Best places for a picnic in Dorset

PUBLISHED: 15:15 24 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:15 24 September 2014

Corfe Castle offers a dramatic backdrop for a family picnic ©NTPL/David Levenson

Corfe Castle offers a dramatic backdrop for a family picnic ©NTPL/David Levenson

©National Trust Images/David Levenson

As the lazy days of summer draw to a close, Lucy Brazier wants us to get out for a spot of blackberrying and create some happy memories with a picnic to remember

My childhood memories are littered with family picnics - from hazy summer sandy beach ones and grand affairs with cutlery and a cruet set to the hurried ‘saving money at a tourist spot’ packed lunches. Knowing my love of picnics, my husband proposed over one in a beautiful Indian tent overlooking a lake which meant I couldn’t really say no. For me picnics are
a small lifetime obsession and now I see that picnic love reflected in my own children’s eyes.

When picnics are good, they are very very good but when they are bad they are horrid - changeable weather, tricky venue, missing sharp knife/corkscrew/kitchen roll, warm wine, wasps…I generally let the venue dictate the menu but my golden rule is - keep it simple. Don’t mistake a picnic for a grand buffet and waste hours cooking complicated dishes which are hard to transport. Be realistic and practical. Leave the china at home, instead take food out of packaging and arrange on a board that can also double as a place to chop. Cake tins with lids are both stylish and incredibly practical. Plus in the blackberrying season sandwich boxes and cake tins are the perfect receptacle for the fruits of your hedgerow foraging.

My favourite picnic includes homemade pasties or samosas (meat and veggie), bunches of radishes and carrots, a family pack of crisps (they are picnic law), a paper bag of cherries or other stoned fruit, and a robust homemade cake, like a boiled fruit cake, that can survive waiting in the heat. Add to this bottles of traditional lemonade (or lashing of ginger beer), flasks of tea (always do one more than you need) and a cheeky hip flask for a snifter to get you through the packing up.

As we live near the coast a large proportion of our picnics revolve around the beach, whatever the weather. In summer we barbecue during the bewitching late afternoon sun, ever hopeful of catching mackerel from the shore but always with sausages on standby. Out of season beach huts are easier to come by and we hire one (for the day) with a gas camping stove so rain doesn’t stop play. Enamel mugs of hot chocolate or tea accompanied by crisply fried bacon popped into a floury bap can be breakfast, lunch or tea.

Blanket arrangements vary for us. But the best way seems to be adults and food on one blanket and children on another. This way the youngsters have their own space and it can also become the entertainment zone with bats, balls, sketch pads and paints, books, throwaway cameras, binoculars, sun hats and jumpers, so you don’t asked for something every few minutes. When you have three children you get interrupted an awful lot.

Last year we spent a couple of days at Camp Bestival. On the first day we had breakfast, lunch and supper, mostly from the brilliant Great British Foodies tent. Delicious though it was, we swiftly spent our entire £150 budget. The next day I turned up with my trolley basket (a must have for regular picnickers), French bread poking out of the top, a round of camembert that ripened nicely as the day progressed and a big bag of tomatoes. It was an important lesson - picnics can be really cheap.

Finally, and high on my ‘why I recommend picnics’ list, it’s a no mess situation. If, like me, you have the sort of kitchen that needs hosing down after every meal this is the perfect way to entertain. It may take a bit of organisation beforehand but it is well worth it and my children seem to eat more and better out of doors. I just wish that, like the Queen Mother who threw some very stylish picnics at Balmoral, there was a discreet butler ready to hand me a G & T while he packed everything up in the back of the old Land Rover. Bliss!


Worth getting hold of…

Create Lasting Memories by Exploring Dorset is a free downloadable leaflet of 39 wonderful picnic spots recommend by the Dorset AONB. Each entry includes a brief description of what each picnic spot offers (rockpooling, great views, beaches, kite flying opportunities etc), how to get there, where to park, walking distance, picnic tables or bring a blanket, toilets, refreshments etc. Picnic spots include: Pilsdon Pen, Lambert’s Castle, Coney’s Castle, Charmouth Beach, West Bay, Langdon Woods, Eggardon Hill, Powerstock Common, Eype Down, Burton Bradstock, Cogden, Kingcombe, Maiden Castle, Osmington, Blackdown, Okeford Hill, Woolland Hill, Abbotsbury, Hod Hill and Hambledon Hill, Frampton, Cerne Abbas, Ringmoor, Turnworth Down, Arne, St Catherine’ s Chapel, Hillford Hill, Brownsea, Knoll Beach, South Beach Studland, Kimmeridge Bay, Tyneham, Lulworth, Worth Matravers, Povington Hill, Corfe Castle, Swanage Downs and Peveril Point.

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Afternoon Tea Picnic at the Castle

There’s nothing like an afternoon tea picnic with the backdrop of an historic building. A favourite for us is Sherborne Castle ( With 30 acres of gardens commanding spectacular views of more than 1000 acres of parkland plus a lake, space is not a problem for the children to run around in. Other Dorset castles worth checking out include Corfe Castle (National Trust) and Portland Castle (English Heritage) in addition Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne (National Trust) has spectacular grounds, beautiful gardens and a fascinating house to explore.

A Seaside Picnic with Fish & Fossils

There are plenty of gorgeous beaches to choose from in Dorset, but one of my favourites is Lyme Regis. There are two beaches - the child-friendly sandy beach, one side of the historic Cobb, and the stony Monmouth Beach the other side, which is also good for a spot of fossil hunting. Both beaches have beach huts to hire, access to loo blocks, fish & chips and ice cream shacks and a large car park between the two. Start the day on the sandy beach for easy swimming, rock pools and paddling with a picnic. As the afternoon ends head over to Monmouth Beach, set up the barbecue and maybe do a spot of fishing from the shore. Then enjoy an uninterrupted view of the sunset. If the tide is right take a walk to the end of the beach to what is known as the Ammonite Pavement and marvel at all the fossils. |

Hilltop Blackberrying Picnic

Stonebarrow, at the top of a twisty turny lane on the way out of Charmouth, takes you high up over the cliff tops with walks in both directions and magnificent views across to Golden Cap. Part of the National Trust empire, it is a top spot for blackberrying and one of the best Jurassic Coast picnic vistas I know. Park at the top of the lane in the designated car park and then head towards Golden Cap across the cliff top. A note of caution, this is a popular dog walk so check the area around before you set up camp.

Picnic and Paddle by the River

The ford at Moreton is a really picturesque spot and is just along from the church where T.E. Lawrence is buried. With a shallow river, a bridge and little islands, it is ideal for children. Another good picnic spot is beside the Frome in Wareham. Avoid the spot by the bridge at the quay where everyone goes, instead head towards Hamworthy, where there are lots of lovely spots to sit and watch the boats heading to and from Poole harbour.

The Point to Point Picnic

One of best family picnics is out of the back of an old Land Rover - children sitting on the roof and flasks of cockle-warming bullshot for the adults perched on the bumper watching the horse racing. In good weather you can set up a stylish picnic arrangement next to the car with chairs, table, cushions and gas hob out of the boot. In bad weather the picnic can stay in the boot, and be eaten out of boxes and brown paper.


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