Stop by Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch, when near Lulworth in Dorset, England. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Feature image (above): Visitors to England might set aside a few days to explore the scenic Jurassic Coast. // © 2015 Thinkstock
The South Coast of England is unlike any other coastline in the world. Driving its roads offers gorgeous landscapes ranging from vast forests, rolling hills and geological formations alongside interesting cities, towns and historic sites. A visit to the South Coast lends itself to a short two- to three-day adventure by car, allowing travelers to experience some of the smaller and lesser-known sites along the way.
A major part of the drive is the 95-mile stretch along the English Channel known as the Jurassic Coast — a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located between Dorset and East Devon, it is named for the unique geological spectacle that has allowed rocks of different ages dating back 250 million years ago to layer on top of one another. This creates a foundation that is more commonly observed deep beneath the earth’s crust, thus making it a truly spectacular site.
The stretch is also known for the various fossils often found on its shores. The coastline’s unique features are also presented through impressive rock formations, the highlight being Durdle Door in West Lulworth. The iconic limestone arch is a stunning doorway to the sea.
The Lulworth Estate, where the Durdle Door is located, is an aristocratic land holding that has been in the Weld family since the 1641. Guests can visit its castle, tour the grounds and even stay on the estate at the luxurious Durdle Door Holiday Cottages. The cottages offer accommodations for three to 14 days, making it the perfect base to explore the other sites and cities in the area.
From there, travel along to Swanage, a quaint seaside town offering shops, restaurants, cozy pubs and other seaside attractions, including a Victorian-era pier. However, what really sets Swanage apart from other seaside towns is its proximity to Corfe Castle. To visit Corfe Castle from Swanage, travelers do not need to drive; they can also take a ride along the Swanage Railway, a heritage steam railway that runs through the Isle of Purbeck to various historical sites.
This castle ruin is a great place to encounter British history at its finest. It was first built more than 1,000 years ago and has had a glorious, and sometimes violent, history. According to legend, it is the site of Edward the Martyrs’ death and was the last stronghold of the royalists during the English Civil War in 1646.
The resulting damage from this battle, caused by the Parliamentarian forces, has left this castle at strange angles. With activities, events and free wandering through the ancient site, visitors can find themselves up close and personal with British history. Bonus British points: There are a number of sheep roaming its hills, and they are adorable.
Travel up and around to reach the city of Bournemouth. Currently undergoing some modern changes, the city is becoming a more vibrant by the day. It offers a great location in which to base these travels before exploring further into the countryside. The Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel features stunning views from its cliffside location above the shoreline as well as easy access to the beach and Bournemouth’s city center. The city has a host of watersport options and is considered to be one of the safest beaches in the U.K.
Culturally, the Bournemouth offers plenty of art, history and events. The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum combines art and history into one unique space. An extravagant Victorian home, perched on top of a cliff and overlooking the sea, Russell-Cotes features a collection of art and antiquity as well as an excellent tea room. From here, one has easy access to the pier and beachfront walks, lined with colorful beach huts. There is also the Bournemouth Pavilion, which features musical acts, children’s shows and is home to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Mary Shelley’s grave, author of “Frankenstein,” is also in Bournemouth, which is bit peculiar considering the fact the she never actually lived in the town. Though she intended to move there toward the end of her life, Shelley was unable to occupy the home before her death and requested to have herself and her previously buried parents moved there. And so her family plot now lies in St. Peter’s Church along with her husband’s heart. It is a weird, sort of creepy ending for a gothic writer.
Inland from Bournemouth is the New Forest. This vast landscape, first cultivated by King William the Conqueror in 1079 as a hunting ground, has a long and interesting history. It is partly manmade and is full of wild donkeys, horses, deer and other creatures. The area is beautiful, free and winding, but explore with caution. Horses are known to kick, and donkeys will want to say, “hello.” They will come right up to you and request a pet, sometimes while you’re still in the car. Mud can also be incredibly deep (I had to fight to save my Wellington boots). These occurrences aside, the forest was one of the most beautiful places I've ever experienced in the U.K. It was so peaceful and not overrun with people.
One more fascinating reason to visit the South Coast is the tiny dune town of Sandbanks. Positioned between Bournemouth and Poole, Sandbanks is considered to be the fourth most expensive place to live in the world. It’s just another unexpected delight along English Channel and the Jurassic Coast.