Dorset AONB

Ballard Down, Dorset AONB, Dorset, England
Ballard Down, Dorset AONB ©

Dorset – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is located in the county of Dorset in the south west of England. It was first designated a AONB back in 1959, the AONB has been established for over 50 years The area covers 1,129 square kilometres covering over 40% of the county of Dorset making Dorset one of the larger AONBs in the UK. The area provides a fine example of some of the finest scenic coastline in England along with areas inland offering great examples of the English countryside.

The impressive coastline is noted for its scenic beauty, ecology and limestone, chalk and sandstone ecology. The AONB covers an area from close to Weymouth in the south to Lyme Regis in the west to Blandford Forum in the north to Poole Harbour in the east.

There are a number of distinctive landscape characteristics in the area these include downland found from the Upper Axe Valley to the Stour Valley, ridges and valleys are found in the centre of the AONB with sandy heaths, chalk ridges and limestone in coastal areas including Poole Harbour.

The area covered by the AONB designation includes a number of coastal resorts including Swanage and Weybridge that attract many visitors each year. Visitors can enjoy a combination of popular seaside resorts with beautiful countryside, panoramic views, a number of landmarks, monuments and tranquillity associated with the area.

The land in the AONB is used for agriculture, whilst Purbeck is home to the limestone, gas, oil and brick industries. There are a number of scenic villages located in the AONB including Bridport, Beaminster and Cerne Abbas. The area is important for local wildlife and biodiversity, the site is important for nature conservation and includes both Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and National Nature Reserves (NNRs).

The area is popular for sailing, wind surfing, kayaking, horse riding, golf, day trippers and walkers and cyclists with a number of routes to explore. Visitors can enjoy the unspoiled landscapes both inland and coastal and the tranquilly whilst enjoying the finest in the English countryside.

Quick Facts

Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

Year of Designation: 1959

Population: 90,000

Size in square kilometres: 1,129

National Nature Reserves (NNRs): 8
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): 70
Main Settlements close by: Axminster, Blandford Forum, Dorchester, Yeovil and Weymouth.
Located in: Dorset.


Dorset AONB is located in Dorset in south west England, the area is a popular one with visitors with a number of coastal resorts popular with families and visitors of all ages. The AONB includes both countryside and coast offering something for most tastes, the area is noted for its rich history, ecology and geology. Within the AONB there are no large cities and towns, the commercial development in the area is still relatively smaller in scale when compared to other AONBs across the UK, making the area popular for those seeking a quiet, rural retreat away from the noise and traffic of large towns and cities.

The location means the AONB is easily assessable from south west England, south east England and the Midlands and is approx 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours drive from London, taking it assessable as a day trip, short break or longer break destination from London and much of the Midlands and south of England.

Tourist Information Centres are located at various locations in the AONB. There are tourist information centres are located in Swanage, Bridport and Lyme Regis, there are also centres located at Blandford Forum, Dorchester, Wareham, Poole and Sherborne located next to the AONB area . Each of the centres has knowledgeable staff that can provide useful local knowledge on local attractions, places of interest, things to see and do, along with local advice and tips. A visit to the tourist information centres makes for a good first port of call for visitors helping to better plan and organise trips in and around the local area.

Local Accommodation includes a range of both historic and contemporary hotels, B & B’s, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, camping facilities and cottages. Local accommodation is available in Swanage, West Lulworth and Bridport. There is accommodation available in the nearby towns of Weymouth, Dorchester, Blandford Forum and Poole all of which are located close by to the AONB and provide a good location from which to explore the AONB and Jurassic Coast.

Within the AONB there are no large towns and cities, visitors can see a number of charming villages and hamlets each with its own distinctive history and storey to tell. Visiting the local villages and hamlets offers visitors an insight in to local history, tradition and customs of the area, there are also a number of local attractions and places of interest to explore.

Local Towns & Villages include Swanage located in south east Dorset on the Isle of Purbeck, 28 miles east from Dorchester. The coastal town is a popular seaside resort, known for its beach and Victorian pier. A firm favourite with families, the beach has been rated a Blue Flag beach and there are a range of water sports available for visitors to try along with boat cruises. There are a umber of gardens and parks in the town, a range of shops including tearooms where visitors can enjoy traditional Dorset cream teas, cakes and fish and chips.

The Swanage Steam Railway offers visitors a step back in time to the golden age of rail travel with a historic and enjoyable trip across the scenic Purbeck countryside. The town hosts a number of events throughout the year including the Folk Festival, Regatta and Carnival Week and the Jazz Weekend.

West Lulworth is a village located on the coast 12 miles south east of Dorchester in Dorset. The village is a gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and is a popular destination for visitors. Local attractions include the Heritage Centre where visitors can learn more about the local wildlife, landscape and scenic Lulworth Coast along with local history. The village itself includes a number of small shops and hotels, the Castle Inn pub dates back to the 16th century and includes its original woodwork and thatched roof, visitors can enjoy a range of food and drinks in the traditional pub.

Close by to the village is Lulworth Cove, the bay is famous for its great beaches offering great opportunities for swimming, snorkelling and diving. Fossil Forest is also located in the vicinity, containing the remains of an ancient forest dating back to Jurassic times, visitors can see mud and algae remains that collected around tree stumps and then fossilised to form 'burrs' that are shaped like doughnuts.

Lyme Regis is a coastal town located within the AONB area, 25 miles west of Dorchester and is a gateway town to the Jurassic Coast. Located in Lyme Bay, it has been referred to as 'The Pearl of Dorset.' The seaside town is well known for its scenic natural beauty and over the years has inspired a number of writers including Jane Austen. The history of the town dates back to the 8th century, the Cobb Wall dates back to the 13th century, visitors can walk along the Cobb whilst the town includes a number o independent shops, galleries and cafes on narrow streets for visitors to explore. Local attractions include the Town Mill waterwheel that has been restored, the beach and seafront provides a great place for the whole family to enjoy the seaside and traditional attractions.

Boat trips are available from the historic harbour along with a number of local guided walks. Dinosaurland is located in Coombe Street where visitors can book fossil hunting walks in an area steeped in natural and geological history. The town is famous for the range and variety of walks available, visitors can impressive fauna and flora and the hilly terrain offers wonderful views.

Bridport is a compact market town 15 miles to the west of Dorchester within the AONB area. The town is thought to have Saxon origins, that town has been associated with rope making since the Middles Ages. Bridport has been an established market town for over 400 years and regular markets can still be found in the town each Wednesday and Saturday. Local attractions include Palmers Brewery, one of the oldest thatched breweries in the UK, there are guided tours available to learn more about the brewing process and a tasting session. The Bridport Museum showcases local history dating back to Roman times to World War II and looks at the famous rope and net making industries.

Lyme Regis Museum is located in the town, located on the site of the home of fossilist Mary Anning. The museum includes a number of exhibitions and collections dating back to the Jurassic period and covers local maritime history, geology, artefacts and memorabilia. There are displays covering famous writers associated with the town including Jane Austen and John Fowles. The museum has a full programme of events that include guided fossil walks, Mary Anning Walks, rockpooling and a number of temporary exhibitions.

Durlston Country Park is located on the Isle of Purbeck, 30 miles south east of Dorchester in Dorset. Durlston covers an area of 280 acres and is part of the Dorset AONB and Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The park is home to a range of habitats including woodland, sea cliffs, downs, meadows and hedge rows, and a range of species. The visitor centre is a popular destination for visitors that includes a cafes for food and refreshments and a gift shop selling guides, souvenirs and mementos. The park is renowned for its fascinating wildlife, geology, wonderful views and walking trails offering a fun filled day out for the whole family in a scenic setting.

Walking is one of the most popular activities in the AONB and surrounding areas, there are a number of popular walks in the area for visitors to try. The South West Coast Path including a number of day walks and multi day trips, the Wessex Ridgeway and Purbeck Way, the routes vary in length from shorter easier walks to longer more challenging walks, the range of walks and terrain in the area means there is something to suit most tastes and abilities. Walking in the area provides a great cost effective and fun way to get closer to nature, get off the beaten track and discover the best in the local countryside.

Cycling provides a cost efficient and fun way to explore the Dorset AONB and the surrounding areas in an environmentally friendly way, get fit and see local attractions and places of interest up close. The area includes a range landscapes including chalk downland, valleys, heathland and a varied coastline. There are a choice of cycle routes in the area, including the West Dorset Pedal , scenic routes that include artists studios, local eateries and attractions, routes vary from 11 to 17 miles routes include Hillforts and the Vale, Bridports Market Garden, Stone of the Valley and more.

Visitors to the Dorset AONB can enjoy a scenic haven with open spaces, a varied landscape offering both countryside and coastline and a number of charming local villages. The relatively rural nature of the area and lack of large towns and cities mean the area is ideal for visitors after a tranquil location offering a great place to relax and get away from it all and enjoy the great outdoors.

How to Get There

Dorset AONB is accessible by both car and public transport.

By Car:

Dorchester is the county town of Dorset and is conveniently located next to the AONB. Dorchester is located 28 miles west of Bournemouth and 130 miles from central London. From London, take the A4 then M4, then at junction 4B take the M25(S) continue on the M25 until junction 12 and exit on to the M3, continue on the M3 until junction 13. At junction 13 exit on to the M27 towards Southampton Docks/Bournemouth, then take the A31 then the A35. From the A35 take the B3150 that goes to Dorchester. The approx journey time is 2 hour 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

The train station at Dorchester South, has regular services to and from London Waterloo station, the journey time is approx 2 hours 45 minutes.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular buses available from London Victoria Coach station to Dorchester. The approx journey time is approx 3 hours 45 minutes to 4 hours 15 minutes depending on time of day and traffic . Coach services to Dorchester are provided by services are provided by National Express.

Contact Details

Dorset AONB Partnership
c/o Environment, Colliton Park

Telephone: +44 (0)1305 228239

Website:Dorset AONB


For Local Search and Directions see: Dorset (AONB) Map

Tips & Other Considerations

The weather and climate can be unpredictable, there can be elements of all four seasons in one day. Ensure you check the weather forecast before you travel and have the correct clothing and footwear including comfortable walking shoes, fleece, raincoat and umbrella.

Follow travel advice and remain alert, vigilant and aware of your belongings at all times especially your wallet/purse and valuables and ensure they are hidden away from public view. If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are travelling by car to Dorset ensure you are well prepared with maps and Sat Nav to aid your journey, particularly if you are not familiar with the local area and roads. Use the journey planner for door to door directions. Check traffic updates before you travel.

If you are looking for car parking in and around the AONB, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking. The rules & regulations can be complex & confusing if you are unclear, it is wise not to park there.

If you are travelling by public transport, check for service updates prior to beginning your journey for any delays, disruption or cancellations to services that may impact on your journey. Ensure you have the service timetables for the trains, trams, buses and coaches. Remember when the last services are and ensure you make it to the train/bus/coach stops well in time to avoid missing the service.

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