You need to tick a lot of boxes to enjoy a seaside holiday with extended family – super close to a sandy beach, old-fashioned amusements for the young (and young at heart), luxurious accommodation for the grown ups, tasty seafood, and plenty of tourist attractions to entertain the masses. We had high hopes Weymouth on the south coast could live up to expectations.
The Dorset town began as a fishing port but has been fine-tuning its tourist industry for more than 200 years, ever since George III visited in the 1780s. The glorious Esplanade curves round the enormous sandy bay and the architecture is stunning. Impressive Georgian townhouses five and six storeys tall proudly look out to sea and there are dozens of guesthouses lining the streets catering to visitors who come to take in the sea air.
Our base for the week was a Dream Cottages’ newly-renovated townhouse right on the seafront aptly named Seasides. This six bedroom, six bathroom, Georgian property has stunning views across the sands to the front. Inside, the ground floor had sofas for everyone and enough dining space to comfortably seat our party of 13, as well as an excellently equipped kitchen.
Each spacious bedroom has sea views and in the basement there is a light and airy second lounge with table football, flatscreen TV with DVD and games console, and a selection of board games too. The basement utility room has a second larder-style fridge freezer, washing machine, and tumble dryer and was probably bigger than any kitchen I’ll ever own. Seasides is almost at the harbour mouth so you can stand in the living space to see directly onto the beach through one window and look to the busy harbour at the rear. The elevated back terrace was a wonderful spot to enjoy a glass of wine while the sun went down.
Our multi-generational party had plenty of space to spread out and the children (aged three to eight) scurried off to play hide and seek the moment we arrived. The accommodation at Seasides is spread over five floors and while the kids played in the basement lounge or up in their bedrooms, the adults could relax in the main lounge in blissfully uninterrupted peace.
The people of Weymouth are rightfully proud of their fine sandy beach. It’s of premium sandcastle-building quality and we loved being able to pop across the road straight after breakfast and get stuck in. Evening walks paddling in the gentle waves ensured a relaxing end to the day and our girls were wide-eyed when we proposed night-time sandcastle excursions after dinner instead of the usual bath and bedtime routine.
Nature was right on our doorstep at RSPB Radipole Lake, a bird reserve right in the middle of Weymouth. Quiet paths wind through the reedbeds and it felt like a true oasis in the centre of town. The visitor centre served delicious slices of traditional Dorset apple cake and there were excellent children’s activities organised – painting, colouring, model making, and pond dipping, the highlight for our girls. We scooped up leeches, pond skaters, tiny fish and a host of other squirming bugs and beetles.
The town forms part of Dorset’s famous Jurassic Coastline, with its craggy rocks and prehistoric fossil-finding opportunities. We marvelled at the ancient archway of Durdle Door and enjoyed a windswept cliff-top walk along the South West Coast path to Lulworth Cove.
Further west along the coast is the picturesque village of Abbotsbury, with its quaintly renovated cottages and plethora of tearooms and independent shops. It’s also home to Abbotsbury Tourism’s three main visitor attractions – a children’s farm, subtropical gardens and a swannery.
We started our day at the gardens, 30 acres filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world. Five-year-old Catherine and three-year-old Hannah sped down jungle paths, smelling the beautiful flowers and racing along secret tracks through wispy bamboos. All four of us loved the Burma rope bridge, 36-wobbly metres long and suspended over the Jurassic Swamp. Lunch on the veranda of the colonial restaurant was homemade and locally sourced and we were delighted to share crumbs with a robin so tame it ate from our fingers.
Our afternoon was spent at the children’s farm, petting the cuddly guinea pigs and stroking the miniature donkeys. The girls would have happily stayed at the indoor play area all week with its bouncy castle, ball pit and huge climbing area. As soft play centres go, it’s pretty unusual, housed in a great tithe barn, a huge thatched building originally built in around 1400. It’s filled with brightly-coloured play equipment now, but with its soaring timbered roof it’s easy to see why filmmakers chose to shoot key scenes from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd here. We returned to Abbotsbury Swannery the next day for a lovely walk among the nesting mute swans, originally farmed by monks for their meat in the 11th century and now carefully managed and protected by conservationists. Dozens of beautiful little silvery grey cygnets waddled alongside us as their parents gracefully glided downstream, keeping a watchful eye on their young.
Weymouth’s bustling port ensures top quality seafood is on the menu throughout town. We enjoyed seafood plates at the Red Lion pub eating our crayfish, crab and mackerel in the dappled sunlight of Hope Square. Lunch the next day consisted of freshly cooked whitebait next door to the pub at The Crow’s Nest in the Square, as well as Spanish-influenced chicken, chorizo and lentil cassollo. Vaughan’s Bistro is across the water, overlooking fishing boats and fancy yachts to-ing and fro-ing across the harbour. The grown ups enjoyed the Tuesday evening special offer – two delicious courses for a tenner.
RSPB Radipole visitor centre is open every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Entrance is free but donations are welcome.
Passport tickets to all three attractions at Abbotsbury cost £17 for adults and £12 for children. Under fives are free.