Photogenic Landscapes and Historic Sites in Dorset

Durdle Door Corfe Castle Lulworth Cove Corfe Castle
The most spectacular landscapes in Dorset are found along the coast which, including the unitary authority areas of Poole and Bournemouth, extends for 55 miles west to east, from Lyme Regis bordering the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, to Christchurch, close to New Forest National Park. Most forms part of the Jurassic Coast, famous for its exposed, fossil-bearing strata, which are eroded into a great variety of formations. Within Dorset, the best stretches of coastline are from Lyme Regis to West Bay (8 miles) - as this has beaches beneath a line of high cliffs, and some rocky promontories - and especially, the 30 miles from Weymouth Bay to Studland, the Purbeck Heritage Coast; contained within this area are numerous coves, sea stacks, peninsulas, arches and reefs, including such famous locations as Old Harry Rocks, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. In between these two stretches the land is low and flat, bordered by long, little-changing sandy beaches, and so is generally less scenic, apart from the southernmost point at the Isle of Portland, a sizeable, semi-detached limestone headland.

Away from the coast, most of Dorset is hilly, and the county is crossed by several broad ranges of chalk uplands, forming the Dorset Downs and part of Cranborne Chase (which extends into Wiltshire), plus a narrower range in the southeast, across the Isle of Purbeck. Between the hills are broad valleys, sprinkled with patches of woodland, all part of a predominantly rural landscape that has few large towns or major roads, so travel across the county can be rather slow.

Although lacking any cathedrals, Dorset has plenty of historic churches, some dating from Saxon or early Norman times. Shaftesbury Abbey and Christchurch Priory are amongst the finest of these. There are several ruined abbeys and chapels across the county, though none is particularly large. Prehistoric relics are limited to earthworks, burial mounds and a few minor stone circles. By far the most spectacular castle in Dorset is at Corfe, perched on top of a steep-sided hill; other notable examples are in Christchurch and Sherborne.


Christchurch Castle - small but photogenic ruins of a Norman keep and house

Corfe Castle - large, ruined castle with a spectacular location on top of a steep-sided hill

Portland Castle - well preserved coastal fort built by Henry VIII, overlooking Portland Harbour

Rufus Castle - minor ruins on a hill high above the coast

Sandsfoot Castle - small shoreline fort beside Portland Harbour, built by Henry VIII; also known as Weymouth Castle

Sherborne Old Castle - atmospheric ruins of a 12th century fortification surrounded by lawns and woodland, beside a late 16th century castellated mansion


Christchurch Priory - the longest parish church in England, built in the 12th century

Sherborne Abbey - an ancient parish church, formerly a Catholic abbey and a Saxon cathedral

Wimborne Minister - Norman church with some Saxon components, formerly a monastery


Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove - a sea arch and a circular bay, separated by sandy beaches and chalk cliffs

Ruined Abbeys

, and other old religious buildings

Abbotsbury Abbey - small relics from a once large abbey, adjacent to a huge tithe barn

Cerne Abbey - limited remains of a Benedictine monastery, including a 14th century tithe barn

Knowlton Church - ruins of a medieval church within a prehistoric earthwork

St Andrews Church - overgrown ruins of a 15th century church, on the Isle of Portland

St Catherine's Chapel - disused, 14th century church, on a hill above the village of Abbotsbury

Shaftesbury Abbey - relics from an ancient abbey (founded 888), mostly low foundations, now incorporated into a garden

Map of Featured Dorset Locations