Feeling something close to home, the road stretches out ahead before plummeting down once more. It’s an endless meander through narrow lanes and high edges, almost as though you’re following the path of a local farmer staggering his way home after a heavy night in the pub. This isn’t Roman efficiency; these are local roads, walking tracks that evolved into lanes for practical purposes. These are what make Dorset what it is today – and it immediately seems conducive to road riding with each twist and turn revealing a new horizon, a hidden manor house, or even higher hedges.
Dorset is a county that is often overlooked by many, but for those that have got the hang of its tiny, winding lanes and high hedges, they’ll argue that it’s a true pearl. The open portions of hillside offers views that stretch for miles, and regardless of the season you can expect Dorset’s scenery to put on a show.
Bringing both joy and despair to a road rider, Dorset is the only county in England without a motorway, and many drivers struggle to look past its burdened role as a bottleneck for summer traffic. Fortunately, once you know exactly which roads to avoid (especially during the high season), the county’s widely diverse terrain is brilliantly accessible through its rich network of tiny lanes, which thread their way over its numerous steep and leg-burning hills.
These nine routes throw back the plush, velvety curtains on this rich county’s best secrets, literary heritage, and slightly wacky customs. It encompasses a spider’s web of scrawny roads that traverse the county, leading you on a wonder-filled journey of its villages, right through to the more well-known sights that are found on its unique, rugged coastline. Here's where the weather whips across the landscape before heading inland and often battering the rest of the county.
Dorset’s rhythm is unashamedly provincial with a heartbeat that’s significantly slower than the rest of the UK, but once you’re out on its quiet roads you’ll realize that two wheels are the ultimate way to inject life into the county.
This ride is particularly interesting because it involves a ferry, so expect a bit of an adventure and a tale to retell when you're back in the office! Nip past the Sandbanks (while admiring some of the highest-priced real estate property in the world), before jumping onto the chain ferry across to Swanage. Then you'll head back inland, taking on some of beautiful climbs and descents. Take on a preemptive re-fuel at the Square and Compass Pub before another short break to observe the ruins of Corfe Castle.
It’s a big day out on the bike that ticks all the tourist boxes. You'll then loop north through the county to take in Bulbarrow Hill before going to the market town of Sturminster Newton with a brief stop at Gold Hill Organics if you need to refuel. Then roll back towards the ‘bustling metropolis’ of Poole and Bournemouth via Wimbourne. Be aware that the final few kilometres will see significantly heavy traffic but you are entering Dorset’s most densely populated area (and plus you’ll have hardly seen a soul all day).
Ferry info here: sandbanksferry.co.uk
A fairly long ride that cuts across the county, this great route starts in Poundbury, a new development of the outskirts of Dorchester, Dorset’s county town. Poundbury was designed by Prince Charles in the mid-90s so except Georgian architecture, wide streets, and tidy pavements. It's cute, basically, and aims to foster a sense of community.
The northern part of the loop takes you to Cerne Abbas, where you can check out the interesting anatomy of the Chalk Giant. Many have given their viewpoint on its origins, but whether fake or real, it certainly sets a striking figure over the valley. To see the traditional viewpoint you’ll need to go a little bit north of the village for the postcard shot, but this fly-by one is satisfactory!
You'll then head south through the Piddle Valley to the Rhododendron Mile, a rolling road that’s a stunning sight when in bloom. From there, head east towards Cloud’s Hill, the home of the notorious First World War British intelligence officer T E Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, before heading south for a quick tea at Morton Tea Rooms, where you can also check out T E Lawrence’s grave. Then continue south towards the coast, checking out D’Urberville Hall, made famous by local author Thomas Hardy as the fictional home of Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
The route then drops down to the rugged coast at Lulworth Cove along some hard climbs – this bit is known as Tank Training due to the artillery training base, as well as the lactate-inducing efforts that you'll crank out here. Don’t be surprised to see some heavy armour on the road.
Once you've admired the coastline you’ll slowly start to wiggle your way towards Dorset, taking a detour through Chaldon Herring, which is home to the Smugglers Pub if energy levels are waning.
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Public schools are like the apples of the famous Dorset Apple Cake – the county just wouldn't be the same without them. So grand and beautiful, they are likely to stop your breath as you ride by thanks to their impressive architecture. These high-dollar schools are scattered across the county, each with acres upon acres of land and virtually traffic-lanes. For cyclists, the benefits are obvious and this route takes you to some of the finest.
From the Georgian-style market town of Blandford Forum, which sits across the flood-prone river Stour, the route first passes Bryanstone School, (once part of the Portman estate of well-known gentry). Then you head east towards Okeford Hill (the first ‘fright’ of the ride) - we’d recommend taking a minute to look at the view; on a clear day you might see the Severn Bridge. Then you drop down to do a loop through the narrow lanes that sit to the north of the mighty Bulbarrow Hill before heading out to the Piddle Valley (snigger all you like – Dorset has some eyebrow-raising village names, so report back with any other good names). The route then embarks on a string of climbs that lead you up to the mighty Bulbarrow, passing Milton Abbey school and Milton Abbas for some archtiectureal eye-candy. Bulbarrow is the highest point of the ride and worth every drop of sweat. From here it’s mainly downhill all the way back. We’d recommended dropping into Keyneston Mill, a high-end perfumerie and coffee shop which - despite all appearances - is happy for cyclists to stop by.
Tip: Take the sneaky underpass back into Blandford to avoid the main road, then cut across the Stour Meadows back to free car park by the old bridge.
It has been said that the Blackmore Vale could be classed as the Ardennes of Dorset by its local cyclists, and once you’re here you’re likely to agree. This route is the epitome of the Dorset Ardennes, and it really packs a punch thanks to its back-to-back climbs. Starting and finishing in the beautiful hilltop town of Shaftesbury, you’ll take a clockwise route that includes the iconic zig-zag climb up to Ashmore.
Don’t be deceived by the altitude profile, it’s up and down the whole way. On route you can grab some refreshments at Gold Hill Organic Farm (the shelves are stocked with such goodness that we won't be surprised when you're back here to fill your bags rather than just your jersey pockets). From here the routes continues onto the low-lying lanes of Blackmore Vale before hitting the final 'mountain' top finish in Shaftesbury with the notorious Gold Hill.
The significance of the ride name here is all about Weymouth, which is steeped in history thanks to King George III. It became the seat of government during his reign after he decided to move here for the summers to bathe and recuperate – once you feel the sun draping down on you while riding you'll certainly appreciate the warmer climes down here on the Dorset coast. His presence gave the town a distinct architectural feel, which you'll pick up on as you cruise out for the start of the ride.
It gets going by heading northwards into the county, taking in some decent climbs along the way before hitting the first amazing view point from Abbotsbury, arguably giving you one of the most iconic and treasured views of Chesil Beach. The route then parallels this on some slightly busier roads on the way down to Portland (unfortunately there's no way to avoid these). Portland is a peninsula known for its quarrying and superstition about rabbits (ask the locals if you're feeling brave). Watch out for the winds as they whip in here from the English channel, so we’d recommend choosing a day when the wind is relatively still.
Once you've done the final climb up and onto Portland, you can roll down to Portland Bill and pick either of two cafes at the furthest-most tip of land. Certain tourist souvenirs should fit nicely into your jersey pocket.
And if you are curious about the 'rabbits', then here's a condensed answer:
The stone from Portland's huge stone quarry was used by Sir Christopher Wren for St Paul's Cathedral. Word has it that supposedly you're not allowed to say 'Rabbits' while on the Isle of Portland as local superstition says that it'll cause a collapse in the quarry. Would you really want to be responsible for that?
From Sherborne – known for its Abbey – you'll do a loop in the Northern territory of Dorset, taking you out through the narrow lanes around Yetminster and Chetnole. This is a route that will continually throw in a few major surprises around each tight turn and it packs a lot of diversity and two major climbs into its 45 miles (73 kilometres).
The climbs naturally don’t compete with Alpine passes, but you’ll still need some extra teeth to get up them. So a compact is definitely recommended for this ride!
You’ll then wiggle back through the much faster, rolling lanes of Fifehead Neville to Sherborne, where you can take a well-deserved sit down in one of its many cafés and boutiques.
This super diverse 52 miles (84 kilometer) route starts and finishes in the village of Cranborne, seen as the gateway to the Cranborne Chase. It's another hilly area of Dorset with rolling chalk downs, numerous small villages, and plenty of steep climbs to keep you interested.
From the top of the long Tollard Royal climb, you’ll drop down with a loop around Shaftesbury and the notorious Gold Hill before heading back to Ashmore, Dorset’s highest village. Midway through the final push home you should make time for a quick refuel at the Hedgehog Bakery, which makes such great bread from local flour.
Green fields, high hedges, wiggly lanes, a few horse riders, the sea, the sea, the sea... The list of what you'll observe on this Dorset route is virtually endless!
You can start from Tisbury train station and the tour goes right from the north-eastern tip of the county right down to the iconic beach town of Weymouth (ending at a cute beach cafe, in fact). In the process you'll go through some of the most rural, winding, hilly roads that Dorset has to offer, so make sure you're ready for a big day out. Reaching Abbots Tearooms in Cerne Abbas (known for the Giant, of which you'll get a great view once you've gone through the village) is the perfect mid-ride pit stop with bike parking in the garden and delicious homemade cakes.
Dorset is the only county that doesn't have a motorway, which fortunately means there's very little traffic as cars just prefer to avoid this area altogether! After you've tackled some of these tight, twisty lanes, you'll soon realise that these backroads are a killer.
But it'll all be worth it when you've loaded your bike onto the train to return to the parked car at Tisbury. You can trust Dorset style.
This route starts from Bridport and if you want to sell it to your riding buddies then you can call it a loop of SW Dorset’s secret lanes. Tucked away from the Jurassic Coast, there is a veritable hidden treasure trove of lanes, villages and sights that only true explorers will find on their bikes.
At just a touch over 55 miles (90 kilometers) this route goes right up to the north of the county. It has two café options: either the Trading Post in Bearminster or the Old School Gallery Cafe in Yetminster. You'll hit Yetminster after a good chunk of the ride, so it's a well-timed stop. From Yetminster to the Blackcomb climb you'll pedal along dreamy, narrow roads that really sum up the area. Then there’s a blast down to Catistock, home of the Dorset knob – a bit of a local delicacy – before a string of short climbs bring you back to Bridport.