10 things to see and do in Dorchester
PUBLISHED: 10:38 19 January 2015 | UPDATED: 10:47 19 January 2015
© R.W.Brown 2014
Situated on the banks of the River Frome, there’s plenty to explore in this lovely county town from dinosaurs and pharaohs to Michelin star dining and Hardy’s Casterbridge
1 - A Day at the Museums
Over two million people have visited the Tutankhamun Exhibition at 25 High West Street which has superbly recreated Tutankhamun’s tomb, treasures and mummy. The exhibition has the same opening times as The Dinosaur Museum and more details can be found at tutankhamun-exhibition.co.uk. Including this museum and the Dinosaur Museum there are actually six brilliant museums to visit in Dorchester, so why not make a day of it? There’s the Teddy Bear Museum and the Terracotta Warriors Museum, both of which can be found on Salisbury Street. The Keep Military Museum, on Bridport Street, is all about the history of the Devonshire and Dorsetshire regiments and they have Hitler’s desk. And the Dorset County Museum on High Street West, covers everything from rare fossil finds from the Jurassic Coast to fine art.
2 - Café Culture
Dorchester has a wide array of cafés, but if you love your coffee then I would personally recommend the fantastic Number 35 at 35 High West Street. Run by Toby Frere, who admits he is “a bit geeky” when it comes to his coffee, the care and attention he puts in results in one of the best cups of coffee in the county – their flat white is especially good! More details can be found at coffeehouseandkitchen.com.
Plaudits also for The Loft Cafe at 16 Antelope Walk, a delightful little shopping arcade just off the High Street. Focusing on Dorset products and seasonal dishes, the design of the cafe is delightfully quirky and the range of food deliciously eclectic, (loftcafe.co.uk)
3 - Market Day
Dorchester is well known for its weekly outdoor market, which is held every Wednesday between 6:30am and 3:30pm. With fresh meats, fruit and veg, cheeses etc, the market is a great place to stock up your fridge and larder for the week! Parking is available in the adjacent Lower Fairfield Car Park (DT1 1QW), while the market is also just a short walk from Dorchester South station. The popular monthly Farmers’ Market is held in South Street on the fourth Saturday of the month and attracts a huge range of local food and drink producers.
4 - Where Dinosaurs Rule
The award-winning Dinosaur Museum on Icen Way continues to be a real family favourite. If you have dinosaur mad youngsters they will love this place. The attraction combines fossils, skeletons and life-size dinosaur reconstructions with plenty of hands on, interactive and audio visual displays to bring the dinosaurs back to life. It’s a great place to visit on a rainy day and is open daily all year around, 10am to 5pm between April and September and 10am to 4pm from October to March.
See the website, thedinosaurmuseum.com for more details and to download money saving vouchers on tickets.
5 - Hardy’s Casterbridge
Max Gate, the former Dorchester home of the renowned writer and poet Thomas Hardy, opened to the public back in 2010. Hardy, who originally trained as an architect, designed Max Gate and lived there with his wife from 1885 until his death in 1928. The property on Alington Avenue (DT1 2AB) is now owned by the National Trust. The venue is closed for the winter but reopens in March, more information can be found at nationaltrust.org.uk/max-gate. Dorchester features in Hardy’s novels as the town of Casterbridge and is the main location for the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. There is a reconstruction of Hardy’s study at Dorset County Museum in the High Street along with other Hardy memorabilia. And the statue of the great man himself, beside the Top o’ Town roundabout, is one of the most recognisable landmarks in town. Nearby at Higher Bockhampton (DT2 8QJ) you can visit the evocative cob and thatch cottage where Hardy was born in 1840. Now owned by the National Trust (NT), Hardy lived here until he was 34 and wrote Far From the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree here. Though the cottage is closed over winter (opens in March) the newly opened NT Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre, on the edge of Thorncombe Woods, is open all year and is just a short walk from the cottage. Here you can discover more about the landscape and home life of Dorset’s most famous son. A café on site offers a locally sourced lunch menu and scrummy cream teas and cakes.
6 - Royal Approval
Poundbury is the much talked about new town development on the outskirts of Dorchester. Built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, and inspired by an architectural vision of HRH Prince Charles, it draws on traditional ideas of an English town without zones and an integrated community of shops, businesses, and private dwellings. Work began on this ‘urban extension’ of Dorchester in 1993. Some 21 years later it is home to over 2,500 people and there are 170 thriving businesses on site. It is a delightful place to explore, with elegant buildings, wide boulevards and a wealth of wonderful shops include art galleries, award-winning boutiques, garden centre and florist, a cake shop, vintners, interiors designers and kitchen store as well as a wide range of cafes and restaurants and independent food shops. For a full listing of businesses visit discoverpoundbury.co.uk.
7 - That’s Entertaiment
Established in the town for over 30 years, Dorchester Arts on School Lane has a packed programme of theatre, music, comedy, workshops and exhibitions. Event listings can be found at dorchesterarts.org.uk/whats-on. In August the One World Festival celebrates Dorset’s diversity with a multi cultural celebration at Dorchester Borough Gardens featuring world food, music and activities the 2015 event is on 1st August. Another free event, which is on 29th August, is the Anonymous Festival at Maumbury Rings on the outskirts of Dorclhester. This natural amphitheatre hosts an all day programme of local bands, dance groups and performers as well as plenty of family activities.
8 - A Taste of Dorchester
Sienna is the only Michelin star restaurant in Dorset, and you’ll find it at 35 High West Street, Dorchester. Run by talented husband and wife team Russell and Eléna Brown, the award-winning bijou restaurant serves seasonally led menus using regional produce. Lunch starts at £25.50 for two courses and dinner from £45 for three courses. Of particular note is their amazing seven course Tasting Menu with matching wines – a true gourmet experience. (siennarestaurant.co.uk).
Also worth check out is the Durnovaria Bar & Café situated in the listed building formerly occupied by Dorchester’s main Post Office, 43 South Street. Durnovaria - the Roman name for Dorchester – is a convivial venue with local produce showcased on its menu. There’s live acoustic music on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, and a funk and soul night once a month on a Friday, in addition to special events throughout the year. Their impressive cocktail menu features their unusual in house creations such as the Durnovaria Corpse Reviver #2 with Bohemian absinthe and a refreshing and fragrant Elderflower Mojito (durnovariabar.co.uk)
9 - At home with the Romans
The Roman Town House in Dorchester has featured on Channel Four’s Time Team and is the only example of a fully exposed Roman Town House in the country. Built in the fourth century AD it was discovered almost by chance during an archaeological dig in 1937. It is believed to have been the home of a wealthy local Romano-British family and features some very fine floor mosaics. The house, which is in Colliton Park next to the Dorset County Council building, is free to visit and there are a range of tours to choose from including guided and virtual. Sadly, flooding during last year’s wet winter caused some damage to the house’s mosaics and emergency works are currently taking place though the venue is still open. Visit www.dorsetforyou.com/roman-town-house for more details.
10 - Browsing in Brewery Square
Situated on the site of the former Eldridge Pope brewery, Brewery Square is a vibrant 11 acre development in the heart of Dorchester. The complex is home to a three-screen Odeon cinema as well as restaurants and cafes such as Cote Brasserie, Pizza Express, Carluccio’s, Nandos and Wagamama. Shops include Phase Eight, Hobbs, Gerry Weber, Joules and Jones Bootmaker. A Premier Inn hotel opened there recently, and there are future plans for a luxury spa hotel to be accommodated on the site. Visit brewerysquare.com for full details.
Let’s move to Dorchester
Last year, most property sales in Dorchester involved flats which sold for on average £184,998. Terraced properties sold for an average price of £232,073, while detached properties fetched £346,534. Dorchester, with an overall average price of £237,691 was cheaper than nearby Poundbury (£300,299), Preston (£268,213) and Puddletown (£258,978). During the last year, sold prices in Dorchester were 3% down on the previous year and similar to 2011 when the average house price was £239,372.
Brewery Square - A host of apartment buildings have been built as part of the Brewery Square development, with apartments and duplexes available from £150,000 to £475,000 and penthouses priced from £295,000 to £1m. All new apartments in the following buildings have been sold -Ammonite, Screen House, Fairfield, Bonded Stores and Eldridge Pope. However, apartments, duplexes and penthouses are now available in The Cooperage and Keg Store (to be completed in 2015) and The Cooperage (which is to be completed in 2016).
Pricing information from rightmove.co.uk (average prices correct as of December 2014).