Dorset Heritage: Historic Houses and Castles

Large country estates and grand stately homes are an integral part of our national heritage. If history and cultural heritage is a draw for you, then Dorset will not disappoint, with its fair share of castles, houses and gardens dotted throughout the county. Although Dorset heritage attractions remain popular, many sites and locations are having to find increasingly diverse means of surviving outside of peak tourist season. But don't be alarmed, their need for resilience has in many cases created even more of a draw, ensuring Dorset heritage continues to remain a firm holiday highlight for many.Here's our selection of some of the best places for sampling Dorset heritage: 

The Best In Dorset Heritage

Athelhampton House & Gardens

Probably best known for its iconic pyramid topiaries, Athelhampton has a thousand year history. Much of the present house has been in existence for the last 5 centuries and adopts the sort of layout you'd expect from a classical Tudor manor house. Visitors can explore The Great Hall, The Great Chamber, Library and The Kings Room in the East Wing, before venturing into the West Wing, where anyone with an interest in art will be intrigued to see an exhibition of work from the renowned Russian Artist Cubist Marevna who lived at Athelhampton between 1948 and 1956. The house was also regularly frequented by popular author Thomas Hardy. Nowadays Athelhampton is host to a number of popular Dorset events including classic car auctions, MG rallys, flower festivals and plant sales. The most popular event is the Dorset Food & Drink Christmas fair.Venture outside and you'll be stunned by Athelhampton Gardens which date from 1891. Grade 1 listed, the gardens are a beautiful combination of formal planned gardens neighboured by a more natural landscape, featuring the River Piddle which provides a natural boundary between the two.Where to stay: The Old Rectory is a wonderful summer retreat and sleeps up to 14 people. The swimming pool and gardens make it a fantastic location for entertaining everyone at home and making the most of Dorset's fine summer weather. 

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle has a thousand year and rather bloodthirsty history! From Saxon stronghold to Norman fortress, to royal palace and private home, its probably best known for its role in the Civil War when it held out as a Royalist stronghold. When almost all of Dorset was under the control of the parliamentarians, Corfe Castle resisted all attempts at siege for 3 years until finally succumbing in February 1646 when Parliament forces reduced the castle to the ruins we see today. Corfe Castle is a permanent reminder of turbulent times, with this tale just one of many from the castles colourful history. For those who are keen to learn more, the castle hosts a number of imaginative events throughout the year, from a 'Tudor Christmas' to mediaeval archery and family storytelling sessions. These fantastic stories bring to life the tales of Edward Longshanks (Edward 1), King John & King Stephen and we highly recommend them. The surrounding countryside also provides great walking country and if your little ones need to let off steam for a few hours, theres a zip wire for added adventure. Dominating the attractive town of Corfe, the castle is true icon and cornerstone of Dorset heritage.Where to stay: The Old Mill House is a special place to stay. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but of course cant do this home justice. And if you can tear yourself away from the beautiful garden then Swanage beach is a short stroll away. A perfect bucket and spade holiday. 

Highcliffe Castle

Dorset heritage lovers and fans of ITVs Mr Selfridge may well recognise Highcliffe Castlefrom the final series.This Grade I listed mansion originally dates from the 1830s. It was Harry Selfridges country home for 6 years between 1916 and 1922, where he lived with his wife Rosalie, who used her home as a wartime convalescence hospital for wounded American servicemen.The Selfridge story is one of hedonism and its consequences. Visitors to Highcliffe can learn more about the tale of Harry Selfridge's reckless spending, penchant for fast women and the Wall Street crash which wiped out the estimated 60million Selfridge fortune. His extravagant lifestyleultimately forced him out of his own business after a boardroom coup, and he died almost penniless in 1947 at the age of 90. His final resting place is a very modest grave in the parish Church of St Marks in Highcliffe. Mr Selfridge's colourful life resulted in Highcliffe creating the Mr Selfridge Experience where you can tour the house with a Selfridge lookalike and glean insights into what life during the familys time there must have been like. The experience culminates with a delicious, traditional high tea in the exclusive tea rooms or a private area of the grounds, in fine weather. So for a trulymemorable experience, why not go ahead and indulge your intrigue in this fanciful character!Good to know: Highcliffe also has a heritage centre which is well worth adding to your holiday to-do list, and is also a popular Dorset wedding venue.Where to stay: Apple Cottage is one of a pair of cottages on the Deans Court Estate and as such has beautiful views over the countryside. Sleeping 6 Apple Cottage is the larger of the two, with Plum Cottage accommodating a further four guests. 

Kingston Lacy

Kingston Lacy is a fabulous National Trust property famous for its magnificent interiors, superb collection of paintings and 8,500 acres of unspoilt estate. Works can be seen from world-famous artists including Van Dyke, Lely and Brueghel, as well as the property's renowned 'Egyption Room' - featuring the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK.There are a number of exhibitions held both in the house and grounds ofKingston Lacythroughout the year. Dogs are welcome too, giving everyone the perfect opportunity to explore this magnificent estate and jewel in Dorset's heritage. After you tire from all the exploring, pay a visit to the venue's Stables Cafeto re-energise with some tasty treats.Where to stay: The edge of Wimborne is home to The Gatehouse, a special venue for those wanting to catch up with extended family and friends. It has been tastefully finished and provides plenty of large spaces - perfect for getting away with so many people! 

Lulworth Castle & Park

The Lulworth Estate spans 20 square miles of undulating countryside, including a 5 mile stretch of coastline and two of Dorsets most recognised sights; Durdle Door and the perfectly scallop-shaped Lulworth Cove. The jewel in the estates crown is Lulworth Castle - often described as one of the most beautiful in the south of England. Lulworth Castle dates from the seventeenth century and for much of that time has been home to the present owners. The castle is surrounded by substantial parkland with a myriad of woodland walks and one of the best outdoor play areas weve been lucky enough to come across. This makes it the perfect spot for a family picnic and if you forget the cake, thats taken care of too with the recent addition of the Castle Tearoom.Good to know:There's a Pay & Display parking fee on top of the entrance to the castle, which is paid separately.Where to stay: Combining the best of Olde world charm with the modern day comforts you would expect from a holiday home,Jasmine Cottage is a great base to explore the Isle of Purbeck, including Lulworth Castle and Park. It sleeps up to 8 in 4 bedrooms, with 3 bathrooms. 

Mapperton House & Gardens

Mapperton House & Gardens is home to the Earl & Countess of Sandwich. The Gardens are open 6 days a week from late March until the end of October. They are shut on a Saturday for wedding parties. The house meanwhile is open every day except Friday & Saturday, but can only be seen as part of a guided tour. This beautiful venue is also a popular filming location, and was filmset to the 2015 adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd. Also playing host to various arts performances including open air Shakespeare and music concerts in the summer months, its well worth checking what's on in advance of your visit. The British Flower School also runs regular floristry courses and is a beautiful environment in which to learn this popular skill.Good to know:Mapperton House was entered in the Domesday book in 1086 and was occupied by only 4 families, unusually linked by female descent until 1919.Where to stay: Pear Tree Cottage is a fantastic getaway from it all for a family of four. Located in the pretty Netherbury between Beaminster and Bridport, Pear Tree Cottage is only a short drive from Mapperton House and Gardens. 

Sherborne Castle

Built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594, Sherborne Castle has been home to the Digby family since 1617 making 2017 a year to remember! Its 400 year history is reflected through the castle's art, furniture and porcelain collections on show, coupled with various interesting archaeological finds to see in the cellars. The gardens are created in part by Capability Brown and represent an archetypal English Landscape Garden. Setting it apart from others, the estate has revived the ancient Middle Ages tradition of wine making and now produces around 15,000 bottles a year from its Wake Court vineyards in Bishops Caundle. Purchasing one of the estates fine bottles of sparkling wines is the perfect way to support our Dorset heritage something which we're sure you'll agree is worth raising a glass to!Where to stay: Snowdrop Cottage is conveniently located in Bishops Caundle - the very same village as Wake Court Vineyards! Traditional in its style, Snowdrop Cottage sleeps 4 under a thatch roof and has some wonderful countryside views to boot.The historical richness that knits the very fabric of Dorset heritage is a must for visitors with a keen interest in this area. We have a number of fantastic cottages dotted throughout Dorset, including large cottages, dog-friendly cottages, and romantic cottages. With such a variety, you're bound to find one that suits your needs! Happy browsing!

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