House and/or petsitting allows you a chance to see parts of the world you might not ever experience otherwise, which is how I found myself in southwest England last week. But if you simply want to visit, what can you see and do there? Should you leave London (it’s about an hour and a half from the city but it can seem a world away) to visit some amazing and beautiful countryside? My answer is definitely!

Dorset and area are much prettier and more interesting than I realized. I guess that’s what usually happens when you rock up to a place, having done zero research about where you’re going and what the attractions are. Thank you to Sasha and Stuart for the use of their car.

My best day was a visit to Monkey World (information thoughtfully provided by Phil Ivers), which is an ape (yes, you might have guessed that!) rescue sanctuary for a variety of primates. It was sad to see so many monkeys, apes, chimps, lemurs, etc. in captivity but the centre is a much better place than where they were found – in smuggling rings, terrible domestic situations, unsafe conditions. It’s a short drive from Salisbury and totally worth the trip. And it was only 11£ get in, but there are donation boxes at various locations around the grounds. The lemurs get their own open-air section, so you have to look really hard to spot them in the trees.

From there, I drove to the Jurassic Coast to the Durdle Door, an arch of rock similar to the Apostles in Australia or the Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. It was beautiful, but the walkway down was a bit steeper than it looked. It was already late afternoon when I got to the beach but what occurred to me as I sat there was that I was enjoying BEING there – in the moment – a moment that had taken thousands of years (through erosion) to create. We all experience things uniquely but I found it very calming. I wish I had had more time to spend but the air was already cooling and the dogs needed to be fed. If you decide to visit, go early (pack a picnic and a bathing suit!) and enjoy the day.

I was most frustrated the day I drove into Salisbury to take the train to the famous city of Bath. Two of my dogs rolled in poo on our walk so I was a bit late getting going. I tried three parking lots before finding one where I could stay longer than three hours (look for signs that say “Long Stay”). I didn’t have enough coins to put in the parking machine but one of the options was to call them and pay with a credit card. Brilliant! But I have a “pay as you go” UK sim card in my phone and it ever-so-politely told me I was out of credit… ARGH! My train was leaving in 10 minutes and there wasn’t another one for an hour… Sigh. So, I accepted the obvious missed train, however ungraciously, and went in search of a corner shop to buy a top-up for my phone, checked in with the parking people and called the neighbour who offered to let the dogs out to say I would be later than planned. Wandering around Salisbury for an hour before finally catching my train allowed me to see that it’s really quite pretty! They have a beautiful cathedral, with a spire that can be seen across the city, at the end of a great street filled with cafes and shops (selling fudge and ice cream).

Everything I knew (and again, it wasn’t much) about Bath I’ve learned from Jane Austen novels. Although I’m sure it’s changed a tad since she spent time there, it’s still a vibrant city. Steps away from the front door of the train station is a busy pedestrian street that runs up through the city’s centre. Although you can visit the Roman baths, the water is untreated so it can’t be used (touched (!) or drank, so says their website) anymore, but there is a very nice Thermae Bath Spa, which uses the same water (and treats it).

After the challenges I had getting there, I thought I deserved a drink. And there are few drinks I enjoy more than gin. What better kind of bar in which to have this drink if not one with more than 180 kinds of gin from all over the world? One with a Jane Austen-themed menu, of course! Enter The Canary Gin Bar. I seriously think I should open one of these things. Who’s with me???

There are a lot of farms in Dorset so I was excited at the thought of fresh produce. I passed many signs that advertised “home farm” shops and one day I decided to check it out. The sign said “two miles” when I turned off the main road but I am a kilometres baby so I had little concept of how far it was going to be. When the street became not much more than a turkey trail, I began to worry I’d missed it. Determined to find it, I eventually did and left with fresh veggies, some chicken from their butchery (is it a butchery if it’s chicken?), some definitely-not-local Halloumi cheese, a piece of decadent homemade coffee walnut cake and a bottle of delicious local apple cider.

Having had a small taste (pun intended) of this area, it’s on my list of places to revisit. I hope I’ve been able to pique your curiosity about the beauty of the area.

There were so many other fun and interesting places that should also be on your itinerary, but these are definitely worth investigating:

  1. Compton Abbass: in Ashmore, it’s a grass strip airfield with a busy café (the “Aviator” burger was very good) and WWII airplanes available for hire.
  2. King John Inn: in Tollard Royal. Another pub in the middle of the countryside. It’s near Guy Ritchie’s estate so I’ve been told he frequents the place. He wasn’t there when I was, too bad for him. The fish chowder was definitely worth the drive.
  3. The New Forest: it’s actually a National Park in Hampshire. In 1079, King William I declared it a royal hunting ground; it’s 150 square miles where local residents can graze their livestock (horses, cows, pigs, etc.). And they allow dogs walking as well.

What’s a girl (or a boy or a couple) to do?

Erosion has created the Durdle Door in southwest England

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