Car-free adventures aroundWeymouthDorset

There are royal connections in this iconic Dorset town: when George III went famously mad, his doctor sent him to Weymouth as “the Resort of many people of the first Distinction”. But there’s no need to go mad or get stuck in traffic to enjoy these long sandy beaches and chalk-white cliffs; travel via picturesque paths or scenic railways, open-top buses or coastal bike rides…

  1. 3. Sandsfoot Castle and the Rodwell Trail

    From the causeway that links Portland to Weymouth, there’s an interesting three-mile walk (or bike ride along the Rodwell Trail) along the iconic South West Coast Path back into town. Hop off the frequent number 1 bus at Ferrybridge near the celebrated Crab House cafe.

    • Follow signs for the Rodwell Trail, with great sea views on your right. Leave the tarmac path when a sign points right to Sandsfoot Gardens café to explore Sandsfoot castle, a picturesque ruin in palm-treed gardens, overlooking Portland harbour. Henry VIII built it in 1542 to protect against French invasion.
    • On foot, follow the Coast Path (with acorn way marks) along winding Belle Vue Road and later around Nothe Point past the towering fort at the end. Finally, stroll along the road beside the harbour, stopping off at Bennet’s fish and chip shop for a local speciality – crispy mackerel bap.
    • If you’d like to explore the area by bike, and don’t have your own, Weymouth Bike Hire offer all-year bike hire with free delivery and collection.
  1. 4. Bus to Abbotsbury

    The scenic X53 bus, which also leaves from the stops near Weymouth’s King’s statue, is one of Britain’s most beautiful bus routes. You can ride all the way through West Bay and Bridport to Lyme Regis or hop off and explore pretty towns like Abbotsbury along the way.

    • With great views of the coast and the undulating green hills above it, the X53 has some stupendous scenery.
    • One of the highlights of the route is the view towards Abbotsbury, with St Catherine’s chapel perched atmospherically on a hill above the sea.
    • The bus then winds past the gold-stoned shops and cottages and out into fields again. A pretty path, fringed with pampas grasses, leads from the next bus stop towards Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, a third of a mile away.
    • Visiting the gardens is a leafy adventure, through palm trees and jungle glades: a Burmese-style rope bridge under Japanese maples and winding paths past ginger lilies or bright blue agapanthus.
    • Look out for the kookaburras in a cage near the Colonial cafe in the walled garden, lined with palm trees.
    • To visit Abbotsbury Swannery, hop off two stops earlier outside the Swan Inn. Walk past Abbotsbury Abbey and down Grove Lane towards the coast.
  1. 5. Hardy’s Wessex and more

    If you arrive in Weymouth by train, you will pass through Dorchester first. The railway runs south, past Maiden Castle, to Weymouth and the rolling countryside has inspired generations of writers, from Thomas Hardy, who lived near Dorchester, to Ian McEwan, whose novella On Chesil Beach became a 2017 film.

    • Look out of the right hand window as you leave Dorchester. Maiden Castle, the earthworks visible beyond the main road, features in novels by John Cooper Powys and in Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.
    • Soon afterwards, the train stops at the village of Upwey, now a suburb of Weymouth. The Old Ship Inn here appears in Under the Greenwood Tree; Dick Dewy and Fancy Day stop here for tea and kissing!
    • Upwey is a useful base for two longs distance paths: the Dorset Ridegway and the Jubilee Trail. Both routes lead up to Hardy’s monument, about five miles west; this 70-foot, telescope-shaped tower is not dedicated to the novelist, but the Victorian vice-Admiral (of “Kiss me, Hardy” fame). The monument is a 40 minute walk from the Kings Arms in Portesham village, where the X53 bus will take you back to Weymouth.
    • From Dorchester station, it’s a mile’s walk to Thomas Hardy’s house at Max Gate. Head past Costa from the railway station, across Brewery Square, turn right into Prince of Wales Road and keep going along the pavement until it crosses the main road. Then turn left to find the house. Buses 2 or 5 or a £5 taxi from the station will also get you there.
    • The novelist designed this Victorian villa himself and wrote Tess of the d’Urbevilles and Jude the Obscure while he lived there.
    • Look out for references to Wessex, Hardy’s naughty pet dog. He bit visitors (guests at Max gate included WB Yeats and Rudyard Kipling) and stole their food. He’s now memorialised in the sitting room by an innocent-looking life-sized toy.
    • And don’t miss the gardens, managing to feel peaceful despite the noisy nearness of the Dorchester ring road, with vegetable beds and woodland walks laid out as in Hardy’s day.

Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount

Visit car-free in 2019!