- Eanna Brophy goes knocking on the charming doorway to Dorset
Ryanair’s direct flights between Dublin and Bournemouth have brought scores of extra visitors to the capital – but now the Dorset New Forest Partnership is keen to make it more of a two-way affair in a drive to attract Irish visitors to this green and pleasant part of England. (Website www.dorsetnewforest.com)
For those with a hazy notion of British geography, Dorset is on the south coast, 2 hours southwest of London. Bournemouth is a pleasant, prosperous seaside town of gardens and parks with a distinctly Victorian air, but catering for modern tastes, too. Down on the beach, surfers skim the waves right next to bathing huts that are redolent of another era, but still very much in use.
One must-see in Bournemouth is the Russell-Coates Art Gallery & Museum, housed in a mansion once owned by the Russell-Coates family, whose founders collected an astonishing treasure-trove of art and artefacts as they travelled the world. And a must-do is to dine on a Saturday night at the Langtry Manor Hotel, where the weekly banquet (6 courses from £39 a head) recreates the atmosphere that prevailed when the house was owned by Lillie Langtry, mistress of King Edward VII (he bought the place for her).
Dorset also boasts the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site whose layered, majestic golden cliffs reveal 185 million years of the earth’s history. Family groups will have a great day (or two) out at Charmouth, where the Heritage Centre, run by volunteers, offers a quick crash-course in fossil-hunting and the chance for happy families to go “prospecting” along its stony beach, where every second stone seems to secret an ammonite or even a bone from an ichthyosaur (ask any six-year-old: they know all those big, prehistoric words). Further info: www.jurassiccoast.com
On the way there you might stop off at Corfe Castle Village to see, not only a working steam-powered stretch of railway, but also the teetering remains of vast Corfe castle, one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about a bit – and disinherited the owners for taking the royalist side. (Our guides seemed blithely unaware of old Ollie’s Irish adventures).
The New Forest is of course anything but new: it dates from 1079 by decree of William the Conker, who loved chestnut trees (no, that bit’s from “1066 And All That”!). It’s a vast national park, dotted with olde worlde villages, with miles of open spaces, forest glades and peaceful walks, where you give way to wild (but very docile) ponies, pigs and deer. The place is a paradise, whether you choose to explore it on foot, on horseback or on a hired bike. Full info on www. thenewforest.co.uk
For the less energetic, and those in need of serious pampering it’s worth knowing that Bournemouth airport puts you within 20 miles of Chewton Glen, where the rich and famous (and even Michael Winner) repair for short breaks in the salubrious 130-acre surroundings of a hotel/spa/country club that has been voted the best of its kind in the world.
For all that, it has a friendly air; not all of its prices are eye-watering, and it has a range of special offers to tempt the cash-rich, time-poor cubs and cubesses of the Celtic Tiger.
n Visit Britain www.visitbritain.ie
n Dorset & The New Forest
n Abbotsbury Gardens
n Westbeach www.west-beach.co.uk
n The Hermitage Hotel
n Bridport Arms Hotel www.bridportarms.com
n The Riverside Restaurant
n Langtry Manor Hotel
n Charmouth Heritage Centre
n Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa
n Cerne Abbas Giant www.cerneabbas.org.uk
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