Dorset is still primarily a private and rural county; the lack of large cities, of mineral ore and of intrusive motorways has ensured that its landscapes have remained virtually unspoilt, even the popular seaside resorts have maintained their distinctive Dorset character. Inland, it remains a county of quiet villages built of honey-coloured stone, peacefully tucked away in remote lanes, and of country towns like Dorchester that have kept their traditions without conscious preservation because they are true to the character of place and people. Dorset too, is the final stronghold for many rare reptiles, birds and butterflies; the chalk uplands of Purbeck in particular are home to an enviable range of butterflies, some very rare. Dorset's famous heathlands, hills and valleys, such as Cranborne Chase and Blackmoor Vale instil a feeling of timelessness, looking now much as they have down the centuries.
It may be one of the smallest counties in England but Dorset is also one of the richest in scenic beauty and historical heritage, having something for everyone. There are ‘old fashioned' seaside resorts such as Weymouth and Bournemouth catering for modern needs but tastefully presented in traditional style.
Dramatic cliff scenery interspersed with enchanting wave-cut coves and bays, providing breathtaking panoramas as at Lulworth Cove viewed from the towering cliffs behind. Charming ‘old world' ports like Lyme Regis or Poole Harbour where a passing smuggler or pirate would hardly look out of place. Inland, Dorset has its share of ancient townships steeped in history and fascinating to discover - Dorchester, Sherborne and Shaftesbury principal amongst them. Decisive moments in the history of England occurred here - prehistoric Maiden Castle witnessed Celtic defeat by new Roman overlords; the Saxon defence of Wareham against Viking aggressors; the Duke of Monmouth's ill conceived desire for crown and country with the resultant dark shadow that Judge Jeffreys and his Bloody Assize cast over the county. Travelling through Dorset sharp contrasts in scenery are characteristic - rolling swathes of chalk hills; wild and solitary heathland; undulating dairy country both tranquil and prosperous; high bleak hills forested in beech and oak; a cliff-edged coastline at once calm and ferocious and everywhere a scattering from prehistory - barrow mounds, standing stones and hill forts.
Lastly, no introduction to Dorset would be complete without mention of Thomas Hardy. His conception of Wessex was created with Dorset as the pivot - no English county has been captured as completely as Hardy's evocation of Dorset in his Wessex novels. He lived all his life here using the landscape as a memorable background against which his true-to-life rural characters played out their various dramas.