Wessex Attractions: Studland Bay

Studland Bay in Dorset is situated within the Purbeck Heritage Coast and is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is rich in history, wildlife and outdoor activities.

One of the main attractions of Studland Bay is its beautiful beaches. The bay has four miles of golden sands and clear, shallow waters,. The main beach, known as South Beach, is the largest and most popular, with a range of facilities including toilets, showers, and a café. There are also several smaller beaches along the bay, including Knoll Beach, one of Britain's best-known naturist beaches with 900m (just over half a mile) set aside for nude bathing. The naturist beach is clearly signposted, to prevent accidental encounters with those who may be offended by public nudity. Those who wish to avoid this area are advised to use the Heather Trail, which bypasses this stretch of beach.

Another highlight of Studland Bay is its rich wildlife. The bay is home to a range of animals and birds, including seals, porpoises, and dolphins, which can often be spotted swimming in the waters. The surrounding heathland and sand dunes are also home to a variety of species, including the rare heath tiger beetle and the Dartford warbler. The area is also popular with birdwatchers, with several species of seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills, and kittiwakes, nesting on the cliffs. It is the only place in Britain where all six native species of reptile can be seen.

Studland Bay also offers a range of activities for visitors to enjoy. The South West Coast Path runs along the coast, offering beautiful walks and breathtaking views. There are also several cycle routes through the area, including the Studland to Swanage cycleway, which takes in the picturesque villages of Studland and Corfe Castle. For water sports enthusiasts, there are several companies offering windsurfing, kitesurfing, and paddleboarding lessons and equipment hire.

One of the best ways to experience Studland Bay is by taking a boat trip from the nearby town of Swanage. These trips offer the chance to see the bay from a different perspective and to spot some of the wildlife, including seals and dolphins. There are also several boat trips that take visitors out to Old Harry Rocks, a series of natural rock stacks located at the eastern end of the bay, which offer views across Poole Bay to the Isle of Wight.

Studland Bay also has a rich history, with evidence of human activity dating back to the Iron Age. The area was also used by the Romans, and there are several ancient burial mounds, or barrows, in the surrounding area. The village of Studland itself is home to several historic buildings, including the 12th-century St Nicholas Church and the 17th-century Studland House. Operation Smash, a full-scale rehearsal for the Allied occupation of Europe, took place at Studland Bay in April 1944. some of the concrete anti-tank defences known as Dragon's Teeth can still be seen at the bay.

Studland Bay was donated to the National Trust in 1981 by its previous owners, the aristocratic Bankes family. It is located at the end of the B3351 from Corfe Castle via Swanage, It can also be reached by ferry from Sandbanks, Poole; and by Wilts and Dorset bus number 50 from Bournemouth to Poole. The nearest railway station is Swanage, on the heritage Swanage Railway, which runs from Wareham on the South Western main line. But that's a subject for another article.

Wessex Attractions: Watersmeet House

Watersmeet in Devon has been settled since the Iron Age. Situated at the meeting point of the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water, it provides a popular spot for fishing, canoeing and wildlife spotting. Watersmeet House, built in 1832, was originally a hunting and fishing lodge. and has served cream teas since late Victorian times.

The house is surrounded by a 2000 acre estate, including ancient oak woodland, all managed by the National Trust. The famous Exmoor ponies can be found on the estate, as can red deer, buzzards and otters. The whortleberry, a fruit similar to the bilberry, grows here, and makes excellent jam. The rivers contain salmon and trout when in season, hence its popularity as a fishing spot.

The nearby coast is home to some spectacular sea cliffs, including those at Countisbury. believed to be the site of the battle of Cynuit, where the West Saxons, led by Alfred the Great, overwhelmed an invading Viking force, and slew their leader.

There are four Iron Age hillforts in the area, Two fortified farmsteads, Myrtleberry North and South, are now scheduled monuments, though not much of them remains. The East Lyn River was also the site of one of the UK's first hydroelectric power stations, built in 1890; and of the Lynrock mineral water factory between 1911 and 1952, when it was destroyed in a flood.

The postcode of Watersmeet House is EX35 6NT, and it is served by bus numbers 300, 309 and 310 to Lynmouth.

Wessex Attractions: Hook Norton Brewery

Hook Norton Brewery is a traditional brewery near Banbury in Oxfordshire that acts almost as a living museum. It was operated by steam until 2006 (its historic Victorian steam engine is still on view to visitors), and its beer is delivered to the village of Hook Norton on a horse-drawn cart.

The brewery operates a network of 47 pubs in northern Wessex and southern Mercia. 23 of these pubs are in Oxfordshire, and a further three in Gloucestershire. They brew a wide range of beers; and two ciders, original and berry.

Brewery tours can be organised via their website. The brewery offers a shop, a restaurant, and two meeting rooms. The postcode is OX15 5NY, and it is served by Stagecoach bus service 488, from Banbury to Chipping Norton (get off at Pear Tree Inn)..

Wessex Attractions: Over Bridge

Before the opening of the first Severn Bridge in 1966, traffic wishing to cross the River Severn from Bristol and points south had two choices: the Aust Ferry, and Over Bridge in Gloucester. The latter was built in the late 1820s from a design by Thomas Telford (1757-1834), the Scottish civil engineer nicknamed "the colossus of roads", whose other achievements include the Menai Bridge. The design was based on Jean-Rodolphe Perronet's design for a bridge over the Seine at Neuilly.

Telford's 150-foot, single span stone bridge replaced an earlier bridge dating back to Tudor times, though there had been a bridge there for much longer, as one is recorded in the Domesday Book. It closed to traffic in 1974, when the present A40 bridge was opened, but remains as a pedestrian bridge.

The bridge is currently maintained by English Heritage, and is a scheduled monument. It is two miles from Gloucester railway station and is well-served by local buses. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is GL2 8BZ.

Wessex Attractions: Branscombe

Branscombe is a village at the Western end of Devon's Jurassic Coast, It features a sand and shingle beach, and three National Trust properties: a blacksmith's forge dating from around 1580; a 19th century watermill; and a thatched bakery which is now used as a tea room.

The name is Celtic in origin, from the personal name Bran, and the word "cwm", a valley, which later became one of the few Brythonic loan words into Old English (as "combe"). The order of the syllables suggests that the name is Saxon in origin, as a Celtic name would have put the personal name element after the topographic one, as in Cwmbran in Wales.

Branscome was once the haunt of smugglers, and a network of tunnels was discovered in the first decade of the last century. More recently it was the site of the salvaging of the shipwrecked cargo ship MSC Napoli, a salvage operation that took two and a half years.

The village was formerly a centre for the lace industry, giving its name to Branscombe point, a style used by lacemakers to this day. Unlike neighbouring Honiton, Branscombe lace was made using needles rather than bobbins, The lace was thicker than Honiton lace, and slightly quicker to make.

The postcode for satnav purposes is EX12 3DB, and the village is served by Axe Vale Mini-Travel bus number 899, from Sidmouth to Seaton.