Waterside Holiday Park and Spa, Dorset – review

Ben Dowell finds that a caravan is all you need if you want to enjoy the stunning Dorset countryside – especially if you are a Broadchurch or Thomas Hardy fan

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God I love caravans. My wife and I used to have one in Suffolk before the expense of keeping one proved too much and we had to bid a fond farewell to our 2008 Moselle two bedder. (Yes I do caravan makes and everything).

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So it is with a glad heart that I signed up to the Waterside Holiday Park and Spa where – get this – me and the family were going to relive our experiences of living in a tiny space: two adults, two children, cooking, sleeping showering and using it as a base to explore the countryside.

Because that’s what caravans are for, right? They’re not meant to be comfortable. Did I say we outgrew the unspacious conditions, as well? Because we did.

Only thing is, the caravans at Waterside are so fabulously equipped and spacious you can actually live there. Really, properly, live, not squeeze. They don’t feel cramped at all – quite the opposite. In our more modern 2015 Moselle three-bedroom caravan (another make to notch up) you could actually walk from the kitchen to the sofa without banging your leg which, and I speak as a caravan veteran, is a pretty rare and good thing.

They really are state-of-the-art with spacious living quarters, well-equipped kitchens complete with, astonishingly, a microwave cooker, oven and dishwasher. There are three bedrooms, meaning you can sleep eight if you use the pull-out sofa bed in the living room. Plus there’s a television.

This was not a base. It was a home.

And a word to anyone with kids: they love caravans. Safe, warm and secure with all the fun of camping out.

Even better there is a brilliant swimming pool on site at the Waterside Holiday Park, complete with Jacuzzis, a very impressive water slide, two split-level indoor pools and an outdoor swimming area. The kids loved it. And, I will admit, so did I. Especially the water slide.

But of course what really capped this holiday was the Dorset countryside, the park really is brilliant situated.

It is located just outside the lively seaside town of Weymouth, which has a fabulous beach as well as an active night-life (too active for oldies like me perhaps).

A bit further out are the stunning beaches of Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove (below) which are well worth a visit, even if they can get a bit busy during peak season. Durdle Door in particular has lovely beaches, with crystal clear cold seawater and stunning cliff top views.

And about six miles to the north of Weymouth is the town of Dorchester, a place which I absolutely had to visit as an obsessive fan of Thomas Hardy.

Dorchester was the Casterbridge made famous in Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, in which the impulsive Michael Henchard is tragically brought down by fate and his own folly.

You can visit places like the Kings Arms pub hotel that feature in many key scenes in the novel and the house (now a Barclays Bank) that Hardy modelled Henchard’s home on. Outside Dorchester is a lovely walk between the village of Stinsford, where Hardy is buried (or rather just his heart – his ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey), and the village of Lower Bockhampton. Here you can walk past the fields that inspired Hardy’s Vale of the Great Dairies where Tess D’Urberville milked cows. On a June afternoon it was bliss.

Fifteen miles west of Weymouth is the gorgeous little seaside town West Bay, which was used for the past two series of Broadchurch.

The marina is lovely, with bobbing fishing boats, seagulls, and the smell of fish and chips. If you look carefully you can see the little blue shack where David Tennant’s DI Alec Hardy lives in the drama. And of course, there’s the newsagents where the local rag carried the terrible news of the death of Danny Latimer…

Fortunately that was just fiction. This place little part of England feels about as peaceful as it can get.

What a visit to Waterside will give you is a very real and welcome taste of one of the most beautiful counties in England. A taste of TV, of literature of the sea – and for me the most comfortable and luxurious caravanning experience I have ever had (and I have had a few).

Eating and Drinking

As you would expect from a holiday park, eating and drinking is very much done on a BYO basis. However, Waterside has a handy Spar, selling everything you will need and things you might have forgotten to bring (like dishwasher tablets). There’s also an excellent chip shop on site – it’s not cheap but the fare is fresh and tasty. For Broadchurch fans I would recommend a drive to West Bay where the drama is filmed and a bite in The Ellipse Bistro and Bar). This modern and charming cafe was used as a set for the first series – notably a crucial scene between Olivia Colman and her on-screen husband. The eatery looks out over the marina, which will be familiar to all fans of the ITV drama. Their hot dogs are to die for and they also serve a delicious burger amongst other things – juicy, fresh and well priced.

Price: A seven-night stay in a two-bedroom caravan starts from £825 in July, based on six sharing.

Address: Waterside Holiday Park and Spa, Bowleaze Cove, Weymouth, Dorset, DT3 6PP, 01305 833 103.

Website: www.watersideholidaygroup.co.uk/waterside

Radio Times Travel rating: 9/10

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A well-equipped caravan site in a beautiful location, there’s plenty to interest everyone on this part of the Dorset coastline and Waterside’s caravans make for a more-comfortable-than-usual, peaceful and affordable base from which to explore the surrounding area.