Dorchester... in pictures
PUBLISHED: 15:30 23 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:08 20 February 2013
James Kingston explores Dorchester, where great shops and restaurants blend perfectly with the county town's history and culture
The historic 'capital' of Dorset, Dorchester is the seat of local government, and the home address of some participants in Dorchester Crown Court's proceedings. Dorchester Prison's 18th-century walls tower over a delightful edge-of-town riverside walk and pleasant old cottages in Glyde Path Road. Dorchester has a thriving shopping, dining and entertainments culture, for everybody fortunate enough to live here or those just visiting.
An excellent blend of national and local independent shops brings residents and visitors back to Dorchester time after time. South Street and its three arcades are very popular and there's lots more. Don't miss the wide range of shops in the High Street, Trinity Street and Durngate Street. Blessed with innumerable restaurants, cafs, coffee shops and cosy pubs, Dorchester can satisfy the hungriest of shoppers.
Explore Dorchester's Markets
Dorchester Market was originally held where the Town Pump stands in Cornhill. There are still a few stalls most days, and Town Crier Alistair Chisholm begins his guided town tours here. The Wednesday Market moved to Weymouth Avenue in the 18th century, and it still attracts coach-loads of visitors. More recently, the popular Farmers' Market arrived at Poundbury. This month, it's on Saturday 1 August.
Visit the Riverside Reserve
Following the River Frome between Hangman's Cottage and Grey's Bridge, Riverside Nature Reserve is an unexpected rural retreat - 'far from the madding crowd'. Along the pleasant path, the sluice-gates and Mill Stream are part of the water meadows drainage system. Winter flooding stopped fields from freezing and allowed fertile river sediment to settle, promoting earlier spring grass for grazing cattle and sheep.
A bit of history
The Roman Town House
Even Time Team's Tony Robinson was impressed with Dorchester's Romano-British Town House. He recognised this site's importance as 'the only example of a fully exposed Roman Town House in the country, and definitely the best preserved'. The site was only discovered in 1937, when the new County Hall building works started. More information from 01305 221000 and www.romantownhouse.org.
The Grove brings the Sherborne road into Dorchester, where pleasant and shady Colliton Walk follows the line of the Roman town boundary on top of the left bank, and the Roman Town House is just over the wall. At The Grove's junction with High West Street, the fine Eric Kennington statue of Thomas Hardy sits contemplating the busy scene.
Dorset County Museum
Even empty, Dorset County Museum's Victorian building, with its magnificent hall, ornate balconies, cast-iron pillars and mosaic floors would be worth a visit. But, together with the world's largest collection of Thomas Hardy memorabilia, and the Jurassic Coast Gallery, it houses exhibitions on Dorset Wildlife, Prehistoric and Roman Dorset and Farming History. Open daily in August 10am to 5pm. 01305 262735 and www.dorsetcountymuseum.org
The Keep Military Museum
The Keep Military Museum occupies the original gateway into the Dorset Regiment's Barracks. It's a state-of-the-art military museum with interactive displays that bring alive the world of these soldiers. As well as the sights, sounds and scenes of soldiering going back to the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, there are magnificent views over Dorchester from the roof. open daily in August until 5pm.
01305 264066 and www.keepmilitarymuseum.org
Famous for ...
Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton in 1840, and he used local people, places and events in most of his novels and short stories. Bockhampton is 'Mellstock' in Under the Greenwood Tree and Dorchester is 'Casterbridge'. In Glyde Path Road, just off The Grove, is the thatched cottage of Dorchester's executioner. Hangman's Cottage featured in Hardy's short story The Withered Arm.
Maumbury Rings was a Neolithic henge monument, changed dramatically by the Romans into an amphitheatre and further modified during the Civil War into a strongpoint of Dorchester's defences. Today, its neatly mown banks stand testament to the tenacity of Dorset's famous dialect poet, William Barnes, who prevented the railway company building the Weymouth line from cutting right through Maumbury Rings. He made them divert the route past the eastern banks
An ascent of Maiden Castle Iron Age hill-fort rewards the adventurous with stunning views of Dorchester and rapidly expanding Poundbury. When the Roman invaders marched westwards from their bases around Poole, the resident Durotriges were no match for their superior armaments. One of the most spectacular Iron Age hill-forts in Europe, Maiden Castle is perfectly peaceful now, with sheep grazing the Roman Temple, and skylarks singing high above.
Things to do and see...
Tutankhamun Exhibition brings to life the discovery of the boy king's tomb. Open daily 9.30am to 5.30pm
01305 269571 www.tutankhamun-exhibition.co.uk
Terracotta Warriors Museum replicates the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World. Open daily 10am to 5.30pm
01305 266040 www.terracottawarriors.co.uk
Teddy Bear Museum is a delight for all ages. Open daily 10am to 5pm 01305 266040 www.teddybearmuseum.co.uk
The Dinosaur Museum is particularly apt for this 'Jurassic Coast' gateway town. Open daily 9.30am to 5.30pm
01305 269880 www.thedinosaurmuseum.com
Hardy's Cottage, Higher Bockhampton www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Dorchester Arts Centre: for August shows and cultural events 01305 266962 www.dorchesterarts.org.uk
For further information contact Tourist Information Centre in Antelope Walk 01305 267992
Go to our forum to tell us about your favourite place to visit in Dorchester at www.dorsetmagazine.co.uk./forums