Camping in Dorset.
© Rhonda Carrier.
Camping in Dorset.

A Extended-Family Camping Break in Weymouth, Dorset

By Rhonda Carrier

Named after a small prawn caught in Portland Harbour and the Fleet Lagoon in winter, Bill Winters is a little slice of heaven on Earth - this former shipping container is now a place to kick back between neon-hued Hawaiian-style parasols and enjoy everything from sunset cocktails, local craft beers and artisan G&Ts to Chesil smoked salmon or house-farmed oysters while your kids and dogs play on the sand, in the shallow waters or on hired water-sports equipment including kayaks and SUP paddleboards. (Of course, you can join in the beach fun, too…). We loved it so much we came back several times during our Dorset camping break, including for wonderful breakfast pancakes.

We were in Weymouth for my stepfather's 70th birthday, and with there being so many of us decided to keep a tight rein on budgets by staying on campsites – my brother in his converted Land Rover, my step-siblings in their own or hired camper vans, and my own family in two tents (a large one for four of us and the dog, and a separate single one for the oldest and most objectionable teen). 

'One of our favourite days out in Dorset was on the Isle of Portland, an island 'tied' to the mainland by Chesil Beach. Here we stocked up on picnic fare to take down to the secluded pebbly beach of Church Ope Cove, uncrowded since you can only get to it via 180 teetering steps.'

We tried out two campsites, both fantastic in their different ways: Pebble Bank less than 3km from Weymouth town centre has stunning views of Chesil Beach and a welcoming café-restaurant-bar. West Fleet Holiday Farm was also a fun choice for its outdoor swimming pool, although this was chilly even on roasting hot days, so bring wetsuits.

Together as an extended family and separately, we had some wonderful family days out in Dorset. One of our favourites was on the Isle of Portland, an island 'tied' to the mainland by Chesil Beach. Here we stocked up on picnic fare to take down to the secluded pebbly beach of Church Ope Cove, uncrowded since you can only get to it via 180 teetering steps. En route you can see the Penn’s Weare, where stone was quarried for the rebuilding of London's St Paul’s Cathedral in the 17th century.

Other beaches we enjoyed were the shelving, wide-open pebble and shingle Abbotsbury Beach, where my boys bodyboarded beside brooding anglers, and Bowleaze Cove, which has a bit of a more of an unreconstructed British seaside feel and some old-fashioned fun in the form of a ghost train, a gin bar, an ice-cream parlour and a fish-and-chip counter.

Another favourite Dorset day out was an afternoon spent hunting for fossils at Charmouth, after an introductory talk at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre with its fascinating display. See our feature on a fossil-hunting family adventure at Charmouth on the Jurassic Coast.

Though we were camping, we made time for some pockets of luxury to ease us through. One day, torrential rain drove us to check out Moonfleet Manor Hotel for a long leisurely lunch with the grandparents followed by a session in their vast play barn. Other days we ate out in child- and dog-friendly pubs in Weymouth, including The Nothe Tavern close by the fort of the same same.

And my husband and I spent an anniversary night at The Pig on the Beach on Studland Bay, while family babysat our children back at the campsite. Though family-friendly, this boutique hotel is great for a parents' break, with romantic accommodation in two old shepherds' huts and two former dovecotes, plus simply stunning food based on ingredients from the on-site kitchen garden and from suppliers from within a 40km radius. Studland Bay itself is one of the best walks in Dorset, especially the stretch to the three chalk formations of Old Harry Rocks, while Corfe Castle was also worth a gander on the way back to the campsite.

Read more about family holidays and breaks in Dorset

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