Surrey couple ditch corporate life for Dorset safari venture

A new Swanage company is gearing up for a busy summer offering a very different tourist experience – taking visitors on safari over the Purbeck Hills in a customised 4×4 Land Rover Defender.

Mark and Helen Dowdell set up Dorset Safari to share their love of Purbeck with tourists looking for an adventurous break away from the beach – or with locals wanting to rediscover favourite spots from a new perspective.


Stunning views from the clifftop paths above Chapman’s Pool

Some of the finest views in Dorset

Mark’s Defender is built to tackle offroad tracks with ease and comfort, its modified contoured seats, air conditioning and panoramic glass allowing up to six passengers to enjoy the journey as well as the view.

The word safari comes from the Swahili word meaning travel, for anyone who points out there are not many lions roaming free around Dorset – and a tour around some of the most remote points on Purbeck does not disappoint.

Four hour morning or afternoon adventures, a full day exploration or an option of a romantic sunset safari, open up a host of ways to see Purbeck in a new light.

Offroad routes take passengers over the top of Nine Barrow Down, along the South West Coast Path above Chapman’s Pool and to the highest point in the Purbeck hills, with some of the finest views, at Heaven’s Gate overlooking Kimmeridge Bay – where homemade cake is available!

Tiny Steeple Church has a surprising link to the history of the USA

Woodhenge, a new tourist attraction at Worth Matravers

Direct link to the USA’s first President

Stops at Corfe Castle, Lulworth Cove, Woodhenge, Tyneham village or Durdle Door are all options as the tours can be customised to suit the wishes of different groups of adventurers.

There’s also a chance to get competitive along the way with a check sheet game of I-Spy, with easy spots like sheep and cows earning single points, a Dorset flag, a kestrel or a tank scoring more and even a chance to beat the Swanage News total of 58 if you spot a seal or a sea eagle!

Fascinating and unexpected glimpses into Purbeck’s past await, including the prototype of the American Stars and Stripes flag dating back to 1616 on the wall of Steeple Church with a direct link to the USA’s founding father and first President George Washington.

Explorers may also discover the area’s connection with James Bond, visit Tyneham – the deserted village commandeered by the MoD 80 years ago and get a glimpse of three separate castles.

The abandoned village of Tyneham, taken over by the MoD in 1943

Inside the Edwardian classroom at the lost village of Tyneham

Inside the village classroom at Tyneham

Adventurous days out to beautiful places

Mark said:

“Our safari will drive on some public roads, but the real experience will be navigating winding lanes, cross country byways and farm tracks which we have handpicked.

“We deliver adventurous days out to beautiful locations, accessing areas which are only possible in the Defender, at a comfortable pace so that everyone can enjoy the ride and the scenery.

“I have always loved cars – driving for me is a pleasure and not a chore so to have a vehicle which is capable of getting to the top of the hills and tackling, in comfort, some of the smaller lanes which can be quite bumpy and rough is amazing.

“It means that we can offer a unique opportunity to reach viewing points and stunning locations which are simply not possible otherwise for many people.

“My dad is now 78 and used to love going to the hills for some really good walks, but his mobility just doesn’t allow him to do that any more, so offering a service like this is a special treat for people like him.”

The view from Heaven’s Gate across the Jurassic Coast

Unforgettable views from the top of Nine Barrow Down out to Corfe Castle

Unforgettable views from the top of Nine Barrow Down out to Corfe Castle

Planning safari routes

Mark, who moved to Swanage from Surrey, had a corporate career for many years but came to realise that he just didn’t enjoy the job any longer.

He and his family had enjoyed many holidays in Swanage and his father and brother had both moved to the town. On one visit he took a 4×4 trip out of Weymouth and suddenly knew he had found his ideal job, so the family made plans to move as soon as their children were of university age.

In the event, their youngest son took his final A-level exam on 30th July 2022 and by 4th July they were in their new home in Swanage, with Mark immediately starting his own studies to earn a private vehicle hire licence, which involves having a thorough knowledge of Dorset roads.

He and Helen then set about planning out safari routes, learning about local history, wildlife and trivia, setting up their own company and launching the venture at the beginning of May 2023.

Mark Dowdell has set up Dorset Safari to open up remote areas of the Purbecks to tourists

Mark Dowdell and Dorset Safari’s customised Land Rover Defender 110

A close encounter of the herd kind on the Purbeck Hills

“I take our impact on the environment seriously”

Mark said:

“Purbeck has something for everyone, with the rolling hills, the dramatic Jurassic coastline and the wonderful wildlife, so we created Dorset Safari to share this piece of heaven with others.

“This is truly my ideal job, jumping in a lovely vehicle and heading out across the hills to some gorgeous places which are not easy to access – to be able to get out and do something I enjoy and give my passengers a great experience at the same time is perfect.

“If it rains we will still go out, as places like Heavens Gate, Corfe Castle or Lulworth Cove are still wonderful places to visit even if it is a little bit wet.

“There are one or two routes I wouldn’t do in heavy rain because they could be ruined, but for the majority of the route we go at a slow speed and the vehicle is very capable.

“No vehicle is 100 percent green but we don’t do a huge number of miles, we drive at a sedate pace and it’s not a gas guzzler.

“I take our impact on the environment very seriously as I hope everyone does, but I feel it’s important to experience the wonders we have on our doorstep and appreciate it. It helps people to connect with nature and to get a better idea of what we are trying to protect.”


Mark and Helen with their Defender at one of their favourite spots

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