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  • Writer's pictureImogen Hall

Discovering Dorset with a dog in the depths of winter

And Rosie came too: family selfie at Stair Hole

Our plans for seeing in the new year of 2022 started with Berlin, moved to Naples and ended up in Paris as each destination proved too tricky due to Covid restrictions of one type of another. Then Omicron hit, France closed its borders and we decided to shut the door on our hope to get the family abroad in 2021. Instead, we turned our attention to what would be our sixth staycation of the year and booked a cottage in Dorset for four nights over the new year. Having left the Instagram influencer Rosie-the-collie-poo with our dog walker while we were in the Lakes in the summer, this time the dog was not being left behind.

Perhaps inevitably, Covid arrived in our household just in time for Christmas scuppering our intention to spend it with my parents in Ilkley. Our attention quickly turned to whether we would still be able to make it out of London before the kids went back to school. Thankfully the reduction in the isolation period from 10 to seven days worked in our favour. Even a very dull grey December day could not dim the excitement of escaping our house, and London, to arrive in an ivy-clad old fisherman’s cottage near the River Frome. Having spent the best part of two weeks holed up at home, it’s fair to say that we crammed a lot of exploring into the four days we were in Dorset. If you’re looking for dog- and winter-friendly ideas, here’s what we did.

Road signs to keep you on your toes

Tyneham & Warbarrow Bay

For kids growing up in London, it’s fascinating in itself that chunks of the countryside can be made off-limits to the public so the army can play, sorry, train. Add to this the story behind the lost village of Tyneham which was requisitioned in 1943 as part of the war effort and has been deserted ever since, and you’ve got plenty of fuel for thought and discussion. If the MOD ranges are open then you can wander around the ghost village and learn all about what it was like to live there and the campaign to get Tyneham reopened. There’s also a K1 red phonebox, one of only five in existence, which sparked a conversation about the rite of passage that was learning to make a call from a payphone when we were growing up. Who says we don’t show our kids a fun time when we’re away? From Tyneham we walked down to Warbarrow Bay where Tom and I were hoping to get into the sea. It was too choppy but we did have fun watching Rosie’s response to her first experience of the ebb and flow of the waves on the beach.

Lulworth Cove

This part of Dorset is full of famous names and next on our packed itinerary was Lulworth Cove. It’s a much more protected spot for a swim and there were plenty of DryRobed, thermos-clasping fellow cold water swimmers around so there was no hesitating here. After checking out the incredible natural arch of Stair Hole and braving the muddy slopes of the South West Coast Path to get a very windswept westward vista from the viewpoint, we headed down to the beach for my first post-Covid swim. I can’t work out if I like or don’t like the fact that so many people are now swimming in cold water no one really pays you any attention. As you can see from the photo at the top of this piece, it was a dull dreary day, the kind that only England can deliver. But a swim, a cup of tea AND an ice cream (yes really) gave us the adrenalin kick we needed. One last observation: Lulworth Cove would be even lovelier in the sunshine but given how popular it was on a dank December day we were happy not to be fighting it out with any more people.

Just one of many shots taken with the famous Durdle Door arch

Durdle Door

Our second swim - don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a blow by blow account of plunging into the sea - was a bit more exciting. We arrived at the car park above Durdle Door in a howling wind, the kind that you think could blow a small child off its feet. On descending to the beach, we were greeted for the only time in the whole trip with delicate winter sunshine. There’s something oddly calming about looking at the horizon through a natural arch, and something spiritual about the sun surfacing at that exact moment. There weren’t many people on the beach at this point and we shared the moment with a family similar to ours, with young boys who enjoyed Rosie’s company. There was running from the waves, quiet moments of contemplation, rocks to clamber up and a dog in her element with all the fun a beach can offer. We were sorry to leave and we feel lucky to have been at a point where we had it mainly to ourselves.

Monkey World

The only thing we did in Dorset where Rosie couldn’t come along was to visit Monkey World, last seen by the Halls in 2013 when the smallest one had yet to join us. We loved it then and despite the fact that miserable weather - are you getting the theme here? - drove many of the monkeys out of sight, we loved it again. The stories of the primates that the centre has rescued over the years are truly moving and being able to watch chimpanzees, gibbons, orangutans and woolly monkeys playing, resting and interacting with each other more than made up for those we couldn’t see. The only downside was trekking all the way over to what looked like an amazing playground for Winnie only to find it shut for winter repairs. Visiting places when the numbers are lower can have its downsides, especially if you are eight and have your heart set on some super-duper slides.

Rosie contemplates the Lawrence trail

A T. E. Lawrence Tour

Fans of Rosie may be wondering what happened to her while we were hanging out with golden-cheeked gibbons. Fear not, Tom was enhancing her education by taking her to pay her respects to Lawrence of Arabia at his grave in St Nicholas’s Church in Moreton. There is a 7-mile circular Lawrence trail that starts and ends at the Bovington Tank Museum which takes in various significant landmarks from his life such as Bovington Camp where he trained, Cloud’s Hill where he lived and Moreton where he was laid to rest with the help of a number of dignitaries including Churchill and the King of Iraq. We decided against doing this whole walk as a bit of it was on roads but Tom did an out and back section from Moreton which included a rather lovely bridge crossing the widest ford of any in Dorset.

Walking to Wareham

Wareham was the nearest town to our cottage in Holmebridge and while we’re talking about Lawrence it is also home to a life-sized effigy of the man. It is housed in St Martin’s church, which was sadly closed the day we visited. As Wareham was only a few miles away and we could see a route off-road, we decided that a good way to start the new year would be to walk to Wareham for lunch. Route finding was harder than anticipated and tired, grumpy children combined with another overcast sky made this endeavour a bit of an endurance test. Our finale was The Old Granary on the quay at Wareham, at which point morale improved due to a tasty lunch in a truly dog-friendly atmosphere with friendly and attentive staff. All ticks in the Halls books.

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