Embrace a staycation on British shores

SUMMER 2009 could very well be remembered for one thing – the staycation. For those not in the know, a staycation is a vacation while staying in the UK. Get it? It s easy to see why this simple marketing buzz word has become ingrained in the nation s psyc

SUMMER 2009 could very well be remembered for one thing - the staycation. For those not in the know, a staycation is a vacation while staying in the UK. Get it?

It's easy to see why this simple marketing buzz word has become ingrained in the nation's psyche. As the economic crisis tightened its grip on the country earlier this year, many people were tightening their belts and extravagant foriegn holidays were the first to bite the bullet.

Then of course, excitement was brewing about the so-called barbecue summer which the Met Office had so confidently forecast.

With this in mind I set about finding out for myself if old Blighty could match up to foreign climes.

Looking at the UK map, there is certainly much to choose but in the end I thought I'd focus on the south coast. Dorset immediately sprung to mind mainly because I haven't been there since I was four years old and because I always hear good things about it.

Setting off from London, it was comforting to learn we were just a couple of hours from our destination (as opposed to the hours it can take when travelling abroad). It is also a picturesque route once you leave the motorway - a stop off at the New Forest was just one of the temptations.

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We were heading to the west, specifically to the coast to visit a small pocket of towns and villages.

First up was Bridport where we were staying (see below) - an Anglo-Saxon town which, as we learned, is famous for its rope and nets which are used widely across the world including at Wimbledon.

This small town has lost none of its historical charm and has an abundance of independent shops to browse through.

Just outside Bridport is the harbour of West Bay where we went in search of some sea air. There we found a popular pebble beach resting before the deep, blue sea.

The area is a great tourist spot and accordingly there are plenty of places to eat and drink - from ice-cream stalls to pubs and restaurants.

Our next stop was Seatown tucked away further along the coast. This is a blink-and-you-miss-it sort of place.

It's off the beaten track and takes a brave driver to negotiate the tiny lanes and sharp turns but it is definitely worth the effort. With just a few cottages and a farm this delightful little hamlet is defined by its majestic cliffs and glorious bay.

It is the perfect place to go to relax - we spent an hour or so walking, then lying down on the beach listening to the crashing waves.

While we were there we felt peckish so went to a delightful little pub called the Anchor Inn. A traditional English pub, this had lots of little coves inside and a large seating area outside.

The menu was impressive particularly for its specials, which was appropriately characterised by its seafood dishes.

I chose the mussels which were absolutely superb - huge in size, really fresh and so well-cooked they practically flopped around on the plate. They were possibly the best I have ever tasted which is why I mention it here.

Back to the car and off we went for a drive and discovered that although the sea is the main attraction for most tourists, Dorset is also home to some fantastic countryside with rolling hills and picturesque little towns.

Later we found ourselves in the county town of Dorchester which boasts an impressive historical background.

Its biggest attraction is Maiden Castle, the largest hillfort in England, and it is the birthplace of Thomas Hardy. It is also well-facilitated with a wealth of shops, restaurants and hotels.

The next day we were back to the coast - to Lulworth Cove to experience Camp Bestival (see right).

And after this we returned west to Lyme Regis, which is a big tourist hotspot for Dorset. We were on a mission to find fossils on the bay but sadly the tide was in and we missed our opportunity.

Never-the-less there was plenty to do as we wandered along the beach and browsed through the fantastic little shops that line the streets. We also had a great breakfast at one of the many cafes - tasty and half the price you would expect to pay in London.

Our Dorset leg of the trip was over, and so far it had been an enjoyable experience. The weather had been ok (apart from one downpour) but we were still waiting for that barbecue summer...

o For detailed information on all attractions in west Dorset, visit www.westdorset.com.

FORGET hotel chains - some of the best accommodation in the UK can be found at small, independent hotels and guest houses.

Dorset is full of them and we experienced one of the best of the bunch at the Bridge House Hotel in Bridport.

The hotel is picture perfect and retains many of its features from its origins as a 1760 town house which accommodated a religious order of dissenting ministers.

It was converted in the 1980s but has lost none of its historic interest.

There are 10 rooms in all, and they are all individual with their own features. We stayed in a room at the top of the house, with a low ceiling with wooden beams and a fantastic view over the countryside.

The Bridge House also prides itself on its restaurant, the Hermitage, which is attached to the hotel. The food is modern and inventive with an emphasis on freshly-cooked and locally-sourced produce.

Special mention should be made of one unique dish - Ropemaker's salad consisting of Rawles bacon and black pudding on mixed leaves with a gentle dressing and lightly poached egg. Truly delicious.

The Bridge House also benefits from a great location in the centre of a town and all its amenities, and within easy reach of the coast.

o One night's bed and breakfast at the Bridge House Hotel costs between �65 and �98. For more details visit www.bridgehousebridport.co.uk.

MUSIC festivals are hardly a new concept but 2009 must surely be the year when they came of age as hundreds of thousands of people dug out their wellies and tents and headed to one of the many events on offer across the UK.

While Glastonbury, V Festival and Carling Festival remain the monsters, catering for up to 200,000 people, now we have 'boutique' festivals aimed at families and people looking for a good time at a slower pace.

One such festival is Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle in Dorset, launched in 2008 by Rob Da Bank, the DJ and founder of Bestival in the Isle of Wight. A parent himself, Da Bank recognised there was a demand for a festival for families and devised Camp Bestival with this in mind. Harking back to the heady days of post-war holiday camps, there are redcoats to look after the kids while the parents kick back and relax.

I don't have children but I still fancied the idea of Camp Bestival, not least because of the solar-powered showers. But also, as this is a music festival after all, the ecelectic line up was exciting with its combination of legendary acts such as Candi Staton, Chic, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and PJ Harvey, with rising stars Florence and the Machine, Laura Marling and VV Brown (Rob Da Bank clearly knew what he was doing when he booked this trio). Add Will Young and Goldie Lookin' Chain to the mix and there was something for everyone.

There was also an opportunity to experience some lesser-known acts on the smaller stages - many of whom are signed to Da Bank's Sunday Best record label. One of the highlights was a unique performance from Kid Carpet whose sound derives from the sound of children's toys and Nancy Elizabeth whose performance was as comic as tuneful.

Aside from the music there was much to enjoy including a book festival with readings, installation art exhibitions in the woods, comedy shows, jousting and even burlesque and tea.

What stands out with Camp Bestival is the laidback atmosphere and the spaciousness. Apparently two-thirds of the festival-goers were under the age of 10 but you wouldn't have thought so. Crucially unlike other festivals I have attended, organisers avoid cramming in as many people as possible so that it is a much more pleasurable experience.

Also top marks for the location - there's nothing better than listening to top-notch music under the shadow of a floodlit Lulworth Castle. Perfect.

o Visit www.campbestival.net for more details.