“ Travel agent specialising in holiday rentals in Dorset, southern England. „
A couple of months ago my partner celebrated a big birthday so we decided to go away for a long weekend to prolong the celebrations. Unfortunately his birthday fell slap bang in the middle of Easter and the prices are horrendous for holiday rentals during that week. We compromised by going a week or so later when prices had moved out of the silly season price bracket. We knew we wanted to go to Dorset for our break so we trawled the web looking for suitable cottages. In the past we've used Hoseasons with great success and rented a couple of delightful holiday homes in Somerset and Wiltshire. Unfortunately on this occasion there was nothing that particularly appealed in their Dorset selection. Likewise Cottages 4 You et al* had nothing that suited us.
I spent many a fruitless hour trawling the web and coming up with a big fat zero in terms of a nice holiday let. Surely it wasn't that hard? I only wanted a cottage that was available for four nights in April, and would adjust the price accordingly (yes, there were plenty of cottages available for 7 nights that weren't prepared to reduce their price for a 4 night stay). Granted I did also need to find one that accepted dogs and had an enclosed garden so afore-mentioned dog did not escape, but these criteria certainly weren't all that demanding...you'd have thought...
In the end I gratefully stumbled upon the website for Dorset Coastal Cottages and it was like manna for heaven. Plenty of pooch friendly cottages, lots of enclosed gardens and a good hefty discount applied for renting for 4 nights instead of 7. There was so much choice in the end we had to make a shortlist of 12 cottages and whittle them down one by one until we found our final preference.
~~~ WHY DORSET? ~~~
We choose to go to Dorset as it's only an hour and a half from West Sussex and we wanted to limit the time our dog spent travelling in the car as she gets very distressed. We ended up renting somewhere called Cobweb Cottage in the tiny village of Winfrith Newburgh. Winfrith Newburgh proved an excellent base from which to explore the parts of Dorset we were most keen to see. Durdle Door is just 3 miles over the hill, as is the beautiful Lulworth Cove area. We never made it to Tyneham (a tiny "ghost" village taken over by the Ministry of Defence during World War II) as it is only open on certain weekends, and unluckily we chose the wrong weekend. We did get to visit Corfe Castle as that was only 9 miles away, and we travelled there on the delightful Swanage Railway steam train. Although we were only 10 miles from either Dorchester or Weymouth, we never made it to either town as there was plenty to see and do in the countryside.
However, if you're looking for some retail therapy then Weymouth, Dorchester or Bournemouth all have more than enough shops to satisfy the most ardent shopper. Dorchester is, of course, famous for being the home of Thomas Hardy, and many of his novels are set in Dorset (or Wessex as he refers to it in his novels). Dorchester was immortalized as 'Casterbridge' in "The Mayor of Casterbridge", and his novels attract many visitors wanting to see the real life settings for "Jude the Obscure", "Far from the Madding Crowd" etc. Jane Austen was keen on Dorset too, and Lyme Regis gets more than a mention in her books, namely "Persuasion". Less high brow, but by no means less popular, good old Enid Blyton set many of her books in Dorset. Anyone remember the Famous Five? Most of their adventures were set in jolly old Dorset with lashings aplenty of ginger beer. In fact, my review title pays homage to one of her books "Five Go Down to the Sea" which was published in 1953.
It has to be said that Dorset is a county of great beauty, and has some breathtaking scenery. The coastline is second to none with some gorgeous sandy beaches that extend some 80 miles from Bournemouth in the east to pretty Lyme Regis in the west. However, if beaches are not your thing, there is plenty to see and do inland with more quaint sleepy villages set in the green rolling hills than you can shake a stick at. We journeyed inland so I could revisit a couple of the chalk carvings Dorset is renowned for - namely the Rude Man of Cerne Abbas and the white horse carving at Osmington.
~~~ DORSET HOLIDAY COTTAGES BROCHURE ~~~
The Dorset Coastal Cottages brochure is very user friendly and breaks Dorset up into five main sections. All their cottages are located between Studland and Lyme Regis, and as the name suggests, all are within 10 miles of the Dorset coast. There's a handy map which shows the villages and main attractions in each section. First off you have the Lyme Regis area, then the Bridport area, then the Weymouth/Dorchester area. These three sections were the furthest from where we live and we wanted to make our journey from West Sussex to Dorset as quick and painless as possible as our dog simply hates car travel and gets very distressed. This left us with the final two sections of Dorset which were the Lulworth Area and the Swanage/Purbeck Area. Once we'd decided to limit our search to the Lulworth and the Swanage/Purbeck Areas (and the Weymouth/Dorchester area as possible back-ups), it was simplicity itself.
The A5 sized colourful brochure is very easy to read with nice photos accompanying the text. Every property listed comes with a short description of location, the accommodation in detail and what's included in the price (i.e. linen, towels, heating etc). The description also includes a list of appliances/services at each property (i.e. washing machine, dishwasher, DVD, WiFi and so on) Finally you get a brief description of the outside amenities such as garden, garage or driveway. Most importantly for us, the description of each property includes whether they allow pets or not. This is shown in the brochure with the symbol of a black dog.
Although their brochure is good and gives you a nice overview of the area and what's available, to be honest doing an online search is much better. For example searching online gives you extra photos of the properties which rather obviously cannot all be squeezed into the brochure. Added to which, trawling through the brochure trying to spot the small black dog symbol for dog friendly properties can be a bit of a nightmare; if you do the search online you can adjust the search criteria so only dog friendly properties appear. This is much safer and far less disappointing, as there's nothing worse than falling in love with your dream cottage only to find pets are forbidden. Finally, if you use their brochure to book your cottage then you'll need to work out the price of your holiday cottage by using the rather complicated table at the back of the brochure which is all numbers, letters and grids; if you do the searching and booking online then it works the price out for you!
~~~ DORSET HOLIDAY COTTAGES WEBSITE ~~~
The Dorset Coastal Cottages website is very good and very user friendly. Their home page immediately greets you with a search box where you can enter some of your basic requirements. You'll be asked to specify when you'd like to go, how long for, the size of your party, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you require and if you need a property that accepts pets. Finally you need to choose the area of Dorset you wish to stay in, or if you're not sure then you can either do a search in all areas or simply examine the map on Dorset Holiday Areas tab on their website.
Once you click on search it will very quickly bring up a list of properties available within your specified criteria. You can then click on the link to each individual property and read more detail on what the accommodation consists of and what is included in your holiday rental. More importantly, there will also be a picture gallery showing a good range of photos for each property. We found this particularly useful as most of them include a picture of any outside space and we were then able to ascertain how dog friendly the gardens were.
If you like the look of what you are seeing, then it's best to double check on the availability of the cottage before you get too keen. If it looks like a distinct possibility then it's always a good idea to add it to your Shortlist on the site. After a very short while, you'll find many of the properties will start to get a little bit mixed up in your head so it you save them to your Shortlist as you go it will save you having to trawl through them all a second time.
As well as the map on the Dorset Holiday Areas tab, there's also a brief description of the highlights of each area. In addition there's also a jolly useful tab on the website called Things to do and this gives you a lovely overview of all the different things you can do in Dorset be it walking, golfing, horse-riding or museums.
~~~ BOOKING YOUR HOLIDAY ~~~
Once you've found your ideal holiday cottage, you can book it online or telephone Dorset Holiday Cottages. You can also go postal and simply complete the booking form inside the brochure and send it off with a cheque.
We left the booking of our holiday cottage until the last minute as we kept dithering about where we wanted to go. With just over a week to go, we finally stopped arguing and made a decision. You can reserve the cottage you want online, but you cannot book and pay for it there and then. Instead, Dorset Coastal Cottages will block it off for you pending payment. They will email or send you a booking form for you to complete and send back with a deposit within five days. Normally Dorset Coastal Cottages ask for 33% upfront plus their £20 booking fee and then the balance to be settled eight weeks before your holiday starts. As we only had 8 days before we went, we were required to pay the full amount as soon as our booking was accepted. I reserved the cottage we chose online on the morning of Good Friday thinking we would not get a response until the following Tuesday when the bank holidays had all finished. However, within two hours of making the online reservation I received a telephone call from Dorset Coastal Cottages - how's that for service!
The lady I spoke to was most helpful and talked me through the whole process. She asked for more details on our party and wanted to know what breed of dog Tattie was. As we'd booked a three bedroom cottage she wanted to know how many rooms the housekeeper should make up as well. Finally she asked how we'd like to pay - either credit card or Switch. As Switch was free and the credit card option included a 3% surcharge, I paid by Switch. The lady concluded the call by informing me that as soon as the banks reopened on Tuesday and our payment was verified she would email me further details on our holiday cottage, the key instructions, a map and our final invoice. As expected all the promised documentation arrived by email on the Tuesday afternoon. We were on our way :o)
~~~ WHAT'S INCLUDED? ~~~
Every cottage on the Dorset Coastal Cottages brochure and website has two gradings - a cottage symbol donates the standard of accommodation and a butterfly symbol donates location standard. The ratings are based on customer feedback from the previous year.
The prices for all the cottages in their range all include bed linen, towels and tea towels, so you don't need to worry about carting your duvet with you (which we had to do when we rented a gite through Cottages 4 You in Brittany in 2006). You have to take your own beach towels (and cot linen if you have a little one with you).
Cleaning is also included in the price of your rental, so when you depart the property you don't need to clean up after yourself, which is always a huge relief to me. Once again citing the Cottages 4 You Brittany rental, we were required to clean our accommodation from top to bottom before departure or we would not get our deposit back. Carting your bucket of cleaning utensils over the pond is not my idea of a holiday, especially as the accommodation for our first week ended up cleaner prior to our departure than it had been when we checked in, and the owner still wanted to quibble over the full deposit return...grrr.
Dorset Coastal Cottages do not require a deposit against damages when you check in to your cottage, and nor do they require you to go through some kind of tedious inventory. There were no hidden charges that sprang up either. Once again, the same cannot be said of Cottages 4 You where the French owner demanded some kind of locally imposed holiday tax when we were ready to leave...probably because they had not had any grounds to hold on to part of our deposit for non-cleaning! The only extra charges you are likely to have to pay for your Dorset Coastal Cottage are if you want to take your dog with you, and this will be around £20 for a week (or £14 for 4 nights). You do have to pay a £20 booking fee but this is made clear from the onset.
Details on the heating supplied in all the cottages are given in the property blurb both in the brochure and online, and all of the properties include gas, electric or oil fired heating included in the property rental charge. Some have wood burning stoves or open fires and tend to provide one basket of logs free.
~~~ OUR COTTAGE ~~~
We didn't realise until we got there, but evidently the cottage we choose was voted the 9th "coolest cottage" in Britain by the Sunday Times in 2009. And it certainly was very quaint by anyone's standards. Cobweb Cottage is a perfect example of a "chocolate box cottage" with plenty of eyebrow dormer windows beneath a fringe of ancient thatching. However, inside it is all mod cons and the owners have done a terrific job of refurbishing it in a superb holiday home. Although Cobweb Cottage was originally two small worker's cottages, they've turned it into one cosy cottage....but they've rather charmingly kept both staircases so you could keep meeting in the middle if you so desire (or keep on completely loosing your bearings and thinking you were about to descend into the kitchen when in fact you'd come down the wrong staircase and you were in the lounge!).
Parking is on the road directly in front of the cottage, but it was a nice, quiet country lane so we had no problems with this. A side gate leads to a tiny but well-enclosed garden...a huge relief and peace of mind knowing the dog could not escape should she have a mind to. The pretty red painted front door leads straight into a charming flagstone floored kitchen. It was lovely and warm due to the huge cream Rayburn. Also downstairs are a shower room, and a spacious lounge with a stunning inglenook fireplace housing the original bread oven to one side. There is a choice of two staircases upstairs, but both lead to three good sized bedrooms, a study and a bathroom. Cobweb Cottage was immaculately clean and truly a rather charming English country cottage.
Overall the accommodation is superb, and the owners have put a lot of thought into creating an ideal holiday cottage. The cupboards are stuffed full of board games for both adults and children, and the bookshelves fairly groaned under the weight of different books on offer. Himself was most impressed with the huge range of videos and DVDs in the cupboard above the TV and got stuck into a couple of the latest blockbusters.
Our only criticisms of the place would be the heating, which seemed to be set to come on at odd times of the day and night, and we failed to manage to alter the timings. Similarly, try as we might, we could not get the radiator in the lounge to work at all. Luckily there was a huge open fireplace so we lit a fire with a bag of logs we found in one of the outbuildings. However, it was still rather chilly in this room as stone floors and leather sofas do not create the cosiest of rooms.
Dorset Coastal Cottages emailed the access arrangements (i.e. where you'll find the key or who you have to meet at the property) to us just before we went and they were spot on. They also included a handy map of how to find Cobweb Cottage, and some dos and don'ts (i.e. dogs not allowed upstairs or on the furniture). We were supposed to be contacted by the housekeeper during our stay to ensure everything was as it should be. Sadly she failed to contact us, otherwise we may have been able to shed some light on the heating problems. She did leave a bottle of red wine and some milk for us though, so himself kept warm with the red wine and I drank some tea. All in all, Cobweb Cottage was very cosy and we had a well enjoyed break. We filled in a feedback form for Dorset Coastal Cottages a couple of weeks after our return and gave the place a very good rating. However, despite mentioning the heating problem and lack of appearance by the housekeeper, we got no feedback on these issues from Dorset Coastal Cottages, which surprised me somewhat. I guess there was nothing they could do to rectify the problem by this late stage so perhaps they did not feel a reply was warranted in this case.
~~~ RECOMMENDATION? ~~~
After many an hour searching online for a reasonably priced holiday let, stumbling across the website for Dorset Coastal Cottages was a real find. Having discounted many of the more popular country cottage websites like Hoseasons or Cottages 4 You due to price or lack of suitable accommodation, we were spoiled for choice when we started to browse through the Dorset Coastal Cottages selection.
In the end our holiday rental cost us £420 inclusive of booking fee and pet charge, working out at just over £100 per night. As some of the websites I'd looked at wanted between £500 to £700 for similar accommodation during the same period, we considered this to be good value, and we certainly wouldn't hesitate to recommend Dorset Coastal Cottages if you are looking for a holiday let in Dorset.
The whole booking process with Dorset Coastal Cottages was simple and stress-free. Our holiday accommodation was superb, and everything was exactly as it should be (heating hiccup aside). I'd definitely use them again if I was planning on returning to Dorset. They have a lovely selection of cottages and we were spoiled for choice. Recommended.
~~~ FURTHER DETAILS ~~~
Dorset Coastal Cottages
3 Station Road
Tel: 0800 980 4070
Fax: 01929 460125
International Tel: +44 (0)1929 401420
*Cottages 4 You are part of Holiday Cottages Group and have a vast range of brochures/websites under the names of Welcome Cottages, Cottages Direct, Chez Nous, Country Cottages, Cottages 4 You, Easy Cottages and so on.