Real Dorset by Jon Woolcott

4.5 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided a copy of this, free of charge, in return for an honest review.

I didn’t grow up in Dorset, but since moving here just over 18 years ago I felt that I had come home. It was odd because even though my grandfather was born in Bridport, we didn’t know anything else about his family. As I researched this history we found family links in West Dorset going back to 1800. I had returned to a place that fitted me well.
I joined the local libraries soon after we moved and I tried to read as much as I could about Dorset. Most of them have come from that great publisher, Dovecote Press, originally based just north of Wimborne. From these books, I learnt a lot about this beautiful county. But with two, then three small children in tow, getting to see some of the spots hasn’t always been easy.

We found our favourite places and then returned to them time again. Only recently have we started to travel more across Dorset exploring places that we have only heard about.
Jon Woolcott knows the county well too. He grew up just across the border and having moved around a bit ended up in the north of the county. Whilst he likes all the well-known spots, the parts of the county that have always fascinated him is the lesser-known places, the hidden and forgotten. Rather than this being another guidebook about the things to see that most other books would have, he walks or cycles and occasionally drives all over the county.

The book is split into five sections, north, south, east, west and central and for each of these we are led to around ten to twelve of the place that Woolcott wants to tell the story of. Some of his trips are to well-known towns across the county, Swanage, Bridport, Dorchester and so on. But what really piques his interest is those little know or long-forgotten places that still have stories to tell. The artists retreat in Long Crichel, where the arrest of two members of the group led to a long overdue change in the law. I learnt about the town that the poet Laureate loved.

As well as more recent history, for example, the decimation of the branch lines across the county by Beeching, takes him to a lot of places that have the memories of the railways left imprinted on the landscape. There is a lot of ancient history in Dorset too, ancient Iron Age hillforts and barrows are strewn liberally across the landscape and it has the longest cursus that can still be traced. He visits one of my favourite spots, Knowlton. It is a henge that has existed 4500 years before the Normans built a church in the middle to claim it for Christianity. Th old religion has claimed it back now and it has an otherworldly appeal to it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book on Dorset. Woolcott took me to familiar haunts, Poole, West Bay and so on. The delight behind this book is going to places that I knew of, but didn’t know much about and learning more about the county I love. It is a book that was written in the moment too, some of it was written in between the lockdowns and there is a light commentary on the various political car crashes that we had in 2022. I did like the notes which have his gentle humour all the way through and it has a great map courtesy of the brilliant Tess of the Vale. I know have an even longer list of places that I know want to go to now.

Disclaimer: I must admit to being a friend of the author and am mentioned in the acknowledgements.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    This sounds great, and how lovely to be mentioned in the acknowledgements!

    • Paul

      It is. I know I couldn’t believe it seeing my name

      • Liz Dexter

        I’ve had a few over the years because of my job (the latest in Luke Turner’s book on men at war) but it’s always a thrill!

        • Paul

          Of course. I have met Luke, he is a really nice guy

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