Our favourite National Trust properties in Dorset

There are few better places to delve into Britain’s cultural and environmental heritage than a National Trust property. The National Trust is best known for stately homes but its range of properties is much wider than that. In Dorset, you’ll find majestic castle ruins, vast sandy beaches and a whole island, all waiting to be discovered and explored.

Corfe Castle

If stones could speak, the majestic ruins of Corfe Castle would have a tale or two to tell. Building work began shortly after the Norman conquest over 1,000 years ago and in that time, Corfe Castle has seen plenty of action as a treasury, military garrison, royal residence and family home before being partially demolished.

Seeing these romantic ruins up close also allows visitors to take in breathtaking views over the Purbeck Hills. Cast your eye over gently rolling chalk hills out to Poole Bay as far as the Isle of Wight.

The National Trust put on a variety of children’s events at Corfe Castle across the year from falconry displays and knight school to Easter trails and other exciting quests. There’s a cosy tea room and bookshop to learn more about the ruins and if you really do love the location; it’s licensed for civil ceremonies.

Hardy’s Cottage

From a grand castle to a simple thatched cottage - but this is not just any little home. Here in 1840, world-renowned author Thomas Hardy was born and subsequently grew up. This little cottage formed part of the inspiration behind Hardy’s early works and two of his more famous novels, Under The Greenwood Tree and Far From The Madding Crowd, were written right here. The house itself is little changed from Hardy’s day.

Hardy was greatly influenced by the woodland and heath landscapes surrounding his home. Follow in his footsteps with a walk through Thorncombe Woods. The 26-hectare mixed woodland is a haven for wildlife with dormice, bats and a variety of songbirds calling it home. Time it right and you’ll find the woodland floor bursting with bluebells.

If you want to hear more stories from Hardy’s day, expert volunteers run regular tours around the house. It’s also worth visiting the new Hardy’s Birthplace visitors centre to discover more about the writer and his connection with the local area. Nearby car parking is run by Dorset Council and charges apply.

Clouds Hill

Continuing on the theme of renowned Britons, the next of our National Trust properties in Dorset is T.E. Lawrence’s rural retreat. Famously known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, TE Lawrence took time to read, write and rest at Clouds Hill, just down the road from his army camp in Bovington.

Exploring inside the cottage, visitors can discover The Book Room, The Music Room, The Bunk Room and the all-important Motorbike Shed. Lawrence was a keen motorbike enthusiast and owned several Brough Superiors while at Clouds Hill, some tailormade for him.

Expert volunteers can really make Clouds Hill come to life through stories of TE Lawrence’s time at his rural retreat. Outside the house itself, visitors can take a short walk up to small hill overlooking the cottage - a walk Lawrence would do regularly. The National Trust has also created a brass rubbing trail, referencing Lawrence’s favourite pasttime as a young boy. Car parking at Clouds Hill is free.

Studland Bay

Incorporating a vast area of sandy beaches, protected lowland heath and a freshwater lake, Studland Bay is a perfect place for a family day out in the great outdoors. There are four miles of sandy beach to play in the sand, paddle in the waves, go snorkelling, kayaking or birdwatching - whatever you enjoy best at the beach, Studland Bay has it.

The Purbecks’ heaths are the largest surviving lowland heath area in Dorset, visitors can witness a haze of purple heather rolling into the distance. Head to the 400-tonne Agglestone Rock for the best views. Nearby is the Little Sea, a freshwater lake found just inland from Studland beach and surrounded by dune heath - the unusual landscape where heath and dune combine.

Among the most popular National Trust properties in Dorset, Studland Bay also has plenty of amenities. Find a shop, bookshop and cafe at Knoll Beach, with an additional second-hand bookshop at Middle Beach. There are car parking opportunities across the bay, all pay and display (or free for NT members). Well-behaved dogs are welcome on Studland beaches all year round.

Brownsea Island

And if you’re feeling more adventurous, it’s time to go off the beaten track and discover one of the more unusual National Trust properties in Dorset. As an actual island, situated in Poole Harbour, the only way to Brownsea is by ferry. Once there, keep your eyes peeled for some of the island’s birds, bats and famous red squirrels as you wander the trails.

Brownsea Island’s real claim to fame is as the birthplace of the Scouts. Today, visitors can book a bell tent or pitch up at their historic campsite. To keep the kids entertained, there’s a natural play area with a red squirrel themed twist, access to kayaks and other water sports, and lots of family trails.

Amenities on the island are located at the visitors centre, here you can find a cafe, toilets and the starting point for guided walking tours. At the Engine Room, visitors can meet learn the history of Brownsea and browse the second-hand bookshop.

Start the adventure at George Albert Hotel & Spa

More than a restful night awaits you at the George Albert hotel. Unwind and relax with modern, comfortable rooms, a restorative spa and a delicious fine dining restaurant. Not far from the best National Trust properties in Dorset, we’re perfectly located in the West Dorset AONB to easily access history, heritage and outdoor splendour.