Article - using our history as an engine of present prosperity

I don't know whether any of the readers of this column share my fondness for maps. Since early childhood I have been fascinated by these wonderful, abstract representations of the world. I had, in my bedroom, a splendid old map produced by John Speed, centuries ago, and I also had what then counted as a modern ordnance survey map of the same terrain (as it happens, the Isle of Wight). I pored endlessly over the differences and similarities between these two cartographic masterpieces, and thumbed repeatedly through a large Times Atlas which had been given to me as a birthday present by a thoughtful adult. Nothing, it still seems to me, so completely combines facts with dreams as does a map.

If you look at a map of West Dorset, you are bound to be struck right away by the triangular configuration, with the three points of the triangle clearly identified as Sherborne to the north, Dorchester to the southeast and Lyme Regis to the southwest. And if the map you are studying is sufficiently detailed to show the character of the land in each corner of the triangle you are bound to be struck also by the contrasts of contour and terrain within this relatively small patch of the Earth.

No doubt, it is in part these natural differences, accentuated by the different patterns of cultivation and the different economies that have as a result arisen over the centuries, that explains the very different histories of the three towns at the three points of the triangle.

But what all three towns - and indeed, Bridport and Beaminster too, abundantly share is that each has had a rich history of its own.

Increasingly, we are celebrating that history and turning it into an engine of present prosperity.

The pattern is the same at each point of the triangle. Just in the past few weeks, we have heard the welcome news that the brilliant face-lift of the wonderful old museum in Lyme Regis is nearing completion, that the museum in Dorchester is now set to proceed with its transformative plans for expansion and refurbishment, and that Sherborne (recently found by a National survey to be one of the finest shopping destinations in Britain) is now likely to be able to move forward with its ambitious project for a new arts centre focussed on the remarkable collection of Elizabeth Fink's world-renowned works.

Each of these projects will, in its own way, reinforce the connections of these towns with their distinctive natural and cultural histories - and each will also provide a lasting contribution to the increase of the 'high value' tourism which helps to sustain so much of our local economy and which will be one of the industries of the future.