This year we all know that Christmas will feel a lot different. Although we may not be able to celebrate in our normal ways, the good news is that being outdoors is widely recognised as a healthy place to be this winter.

We’ve come up with lots of ideas of things to do and places to go to help you celebrate the winter season. And if you can’t get out, there’s still plenty you can do to enjoy the midwinter from the comfort of your sofa.

Space, fresh air, freedom ... 

We love that the benefits of being outdoors has been recognised during this pandemic, nature really does help you feel happier and healthier. Head out to one of Dorset’s iron age hillforts to feel on top of the world – great views, lots of space and so much fresh air your lungs will sing!

Eggardon Hill (c) Tony Gill

You’re spoilt for choice – Hambledon and Hod Hills in north Dorset have fantastic views over the Blackmore Vale. Lambert’s Castle, Coney’s Castle and Pilsdon Pen in West Dorset wonderful views across the Marshwood Vale to the Jurassic Coast. Or promenade along the immense grassy ramparts of Maiden Castle near Dorchester, the largest iron age hillfort in northern Europe.

Black Down near Dorchester and Stonebarrow near Charmouth also have lots of space and stunning views. For more ideas of places to go have a look at our Explore Map

Winter sunsets

We know that sunsets aren’t unique to Dorset but watching the sun set over the sea at Lyme Bay or Poole Harbour or over the rolling downs of West Dorset feels very special indeed.

Make the most of the short winter days to catch a few – slow down, wait awhile and the pleasure will be all yours! Top tips from the AONB Team include West Bay Pier, Creech Hill near Corfe Castle, and Thorncombe Beacon.

Winter wildlife

Poole Harbour is a very special place for wading birds and winter is a great time to see them . Many wading birds come here from the Arctic, North & Eastern Europe and other parts of the UK, attracted by the frost free climate and food-rich tidal mud & shallow lagoons. Over 25,000 wading birds call it home in the winter, including around Eurasian spoonbill, little egret and avocet.

The RSPB reserve at Arne near Wareham is a great place to be winter birdspotting and other suggestions listed on the Birds of Poole Harbour website.

Poole Harbour also has a number of webcams, helping to bring the outside in over the bleak winter months – have a look at the Birds of Poole Harbour website, for a unique and very mesmerising view.

And if you’d like a little help to work out what’s out there, then the RSPB have an excellent on-line guide that can help.

Shelduck reflection at Poole Harbour (c) Mark Heighes

Wintry dark skies

One of the special qualities of the Dorset AONB is its dark skies – areas where there is little light pollution, giving you the chance to enjoy a sky-full of stars in all their glory. Grab a torch, warm coat and flask and head to the darkest of dark skies.

Durlston Country Park near Swanage is a Dark Sky Discovery Site. It’s a great place to experience jaw-dropping solar system, star clusters, galaxies and meteor showers and one of the few places in Dorset where you can see the Milky Way reflected in the sea.

Or head for the downs and vales in West Dorset between Powerstock and Cerne Valley, one of the darkest places in the southern UK

Check out the CPREs night light maps for a fascinating insight into darkest Dorset.

Stride out or stroll

Whether you want to walk off the festive excesses or meet up with friends & family for a gentle stroll, there’s plenty of walks to do that are interesting in winter. Striking landscapes come in all shapes and sizes in Dorset so you can take your pick depending on your mood, energy levels and company!

Jurassic Coast in Winter (c) Nigel Gidney

Here’s some winter walking suggestions:

Bring the Outdoors in ...

Enjoy a heart-warming seasonal celebration of all things Dorset with a brand new film, featuring Dorset music, song, story and dance.

The Ridgeway Singers and Band, led by Tim Laycock and Phil Humphries, have captured the story of how our ancestors celebrated Christmas in Dorset including new carols in the West Gallery tradition, interspersed with readings, archive photographs and other images from across Dorset. The FREE film can be seen from 4pm from 20th December to 3rd January, thanks to the amazingly creative Artsreach. Find out more

Our Stepping into Nature team also have some ideas for bringing the outdoors and and will be launching their indoor ‘Picnic in the Parks’ in January.

Present Idea ...

If you’re looking for a last minute present, gift some stunning landscapes with this Dorset Coast & Countryside  2021 Calendar produced by Dorset Magazine in conjunction with the Dorset AONB.

Featuring the winning images of our Landscapes for Life Competition, the calendar showcases the great variety of Dorset’s landscapes throughout the seasons.

A donation from each calendar sale will be made to the Dorset AONB to support future projects. The calendar costs £8.99 and can be ordered online from the Calendar Club, with free UK delivery.