As summer rolls on and we get a taste for long days and being outdoors, we’re often asked to share our ‘hidden gems’ – places to go to get away from the coastal crowds. Of course, this is an impossible task – a gem to one person could easily be a no-no for another – our tastes are as diverse as the landscape around us.

Our best advice we can give is ‘look the other way’. If you’re on a busy beach look inland and head for the highest point for great views and a sense of space – with over 2,000 miles of public rights of way in the Dorset AONB, there’s bound to be a way up there. Or if you’re normally out exploring in the morning, get a different view by visiting at sunset – pack up the kids with a picnic supper and see your favourite places in a different light!

Swyre Head (c) Oscar de Wit Dorset AONB Photo Competition Youth Runner Up 2020

Finding a new activity is another great way to explore new places. For younger families, a riverside picnic could make a welcome change from the beach. Or look out for forest school or messy art family activities outdoors. For older families, geocaching and orienteering are a great focus – the National Trust orienteering trails at Stonebarrow for example will give everyone the run around and who could resist the quest to find some of the 100s of geocache treasure boxes in Dorset?

Or check out the Artsreach summer programme for outdoor family-friendly performances and activities for young people, with our outstanding landscape as a beautiful backdrop.

River Stour at Blandford (c) Martina Vecchietti

Swap saltwater for freshwater

If you can’t face another busy beach this summer, grab a picnic blanket and find yourself a tranquil riverside to relax in the dappled shade or a cooling splash around. The water meadows around Blandford offer a great picnic spots, as do the riverside Millennium green at Frampton village, north of Dorchester; the River Lim path running north of Lyme Regis and the tranquil River Hooke at Kingcombe Meadows.

Hambledon Hill (c) Pat Catley

Northern Lights

Look north and you’ll find lots of hidden gems all in one small area – something for everyone if you’re out with family and friends. Okeford Hill offers far-ranging views over the tranquil Blackmore Vale and is a great place for picnics and short strolls. Close by is Okeford Bikepark for the brave and energetic; the National Trust’s Ringmoor & Turnworth Down reserve for peace and quiet; Bonsley Forest for wet weather days and Child Okeford village for hillfort walks and riverside cycles.

Beaminster (c) Jan Williams

Hidden in the hills

Head to the hills of the South Dorset Ridgeway, with gems such as Hell Stone, Grey Mare and Her Colts and the Valley of the Stones for intrepid young explorers. The newly reopened Dorset Museum provides a great starting point for these explorations, highlighting 500,000 years of people’s history in Dorset.

Or head for Beaminster town nestled comfortably in a fold of hills. It’s a real hidden gem with 6 circular walks starting from the town square as well as cafes, a museum, kids play area … and a very good fish & chip shop!

You can find lots more ideas of places to go on our Explore Map.