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South England Road Trip: Dorset & Devon

A south England road trip is still one of my favourite trips we’ve ever done in the UK. In one week we took in Poole Harbour, Studland Bay, Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, Chesil Beach, Lyme Regis in Dorset and Salcombe in Devon, as well as cycling The Granite Way and visiting Lydford Gorge in Dartmoor National Park. That sounds like a lot, but our holiday was a nice and steady pace.

The benefit of many attractions in Dorset and Devon is that they’re fairly close to each other, and perfect to explore by car. At the time of writing, we’re in a third lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. So with international travel looking unlikely, I’ve been reflecting on trips closer to home. Here’s my itinerary of the south England road trip, pre-pandemic.

South England Road Trip

A windy road follows down to the Devon coast on a bright and sunny day.

How to get to Dorset

We were travelling to Dorset for a friend’s wedding, which sparked off the reason for this south England road trip! As we live in the south east of England, our first choice was to drive down, and we didn’t really consider any other options.

London to Dorset by car takes approximately between 2 and half hours to 3 hours, depending on where your first stop is too. Also consider the time of year you’re going – if it’s peak time then the journey time may be longer. Our first stop was Poole and we followed the M3 and M27.

There is also a direct train service from London Waterloo to Poole, taking roughly the same amount of time.

Where to go in Dorset

These are the sites, towns and attractions we saw in Dorset. However there are plenty more, so I may have missed some. But as I hope to return to Dorset in the future, I hope too that I’ll be adding to this blog post.

Poole

Poole is a large coastal town, which is known for its harbour. We didn’t spend a lot of time here but it was still worthy of a quick stop. The wedding we attended was in Guidhall, a registry office in Poole’s old town where most architecture in this part is Georgian, with the Guidhall having been built in 1761.

After the ceremony took place we were treated to a boat trip from Poole, which cruised around Brownsea Island and the sandbanks, before reaching Studland for the reception venue. Although we didn’t plan a boat trip ourselves, I would genuinely recommend it. We were lucky to enjoy this on an utterly gorgeous sunny day and we felt like we were cruising on the med, instead of the south of England.

View from a boat trip off the coast from Poole, looking over to Brownsea Island on a sunny day

Studland Bay

We alighted the boat trip at Studland Bay, which is also where we stayed (more on that in a bit). Studland’s long sandy beaches are just stunning, I’d really like to come back here one day. The night before the wedding we saw the sunset on South Beach, which really left a stamp on my mind from this trip. It was beautiful.

I was too hungover for paddle boarding the day after the wedding, but David and I enjoyed a walk to Old Harry Rocks (tall chalk formations that are part of the Jurassic Coast) from our hotel.

 
 
 
 
 
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Durdle Door

I thought Old Harry Rocks and Studland were stunning, then we drove to Durdle Door for our next stop and my jaw just dropped. If you’ve ever looked into Dorset’s Jurassic Coast then you’ve no doubt seen pictures of Durdle Door. A natural limestone arch in the sea, with a sand and shingle beach. I tried to capture pictures which did it some justice – it is simply gorgeous and probably the nicest beach I’ve seen in the UK. Ever.

 
 
 
 
 
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Lulworth Cove

It gets better! Right next door to Durdle Door is Lulworth Cove. (I say next door, you do have to hike up an extremely steep hill to get over to it but take my word – it’s worth it.) Crystal blue waters on a pebble beach, I couldn’t believe what we were seeing was in England!

There’s a small village here too, with pubs, restaurants, shops and a delicious ice cream stall which is an opportunity not to miss.

Chesil Beach

Sad as I was to leave Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, there was more to see. Like Chesil Beach, an 18-mile long beach, where we made a quick stop-off. In case I’ve not made it clear already, I feel like this trip really revealed my ignorance of my own country. I just didn’t know sights like this existed in England!

It’s not your typical beach, like the ones I’d just been enjoying. Instead it’s a naturally formed barrier, between the sea and land. Having hired a campervan in South Australia years before, this really reminded me of the kind of site we would’ve seen thousands of miles away. Although aerial photos reveal the size of this place, you still get a sense for it on the ground.

Tall man standing on Chesil Beach, in England.
David on Chesil Beach

Lyme Regis

Our last stop in Dorset! No trip to the Jurassic Coast is complete without a visit to Lyme Regis – famous for its fossil finds. (I really liked it’s fossil decorated lamp posts!) We’d only spent a hour or so here and explored the Lyme Regis Museum, a building built on the site of Mary Anning’s birthplace, who discovered complete dinosaur skeletons in the local area back in the 19th century.

As well as being known for its history (or geology), Lyme Regis is a quaint seaside town worth a visit. (And another ice cream stop.)

Where to stay in Dorset

As I mentioned, we stayed in Studland for the first two nights for the wedding. Despite this being a chosen location for us, I wouldn’t have changed it from being our first stop and I’m so glad we discovered it. We stayed at the Bankes Arms Inn, a traditional country pub by the sea. Our room overlooked it’s lawn and was only a short walk to South Beach. I fully recommend staying here, it was a dream to have views as good as this for the reasonable price, and to have breakfast included too.

If money were no object, there is also a Pig Hotel nearby too (The Pig-on the Beach). We didn’t stay here, but the wedding couple did and enthused at how nice their stay was.

When we’d moved on, we stayed in a camping pod at Durdle Door Holiday Park. Although a camping pod was a step down from a sea-view hotel room, it was cosy and still comfy. For the price and being so close to both Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove without paying parking (which I’ve heard is eye-watering), it was perfect.

Driving to Devon from Dorset

As we drove into Devon the scenery gradually become more rural and we eventually started driving down its famous country lanes. These are narrow roads allowing space for one car, except for the passing places, with rows of high hedges on either side, We had no other choice but to slow down once we hit these, and they felt claustrophobic at first.

After getting used to these though, the slower pace and rural settings really made us feel like we were really getting away from it all. We needed to reverse for some vehicles coming the opposite way, but there was always a smile and a wave to say thanks.

Where to go in Devon

Just like Dorset, there’s plenty to see and go to in Devon. Originally I wanted to get down to Cornwall on this trip, and we might have done if we had more time. But I really appreciated exploring Devon, which made me realise that it’s sometimes overlooked.

Salcombe

On our Air B&B host’s tip, we drove to the coastal town of Salcombe, located within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The hilly, windy streets rolling down to the beach wouldn’t look out of place in the south of France. Feeling like we were walking down numerous millionaire rows, we couldn’t help but look at all the beautiful houses. (We later checked them out on the local estate agent’s website – March and Petit – torturing ourselves that we’d never be able to afford one.)

We were only here for an early evening as we were after something to eat. Our Air B&B host recommended the Winking Prawn, a seafood and BBQ restaurant next to the beach. It did not disappoint.

  • The coast in Salcombe, Devon. The tide is out, revealing dark sand which contrasts against the blue sky.
  • A colourful plate of chips and gammon steak

Dartmoor National Park

The next day was all about exploring Dartmoor. We parked in Okehampton and rented some bikes from the local YHA hostel.

The Granite Way

The Granite Way is a traffic-free walking/cycling route, mostly built along the course of a former railway line. (An old train carriage has been converted into a cafe in one section, which was sadly closed on our visit.)

Mostly flat (so perfect for cycling!), one of the spectacular views on the Granite Way is the Meldon Viaduct. Built in 1874, this steel viaduct looks over the natural scenery of Dartmoor. So naturally we got off our bikes here to take some photos here.

 
 
 
 
 
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Lydford Gorge

Eventually the Granite Way runs into Lydford village, where we visited Lydford Gorge. (Although we cycled the 11 miles from Okehampton to visit Lydford Gorge, there’s a car park here too if you didn’t fancy the long ride.) Being the deepest gorge in the south west and surrounded by ancient woodland, it felt and looked really enchanting.

The 3 mile circular walk, takes in both the White Lady Waterfall and Devil’s Cauldron. The pathways are quite steep and sometimes treacherous, so we made sure we were wearing suitable hiking shoes.

White Lady Waterfall

At one end of the gorge, and at the bottom, is the White Lady Waterfall. Approximately 30m, this long and thin waterfall was a welcoming site after we scrambled to get to the bottom. We took a break and admired the fantasy-like view, before having to climb back up.

White Lady Waterfall in Lydford Gorge, a tall andthin tall waterfall falls over rocks.
Devil’s Cauldron

At the other end of the gorge is the Devil’s Cauldron; a dark cavern where only a slice of sunshine peaks through a crevice and reveals a whirlpool of water. This, like the waterfall, was magical sight and one I was glad we decided to check out.

The paths to get here were especially treacherous, narrow and wet. So just a word of warning and advice to be extra careful.

A dark cavern with a small whirlpool in Devon, England.

Where to stay in Devon

As mentioned, we stayed in Air B&B accommodation for our stay in Devon and can recommend a remote cottage in Woodleigh. The cottage is next to the owner’s house, but it still felt private and had its own driveway and garden. Saying that though, I wouldn’t miss chatting to Jenny (the host), as she’s full of information and tips (like her Winking Prawn restaurant recommendation!).

This was a great spot for a base and if you’ve decided to tour south Devon by car.

It was then sadly our last night away, so we chilled out, got up early the next day and set the GPS to ‘home’. We really loved our time in Dorset and Devon, we’ll definitely be back when it is safe to travel again. Please let me know if you’ve enjoyed reading my South England Road Trip blog post and if there’s any further information I can include which will be helpful. Thank you so much if you’ve made it this far!

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