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Time Off: Be daring and go mad in Dorset; Ken Bennett enjoys our green and pleasant land on a trip south.

Byline: Ken Bennett

PETER Targett, Master Mariner, steered the motor vessel Freedom as close as he safely could to the towering cliff face' There,' he pointed, 'and there - do you see them? It's amazing to think they are probably about 150 million years old.'

He was talking about ammonites, the beautiful whorled fossils a foot or more across, relics of giant squid-like creatures which inhabited Dorset when it lay under a tropical sea.

We were on the Jurassic Coast, designated a World Heritage Site because of the wealth of dinosaur remains and footprints found all over the Isle of Purbeck and quarries on Portland, now on view at local museums.

But a voyage on the Weymouth-based Freedom is a great way to see the coast, sidling up to bays like Man o' War Cove, the more famous Lulworth Cove and the remarkable arch of Durdle Door.

Chartering a vessel like the twin-hulled 10-tonne Freedom for your family (fees negotiable) allows you time for the fantasy of being on a real adventure at sea.

For example, this part of Dorset was a favourite for 30 years with Enid Blyton and many of her children's books draw inspiration from the places like Corfe Castle - Kirrin Castle in Five On A Treasure Island - Swanage and Studland.

For us it was doubly appropriate because we were five in number, including one called Georgina, plus a dog - Five On A Second Childhood.

One of our party was confined to a wheelchair, so Hoseasons found us a cleverlyconverted barn, which boasts a downstairs bedroom and bathroom ideally equipped for the disabled.

Chetnole, near historic Sherborne, is buried in lush countryside - it brings to life the phrase 'England's green and pleasant land'. You almost expect to see Miss Marple trotting down the lane to the heart of the village, with its proper pub, post office-cum-shop and sturdy church.

There are dozens of little villages like this in Dorset, with seductive names like Minterne Parva and Ryme Intrinsica, filled with pretty stone houses, gardens brimming with climbing roses and sweet peas, and boxes of produce left at the gate for which you are trusted to pay.

Over breakfast on a sunsplashed patio, with peacocks crying in the distance and a horse and foal grazing across a little stream shaded by willows, we planned our days.

Dorset has an amazing range of activities for the whole family, both leisurely pursuits and enough action to satisfy the most testosterone-charged. And although Weymouth and its neighbours can claim the best sunshine hours in Britain, there are plenty of diversions to occupy the family even in poor weather.

Never again should you have to hear the teenage whinge 'I'm bored.' And the best thing is that most attractions are in about an hour's drive.

One day we dropped the car at Norden and took the lovingly-restored little steam train to Swanage, chuffing through the plump fields and woods. What is it that makes everyone wave when a steam train goes past?

Then off to Lyme Regis, famous internationally as the setting of that look by Meryl Streep standing on the Cobb in The French Lieutenant's Woman, but it is also a good place to start learning to hunt fossils under the tuition of a qualified geologist.

And to complete the status of a slightly up-market town, Lyme is twinned with St George's, Bermuda!

There and in Weymouth and Swanage, we indulged in the traditional British seaside holiday: ice cream, candyfloss or whelks strolling the prom. Or just stake out on the sands which have won awards for clean beaches and seas. You can even rent your own beach hut at Swanage.

Over in Dorchester, the county town, there are museums dedicated to the treasures of Tutankhamun, the Terracotta Warriors, dinosaurs and teddy bears. Corfe and Wimborne Minster offer miniature villages to delight both children and adults.

Monkey World at Wareham is home to nearly 200 rescued or endangered apes and monkeys of 16 species, who live in 65 acres of woodland. If there's a birthday during your holiday, you can celebrate with a party at the centre.

At Abbotsbury Swannery 600 free flying swans come to feed twice a day - an awesome sight; and in late May and June you can see the baby cygnets soon after they hatch.

Elsewhere there are opportunities for kite surfing, power kiting and windsurfing, as well as cycling, horse riding, caving and rock climbing.

When we reached that happily tired stage, replete with sunshine and sea air, we strolled down to the Chetnole Inn and sampled some local beer and excellent food, served with a smile as broad as one of Dorset's golden beaches

Dorset days

Ken Bennett stayed at Silver Dean, Chetnole, through Hoseasons Holidays. Check out their cottages at:

www.hoseasons.co.uk For a wide range of activities, visit

www.dorsetattractions.com special information about the Jurassic Coast at www.jurassiccoast.com

To charter the MV Freedom, which has special facilities for the disabled, visit

www.mvfreedom.org.uk Swanage steam railway

www.swanagerailway.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

PICTURESQUE: Shaftesbury is typical of the villages in Dorset. Below Durdle Door
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 19, 2005
Words:857
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