installed.

    I liked the Roman exhibition very much and also the archaeological section which explained a lot of details about Maiden Castle and showed artifacts that were found there. Another exhibition I really liked was the one about writers in Dorset: There is big replica of Thomas Hardy's writing room, information about him, and also a section about Jane Austen and other writers from Dorset.
    Of course there many other exhibits, too, for example one small case about Sir Walter Raleigh who was Member of Parliament for Dorset in 1598.
    The Jurassic Coast section was not too interesting in my opinion.

    In general, I was a bit disappointed with this museum as somehow I expected more for the high admission fee. I cannot really say why, maybe it was also because staff were not too friendly when I arrived, and I was put off by the rules concerning photographing. It is allowed to take pictures, but only for your own private use and study. You are not allowed to put them on your website or publish them in any other way. If you want to take pictures, you need to ask for it when you enter, and you need to sign a paper that says that you will only use the picture for your own private study.
    Hm, I am not sure what to think of this!
    I really liked the shop of the museum, though, there were many interesting books about Dorset, as well as some nice postcards. And I bought some chocolate ammonites as a funny present for my dad :-)

    Admission fee: £6,50 adults, no concession, up to two children free with parents, £2 for each additional child
    Opening times: Open daily except sundays - April to October 10.00am to 05.00pm, November to March 10.00am to 04.00pm

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    St Peter's Church & William Barnes statue

    by ettiewyn Updated May 6, 2012

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    St Peter's Church is located directly in the town centre, next to the Dorset County Museum. I thought it looked very interesting and so I had a look and found out that it was open to visitors. The original building dates back as far 1454, but it was substantially altered and renovated in 1856 and now looks very Victorian, although there are still some parts of the previous building incorporated in the present.

    In front of the church there is a statue of William Barnes, one of the most famous writers from Dorset who wrote some of his works in the local dialect and was the tutor and later friend of Thomas Hardy. He served as a rector in nearby Winterbourne Cane and is therefore associated with Dorchester. He published a dictionary of the Dorset dialect and also produced more than a two hundred engravings showing rural scenes from this county.
    You can see his statue in picture 4.

    John White, who was very important in the history of Dorchester and played a role in the settlement of North America, is buried in the porch of the church. You can read more about him in my Off The Beaten Path tips.

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    The Roman Wall

    by ettiewyn Updated May 1, 2012

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    The town of Durnovaria was surrounded by a strong wall, and parts of this wall can still be seen. There is a long piece of it south of The Grove, between Princes Street and High West Street.
    It is supposed that the wall was built at about 200A.D., and reinforced about a hundred years later. It was originally 6m high and 2,5m thick. There were probably four gates, the aqueduct entered the town through the west gate.

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    The Mayor of Casterbridge House

    by ettiewyn Updated May 1, 2012

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    The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of Thomas Hardy's most famous novel (as I said, I have not read it so far). Of course it is fictional, and it takes place in the fictional town of Casterbridge, but because this town was based on Dorchester, it is still possible to identify places in the town that Hardy used. I came across one of these, the house where the Mayor of Casterbridge is reputed to have lived. There is a blue plaque, so it is easy to identify it. It is a red brick building from the 18th century and is now used as a bank.

    If you are interested in Thomas Hardy and want to see more locations connected to him, you might want to do the Thomas Hardy Walk.

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    Thomas Hardy statue

    by ettiewyn Updated May 1, 2012

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    Dorchester is famous for is connection to Thomas Hardy, who based his fictional town of Casterbridge on the town, and his fictional county of Wessex on the Dorchester region. The real area is now often called "Thomas Hardy country", and the writer is mentioned everywhere (there is for example a big section of the Dorset County Museum devoted to him, and his novels are sold in many shops).

    Hardy was born in a village close to Dorchester in 1840. He spent most of his life in the town. For a few years he lived in London as a young man, but never liked it there and soon returned to Dorset.
    I can't say more about him because I have not yet read any of his novels, but I really want to and I know that some of them have also been turned into successful TV adaptions.

    A big statue of him is located at The Grove. It was sculptured by Eric Kennington in 1931 and unveiled by James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, who was a friend of Hardy.

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    Mill Stream Walk

    by ettiewyn Updated Apr 30, 2012

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    This is a very nice walk in the north of the town centre, it is very idyllic and pretty. The Mill Stream is a branch of the Frome and walking here I felt like being in the country side, although I was actually still in the town. I think it must be even prettier when it is another season, and everything is green, or when the leaves turn red and brown in autumn.

    Mill Stream has been modified a lot over the centuries and has been considerably straightened, but in 2011 a wildlife project was started to make it more suitable for local wildlife. Parts of the stream was narrowed and small pools were created to make the stream a habitat for fish and others.

    The stream eventually flows into Poole Harbour.

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    Old Crown Court

    by ettiewyn Updated Apr 30, 2012

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    I had never heard about the Tolpuddle Martyrs until I read about them on Cathy's Tolpuddle page, but I suppose that their story is more widely known in the UK. They were a group of six agricultural labourers living in Tolpuddle who in 1832 formed something like the first trade union in the world, the "Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers". They particularly demanded higher wages, as they were paid much less compared to workers in areas where the industrial revolution was taking place.
    Although groups like this were already allowed at the time, the land owner succeeded in having them tried. The trial took place in Dorchester!
    The men were sentenced in 1834 and subsequently deported to Australia, but they became local heroes and 800,000 signatures were collected demanding their release. Their supporters were successful and five of them were indeed released (one member was not because he already had another criminal record).

    The court where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced is preserved and can be seen by visitors. It is located next to the Stratton House council building and can be accessed from there. You need to write down your name and the time in a list when you enter and then you are free to walk around the historical court room on your own. There are also information boards on the Tolpuddle Martyrs. You need to sign out when you leave again.

    No admission fee!
    Opening times: 10.00am to 12pm, 02.00pm to 04.00pm monday to friday. In August, there are guided tours on monday and thursday afternoons that also include the cells and stock below the court which can not be seen on other days.

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    The Grove

    by ettiewyn Updated Apr 29, 2012

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    The Grove is the equivalent to the South Walks. It is a long tree-lined street that is located upon the old Roman down defenses. Actually, the road where the cars go is located within the former ditch, while the pedestrian way is located upon the earth embankments. Apart from the cars going past you it is a very nice walk and I also saw many daffodils here. At the southern end of The Grove there is a piece of the Roman Wall and the Thomas Hardy Statue, while at the northern end there is the Roman Town House.

    I think these green, tree-lined streets make Dorchester a very pleasant town, and in late spring, summer and autumn it must be even prettier! I also find it fascinating that parts of the Roman town still make up important parts of the contemporary town. I was never aware of such a thing before. While I walked along The Grove I imagined that exactly where I now walked in such a peaceful atmosphere, about two thousand years earlier men were fighting to defend their town, or standing guard to watch out for enemies... And these men had built the very embankment on which I walked now. Wow!

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    Teddy Bear Museum

    by ettiewyn Updated Apr 29, 2012

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    Haha, please don't make fun of me - but yes, I really visited the Teddy Bear Museum in Dorchester. I walked past it and thought it looked cute, and so I walked in. Although I now only own one teddy bear - the one I got as a present for my first birthday - I always felt fond of them!

    Inside, you get a leaflet to guide you around the museum. The museum is set up as the home of a family of teddy bears and the leaflet describes their history and their lives, in the style of museums about real people. You get to meet the whole family and see how they go about their daily business. It is really done very nicely and is quite cute, but also a little eerie because some of the bears are so big! Everything is decorated in Edwardian style, so it looks very old-fashioned.
    There are also a few rooms with showcases and shelves full of different bears, for example of the Steiff brand, and a room dedicated to bears of the literary world, mainly Pooh the Bear and Paddington. Of course there is also a shop.

    So all in all I think it was quite nice, but I think that the fee is too expensive. In case you are not a collector of teddy bears and very interested, you might want to use your time for something else while in Dorchester. I especially thought that there would have been more information about the history and development and the cultural phenomenon of teddy bears. There was a little, but not much.

    Picture 1: Meet the head of the family!
    Picture 2: One family member brought this mummy back from a trip to Egypt!
    Picture 3: More teddy bears...
    Picture 4: Eerie big bears that look like humans.
    Picture 5: In the bedroom.

    Admission fee: £5,99 adults, £4,99 concession, £3,00 children, £17,99 family
    Opening times: April to September 10.00am to 05.00pm, October to March 10.00am to 04.00pm, closed 13th to 26th December

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    Town Pump and town walks

    by ettiewyn Updated Apr 29, 2012

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    The Town Pump is the starting point of the four walks around the town centre which were developed by the tourist association of Dorchester. They all start and end here, and there is a big board showing a map and descriptions of the walks.
    You can get a special map with descriptions of the walks at the tourist information to take it with you for your exploration of the town. I only did the Roman Town Walk, but I liked it very much and found it very interesting. The description says that it takes about 45 to 60 minutes, but I almost took two hours - maybe the 45 to 60 minutes are the walking time, without stopping at the places and the actual sightseeing. A lot of things I describe on this page, especially the Off The Beaten Path tips, I saw during this walk, and there were even some more details which I do not mention here. I enjoyed it very much and really do recommend it. I think that I saw a lot more of Dorchester because of this walk than I would have otherwise.
    The other walks are: Town and River Walk (30 to 40 minutes), Thomas Hardy Walk (75 to 90 minutes) and Gallows Walk (45 to 60 minutes). I would love to do these on a later visit.
    The walks are described very well and the map is very good, so I only got lost once :-)

    The Town Pump is located where High West Street and High East Street meet, at the junction with South Street, close to the tourist information. It is very easy to find. This is a pedestrian area and there are a few benches placed around the pump, so it is also a good place to have a rest before or after your walk. Actually, the real pump is not there anymore - there is just an obelisk which was erected in 1784 where the original town pump once stood.

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    • Archeology

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