Discovering the uncharted charm of Dorset

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By exploring the county’s quirky, unconventional stories, Jon Woolcott urges readers to experience Dorset with fresh eyes. By Jane Adams

Real Dorset out in the wild (sitting in the Little Toller bookshop window in Beaminster…)

‘Please don’t use Real Dorset as a guidebook. You’ll get lost!’
As he starts his talk at the launch of his new book, Jon Woolcott says: ‘It isn’t a guide to the best pubs in Dorset, either,’ he adds, ‘though I have included a few …’
Jon Woolcott has an obsession with ‘all things Dorset’. If you meet him, he readily admits it. So when I bagged a ticket to the sell-out launch event for Real Dorset at Folde in Shaftesbury, I was intrigued to hear about some of his discoveries. It is soon obvious that Jon’s Dorset is very much more interesting than the popular ’sea, sand and Hardy’s Wessex’ image.

Spicy spies
Real Dorset starts conventionally enough, divided as it is into five sections; north, south, east, west and central. But that’s where convention ends and discovery of the weird and wonderful – and just plain fascinating – begins.
From the spicy ‘comings and goings of the artistic set at Crichel’, spy scandals on Portland, and 1950s nostalgia at the Model Town in Wimborne, tasty morsels jump from every page.
What I loved most, though, and what kept me reading to the very end, was Jon’s mastery of storytelling.
Real Dorset isn’t a dull ramble through country lanes, villages and towns. Instead its stories are full of humour, unexpected details and an engaging quirkiness.
Whether you read Real Dorset in one sitting, as I did, or dip in and out, you can’t help but feel you’re there, walking with the author, seeing Dorset with fresh eyes.
However, I strongly disagree with Jon on one point. I’m definitely using it as a guidebook. Getting lost in Jon Woolcott’s ‘real’ Dorset, surrounded by music, ghosts, pirates, rebellion and revolt, has frankly never seemed more appealing.

  • Real Dorset was published in April 2023 by Seren Books, and is available not just in Little Toller Books but in all good local indie bookshops and also online.

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