EATING ENGLAND: No 2: DORSET - Scale the dizzy sandstone peak of Golden Cap, scamble across ancient hill forts, then gorge on the best locally grown organic goodies
THERE IS AN old and secret magic to Dorset. The landscape has a story-book quality of swooping hills and tree-crowned peaks, manor houses and cottage gardens, swans and deer, hidden valleys and leafy lanes. Even the bus stops have thatched roofs. West Dorset, near the Devon border, is a particularly special corner of the county. Here, and in the rest of Dorset, the most interesting shopping is done in small food shops and at the farm gate.

Dorset's coast is world famous and its dipping cliff-top walks give you heart-lifting views and cardiac exercise. Golden Cap, so-called for its sandstone peak, is the highest point on the south coast. Go over it, west to east between the carparks at Seatown and Charmouth, for a good two-hour walk.

The many Iron Age hill forts in the area have spectacular views. Drive up to the top of Eggardon Hill and walk around the fortifications at the top to see right across to Devon and the sea. A kite festival is generally held here in the autumn.

Coney's Castle and Lamberts Castle are neighbouring hill forts that can be covered in one short walk. You can stroll amid swans and cygnets at the swannery at Abbotsbury. Indoors, the outstanding contemporary work on show at Parnham House, near Beaminster, shows there is a future for British furniture beyond antiques.

At the foot of Lamberts Castle, the Bottle Inn at Marshwood (01297 678254) is very much a local pub with darts and skittles. The surprise is that it also has a good range of organic and vegetarian food due to the interest of the landlady, Chloe. She used to work for organic farms in the area and has good contacts for reasonably priced meat. Old boys bring her their allotment vegetables. The puddings include Rocombe Farm's organic ice- cream in flavours such as brandy vanilla clotted cream.

The Fox at Corscombe (01935 891330) is run by a former master of hounds. What looks at first to be the usual pub bric-a-brac on the walls turns out to be his rather more interesting collection of sporting prints and stuffed birds. Huge curling ram's horns sit above the large fireplace. The Fox is an example of how pubs are becoming the natural bistros of England, serving tasty food in informal surroundings. Supplies are local and used in such dishes as a warm salad of pheasant breast and bacon, leek and celeriac soup, rack of Dorset lamb and cod steaks with anchovies, garlic and olive oil. Behind the bar are home-made elderflower cordial, damson gin and real ales.

The Riverside (01308 422011) in West Bay started life as a hot water hut for local campers. It is now a well-known fish restaurant but does not suffer from airs and graces. Outside, it looks not unlike a larger, smarter version of the chip sheds opposite. Inside, it is full of paintings, seaside light from the water around the building, and real holiday time: nobody is going to rush you off your table as you drink good coffee and watch the seagulls after your meal. Cod in a crisp, dark, Guinness batter is joyfully juicy and the mushy peas, cooked with mint and butter, are on a different planet from chippy fare. Dishes such as gooseberry and elderflower fool show that this is a restaurant which is not afraid of the simply delicious. Le Petit Canard (01300 320536) in Maiden Newton, is an unlikely find in a Dorset village: a restaurant run by a Canadian couple, Lin and Geoff Chapman, which serves well-judged fusion food with metropolitan and cosmopolitan influences and a preference for wild meat over farmed. Dishes may have a twist but the flavours work. Tropical fruits and a passion fruit sorbet are set off by a black pepper ice-cream. The rack of lamb might come with a smoked chilli bernaise. Wild boar is local; chargrilled kangeroo, a much-requested staple, comes from further afield.

The reason you can find such food in a quiet English village is that the Chapmans came for a couple of years in the late 1980s and got stranded when the property market collapsed. They plan to go back to Canada, so enjoy this outpost of the New World while it lasts.

You may recognise parts of the village of Evershot because it was a film location for Emma and Sense and Sensibility. The chef at Summer Lodge (01935 83424), Tim Ford, takes great care about sourcing local ingredients and his suppliers are, unusually, listed in detail on the menu. The fine board of 20-odd cheeses is not only British, but exclusively from the South-west. One member of the kitchen staff catches the pike. This is a restaurant reaching for the Michelin stars that offers bargain lunches (the whole set lunch is the price of a main course at dinner). Sunday lunches are very popular in the summer when you can sit outside and use the swimming pool. Do not be put off by its posh restaurant feel of plush and hush: the food is good.

Toller Whelm is a hidden hamlet down a road marked ''private'' where you can buy the most interesting of bacon and eggs. Dick Measures (01308 862308) sells chicken, duck and bantam eggs alongside meat and vegetables from his smallholding; Peggy Darvill (01308 863332), further up the road, has five different rare-breed pigs and sells excellent pork, bacon and sausages from the door. Her pork is also sold by two high-class butchers: Framptons of Beaminster (01308 862253), and, further afield, in east Dorset, the Butchers Shop at Iwerne Minster (01747 811229). This shop is worth a detour for many reasons, including a luxurious truffle-scented pork imported from Piedmont. For traditional Dorset fare, Maiden Newton has an authentic village shop, WE House (01300 320265) with a turn-of-the- century oven, which is used to make a good, sticky, lardy cake, delicious Dorset apple cake and a very tasty shortbread.