Things to do this half term in Dorchester - October 2015

PUBLISHED: 10:49 28 September 2015 | UPDATED: 10:49 28 September 2015

Enjoy a Viking Sleepover at Dorset County Museum this half term

Enjoy a Viking Sleepover at Dorset County Museum this half term


A Viking sleepover in a museum, exploring a First World War trench or pumpkin carving at Thomas Hardy’s cottage, there’s plenty going on over half term in Dorchester, as Andy Greeves discovers

A Night or Day at the Museum

Want to spend your Halloween somewhere really unusual this year? Then make your way to Dorset County Museum where families can experience a Viking sleepover from 6pm on Saturday 31 October through to 10am on Sunday 1 November. The night will feature storytelling, re-enactments and craft activities with a special Viking theme. Tickets are £15 for children (7-13yrs) and £12 for accompanying adults with breakfast provided on Sunday morning. More details at

Also taking place at Dorset County Museum over the half term is a hands-on exhibition of Anglo-Saxon Art (28 October 10:30am - 12:30pm). Children will learn about how designs were incorporated into jewellery, carpentry, weapons, manuscripts and architecture.

Other history-themed attractions in Dorchester include the Tutankhamun Exhibition ( on High West Street, the Terracotta Warriors ( on High East Street and the Dinosaur Musuem ( on Icen Way. Don’t miss the magnificent Roman Town House (free entry), the only example of a fully exposed Roman Town House in the country, by County Hall near Colliton Park ( All the attractions are open daily..


Toys and Treats in Poundbury

Poundbury, Dorchester’s so-called ‘urban extension’, has prospered since building work first began there in the mid-1990s. The area, which is part of the Prince of Wales’ Duchy of Cornwall estate, now has 2,500 residents and 170 businesses on site. Full shop and café listings for Poundbury can be found at

Boos Toy Shop ( at 8-9 Butter Market is filled with toys and gifts for toddlers, children and teens. For budding bakers inspired by the BBC’s Great British Bake Off the Angel Cake Company at 12 Lydgate Street is a bespoke cake design company and one of the best retail shops for Sugarcraft essentials in the South West. They hold regular workshops and demonstrations.


Café Culture

The Horse With The Red Umbrella is a long established and much loved local café close to the museums on High East Street and it offers a great kids menu. Taste Restaurant, Café and Bistro ( in the Georgian House on Trinity Street (8:30am-4pm Monday to Friday and 9:30am-5pm on Saturdays) offers breakfast, lunch and coffees. Look out for their special evening events such as the 1960s Night Dinner and Live Music on 2 October, booking essential 01305 257776.

Another Dorchester gem is the Loft Café tucked away in Antelope Walk, just off the main high street. This quirky little café serves fabulous freshly baked cakes, tarts and pies, including veggie and gluten free options, using locally sourced ingredients. Though bijou, it only seats 20, it is an ideal place to sneak off for some adults only time or to buy something to take home and enjoy later.

Dorchester is blessed with not one but two speciality coffee shops: Number 35 Coffee House & Kitchen and Finca. They are ideal for adults needing a caffeine hit before heading off for a family day in the town, for a light lunch or simply to unwind after shopping.

Situated on 35 High West Street, Number 35 is run by Toby Frere who previously operated a popular mobile coffee van at Dorchester South railway station throughout 2011. The kitchen serves great homemade savoury tarts, cakes, flapjack and brownies and once a month they open for dinner. Coffee connoisseurs can browse the menu board of different beans from the likes of Extract, Square Mile, Union and Hasbean. Find out more at

Finca ( on 41 Great Western Road, has its own on-site roaster which roasts different green beans after hours, one or two evenings a week, guaranteeing sensational tasting espresso. There’s a good array of food too with homemade soup, toasted sandwiches, cake and even a dedicated toast menu!


To the Battlements

Recently awarded a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor, The Keep Military Museum on Bridport Road near the Top O’Town car park, offers a fascinating insight into the life and times of the Devon and Dorset Regiments. There is also a cracking panoramic view across town and the surrounding countryside from The Keep’s battlements.

This is a great place for grandparents as they will enjoy exploring its galleries as much as their grandchildren. There are plenty of activities for youngsters including a new photographic picture trail and colouring and brass rubbing tables. With the centenary of the First World War there are lots of excellent displays associated with the major battles that the Devon and Dorset regiments were involved in, plus there is a reconstruction of a First World War trench. So if your children are studying the Great War at school it’s well worth a visit to bring this period of history alive. More details can be found at

During the winter months (1 October to 31 March) the museum is open Tuesday-Friday 10am and 4:30pm. The museum is also opening on 24, 26 and 31 October during half-term. Visit for news of special half-term events.

If the weather is fine then plan a visit to Maiden Castle. This large and complex Iron Age hill fort is situated two miles south of Dorchester off the A354. It’s open during daylight hours and is a fabulous place for a family stroll and the kids can run around and explore. Dogs are welcome on a lead. Find more details at and click on Maiden Castle.

Also just outside Dorchester is Kingston Maurward, a grand Palladian house set in rolling parkland. Not only is this home to an agricultural college, but it also has a delightful Animal Park where children can get up close and feed a diverse range of all creatures great and small. Find more details at their website


A Hardy Halloween

Apple Day at Hardy’s Cottage on 31 October (11am - 3pm) features apple pressing, live music, storytelling, pumpkin carving and home cooking. The rustic cottage at Higher Bockhampton, just outside Dorchester, is where the writer Thomas Hardy was born in 1840. Now owned by the National Trust, it can be accessed along a bridleway or through Thorncombe Woods and is a 10-15 minute walk from the car park and the new Visitors Centre.

Another of Hardy’s former homes is Max Gate, at Alington Avenue on the outskirts of Dorchester. Also owned by the National Trust, this charming property was designed by Hardy (he trained as an architect) and it gives a real sense of how the wealthy middle classes of late 19th century Dorchester lived.

More details for both properties can be found at


Being Dramatic

Dorchester Arts, which is based at the Corn Exchange on High East Street, has a great autumn programme of live performances, classes and workshops. For a special half term treat why not book to see the AsOne Theatre Company’s production of Hans Christian Andersen’s dark tale The Tinderbox (16 October) which comes with a Jurassic Coast twist! Under 18s will love Pop Club’s Bhangra Workshop hosted by festival favourites RSVP on 24 October. To book tickets for both these events call the box office on 01305 266926 or visit for full listings.

If your children are artistically inclined then point them towards The Big Draw in Dorchester on 29 October (1:30pm to 3:30pm). This event invites children from 6 to 12 years to take part in a nationwide drawing festival. More at


Holding Court

Located on High West Street, Shire Hall is a Georgian Crown Court which also contains the cells which held the Tolpuddle Martyrs during their trial here in 1834. It’s a hugely atmospheric place to visit as much of the Grade I listed building remains unchanged from its original construction in 1797. During the summer there are guided tours of the building on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. After that, there are a series of special events at the on-site ‘Justice Café’ including folk musician Robb Johnson performing on 22 October and Vicki Hird, Policy & Campaigns director for War on Want, talking about food security on 30 October. For details of family events during Halloween follow the Shire Hall’s Twitter account @ShireHallDorset.


Dorchester’s Ghost Busters

Spectre, phantom, ghoul or ghost, which do you fear meeting most in Dorchester? Get into the Halloween spirit with a guided Ghost Walk lead by town crier Alistair Chisholm and fellow Blue Badge guide Chris Gallarus, as they tiptoe down the town’s historic alleyway and unlock Dorchester’s spookiest secrets. Walks are every Thursday until 29 October. Special half term ghost walk 27 October, Halloween Special 31 October. Meet 8pm at The Kings Arms. Adults £6, Children £3.


Be there or be Square!

Brewery Square is an 11 acre entertainment complex on the site of the former Eldridge Pope brewery. It’s something of a shopper paradise with high street names like Phase Eight, Hobbs, Gerry Weber, Joules and Jones Bootmaker. Family dining options include Cote Brasserie, Pizza Express, Nandos, Wagamamas and Carluccio’s which also has a deli.

Over at Brewery Square’s Odeon cinema, a new autumn season of screenings of theatre performances returns on selected Thursday nights at 7pm. An ideal date night for mum and dad, the programme includes Hamlet (15 October) and Of Mice and Men (19 November). The autumn schedule of dramatic programming includes screenings from theatres as far flung as New York! Tickets can be booked on 0871 224 1891 or visiting


Have a Go!

Try This … Dorchester returns to the town from 3 - 10 October. This volunteer led project, offers a broad range of activities and learning opportunities to local residents with 44 different sessions at venues all around town - many have been specifically designed for families and are all free to attend. New sessions for this year include Have a Go at Wheelchair Dancing, Laughter Workshop, Take Great Pictures with your iPhone and Yoga for Backs. Find a full list of events at



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