NOBODY does festivals and events like North Dorset does. And here we’ve selected what we consider to be the 20 best in 2020, chosen to reflect the sheer diversity and class of festivals in the region. The best music festivals? Larmer Tree has been voted the best family festival in the UK, while it’s sister event – The End of the Road Festival – has been awarded for Best Line-Up of the Year, also at Larmer Tree.
More music? TeddyRocks marks its 10th anniversary this year with headliners The Amazons and Fratellis and will again be looking to raise more than £100k for a children’s charity; there is the very family-friendly Dorset Midsummer Music Festival and, of course, we host the UK Boogie Woogie Festival too! Music, food and cider is just the ticket at the annual Cranborne Chase Cider company party, a combination you will also find at the Shaftesbury Food & Drink Festival and the Sturminster Newton Cheese festival.
Fitness? We’ve got it covered, with separate festivals for wellness, running and walking. Outdoors? Come along to our specialist trio of agricultural, steam and oak fairs. Literary? Of course, with a new festival launching in Shaftesbury in November celebrating our connection with the land in #thehighpointofdorset.
Enjoy your summer of festivals – we’ll see you on the circuit!
The festival takes place at Charisworth Farm, near Blandford, and has grown steadily since it started in 2011, raising money for children’s cancer charity Teddy 20. It has attracted some huge names: 2018 headliners were Feeder and Ash and, in 2019, The Darkness and The Zutons. This year’s headliners are The Amazons and Fratellis.
The Saturday night sold out in 2019 and the weekend raised £107k for the charity, in addition to the £250k raised in previous years. The festival is named after Ted Newton, who died aged just 10 from a rare bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. Tickets cost £70 for the weekend (or from £92 including a tent pitch). Campervans welcome, and glamping available. Shuttle buses available from Blandford.
The highlights are the cheese races up Gold Hill: the men, women, kids and team events which doff a cap to the tradition of cheese making in the Blackmore Vale. The men carry truckles of cheese measuring 35cm in diameter, each of which takes 500 pints of milk to make – that’s a lot of effort from the cows and the competitors (BV Dairy are the suitable main sponsors).
Stallholders include members of Dorset Food and Drink, Dorset Farmers’ Markets and the Anonymous Travelling Market, with live cookery demonstrations on the High Street by local chefs. There will also be live music on Park Walk, traditional dancing displays in the Shaftesbury Abbey grounds and music/craft stalls at Swan’s Yard.
2020 is the 75th anniversary of VE Day and, to commemorate the occasion, Blandford Georgian Fayre has been moved from the Bank Holiday Monday to Friday May 8. The mighty Carousel will be in Hyde Park, the same location it was in 1945. The market place will have a small music stage and covered market, alongside street food and drink traders.
It’s hoped to have music and entertainment from 10am-7pm on the outside stage, and children’s entertainment in the Corn Exchange from 10am-5pm. From 7:30 pm, there will be music in the Corn Exchange featuring a Glenn Miller tribute band, playing music to dance from the 1940’s. There will also be the traditional dog show, rural crafts and farmers market. If the weather is fair, cider, hog roasts and live music play a larger part in the proceedings, which is long supported by town brewers Hall & Woodhouse.
North Dorset is made for running: rural and lumpy, quiet country lanes, off-road running and glorious views. Three of the four marathons in North Dorset are run by White Star Running, a Dorset outfit which organises a brilliant series of running events in the county. Not just marathons, but a mix of distances: short runs, night runs, 50-mile runs…
Fun plays a huge part, with love stations on route, big barbecues and some races with kids or dogs. The Rushmoor Ox Races event from May 8-10 includes six distances over three days: as ever, camping onsite. WSR also stages events at Larmer Tree on March 7-8, and at Cranborne Chase Cider on July 24-26. And, on May 3, there is the locally organised North Dorset Marathon, which takes in ten villages in the Blackmore Vale, one of the prettiest routes in the country.
* Read more about running in North Dorset in our special feature
This is a brilliant event that really showcases how glorious the cycling is in North Dorset. It’s organised by Shaftesbury Rotary Club, and is split into three categories: a 12, 25 and 50-mile ride (this is not a race). The shortest is for beginners and/or families, with the longer routes designed to show off the stunning Blackmore Vale countryside around the town.
All start on Park Walk (8.30am for the 50 mile course, and 10.30am for the other two distances: you can leave your car nearby on Castle Hill), and the routes are signposted and marshalled. The finish is up Gold Hill (can you ride it?!) with hot food and music on Park Walk to finish. Everyone gets a medal, with cycle clothing for raising money for Prostate Cancer UK. Registration is open (£20 for adults, £10 juniors, under-10s free with adult).
A new event for 2019, it was put together by a group of townsfolk and in part inspired by local author Terry Townsend. The gang decided that the town needed to better remember, commemorate and celebrate its literary heritage within a wider context of literary endeavour, past present and future.
A number of Victorian authors were either born, lived or resided in and around the town. They are of course Thomas Hardy, the star of the show; William Barnes also known as the Dorset poet, and the less well known but highly influential Robert Young. 2020 details to follow.
* Sherborne’s Literary Festival in October has expanded to include year-round events. More details can be found here
It’s a small, start-up family friendly music festival in its third year on a working farm 13 miles from Shaftesbury in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: perfect for a first family outing to a festival. The event begins on Friday with music before the main event on Saturday. This year’s acts are The Few as well as N.U.M.B. on Friday; the 40’s trio The Decadettes, D’Ska Assassins and funk from Vanilla Radio on Saturday.
Plus, The Badger Boys, The Rocker Covers and Alantico before the final act, The Mission Impossible Band! There’s a kids and holistic zone, food, music, stalls and entertainment through the weekend. Camping available on site, alongside the music and food, on reasonably flat ground (at least by Dorset standards) with toilet facilities provided (but no showers) and set in a stunning location on Bulbarrow Hill with plenty of dog walks and lovely views. Day tickets from £10-£16 adults, reduced prices for children.
It’s the fifth year of The Fringe, which has rapidly established itself as a major event in Shaftesbury, pulling in thousands of visitors and used by performers as a warm-up gig for Edinburgh. It is England’s third largest open-access performing arts festival (after Manchester and Brighton) and registrations this year have started strongly – performers can register for £15 in January, £25 thereafter. Read about the 2020 plans for more art and street performers.
Last year there were 170 performances over the weekend. New venues this year include Rolt Millennium Green and King Alfred’s Kitchen in addition to several others, including a bakery, dentist’s, arts centre and flower shop, all within walking distance. And one headline act in 2020 will be Olaf Falafel, the Swedish comedian who won the award for the funniest joke at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019. Read/hear an interview with Olaf Falafel
Watch the Fringe Video Highlights from 2018
July 5: GOLD HILL FAIR – date to be confirmed
Timed to co-incide with the last day of The Fringe, this fundraising day run by Rotary features free music in Shaftesbury Abbey, dance, community choir, market stalls and children’s entertainment. It turns the High Street and Park Walk into a street party, with a Van Pull competition and donkey rides also part of the day. Two years ago, the day raised £4,500 for community causes. It’s hoped Trinity Church Tower will again be open – visitors get the best view of town and surrounding countryside.
This will be the 17th year of the festival. Last year was the biggest yet with many international players crossing continents to play, sing, dance, teach and entertain. It doesn’t matter if you prefer a big stage, something more intimate, or even al fresco, Sturminster has it covered with open sessions, workshops, and masterclasses all over town.
There is also a separate Swing Dance event and tuition. Events are held in 10 venues from the magnificent setting of Sturminster Mill to tavern to teahouse to church to outside cafes and it’s growing bigger and better each year, bringing joy to thousands of fans, many of which have been coming since the first festival in 2004.
For the last 30 years, the festival has created the summer party of music, comedy and theatre, set in the most beautiful festival site in the land just five miles from Shaftesbury. Larmer has remained small by choice and offer a community vibe for all ages for three days and four nights in these Victorian pleasure gardens on the Cranborne Chase. Get ready to enjoy top-notch local, national and international artists in music, outdoor theatre, live performances, arts and comedy, as well as blissful retreats and international cuisine.
It’s won UK Festival Awards for Best Family Festival and, happily, Best Toilets by festival-goers for the coolest, cleanest loos. It was also named the ‘Small Festival of the Year 2015’ by NOEA (National Outdoor Events Association). This year the Carnival returns – acts to follow soon. Early bird tickets are £180 to include a tent pitch (car pass £15 extra). Accommodation options for yurts, Airstreams, gypsy caravans and wigwams extra, as is a dip in the hot tubs.
An annual migration of 25,000 people to Motcombe’s Turnpike Showground outside Shaftesbury takes place on a Wednesday in August: it’s the pulling power of North Dorset’s premier agricultural show. The Show is the one the farming community takes the day off for, with highly competitive sections for cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, poultry, rabbits, handicrafts, art and a huge range of classes for younger exhibitors.
In the Harts of Stur Food Hall are 60 food and drink producers; there are 500 trade stands with anything from schools to trucks and handicrafts, and there are 100 stands with tractors, machinery and farm suppliers. Take in displays in three rings: one has a full day of horse showing and show jumping classes, while in the Turnpike Ring, countryside sports include ferret and terrier racing, birds of prey, sheep dogs and the dog & duck display. Adult tickets, £13.
Last year the show marked its 51st anniversary, a stunning triumph not only in terms of longevity but in the enduring – and growing – appeal of steam. It’s billed as the world’s biggest steam and heritage event: there are steam threshers, cars, rollers and lorries. There is a steam-driven funfair with carousels, ghost trains and dodgems. It’s a celebration of an era, with fairground organs, 1920s dancing girls, illusionists, heavy horses, plough competitions and classic tractors.
There’s more: vintage cars, a six-stage music festival, craft marquee, food and real ale tents. And it runs for five days from 8am until midnight on a massive 600-acre site at Tarrant Hinton, 10 miles south of Shaftesbury. The numbers are impressive: 200,000 visitors, 2,000 exhibitors and 200 tonnes of coal used. This year’s theme: Foden’s Through The Ages From Steam then Diesel through to the present day. A celebration of a British Classic.
It’s an 1,800 acre country estate, of which 300 are oak woodland: there is also 80 acres of deer park with a small lake. Over the last two centuries, the estate has been used for country sports, and hedgerows and woodlands preserved for that purpose. It also offers glamping holidays in yurts and the annual Oak Fair for anyone interested in woodcraft, timber, conservation and the countryside.
There are workshops, log splitting, logging and carving, in all 180 timber-related stalls. The British Heavy Horse Logger’s team complete a number of challenges, Mere Down Falconry puts on displays and there is Have-A-Go Archery and lumberjack displays. The fair also has The Great Big Tree Climbing Company, providing tree climbing and zip wires, while Avalon Axes demonstrates axe throwing – as well as letting visitors have a go. Market Square will be stocked with local food and drink producers and there is a Childrens’ Area with a range of workshops.
For the last three years, EotR has won an award for Best Small Festival in the NME Awards. It’s restricted to 16,000 in the Larmer Tree Gardens, with four stages in use over four nights, as well as a piano in the woods. A film tent, library and games room adds to the mix. It has run since 2006 and has sold out every year from 2008. This year the headliners are Pixie, with King Krule, Angel Olsen and Big Thief among the acts.
Bright Eyes have reformed and will appear, as will Richard Hawley 12 years his last EOTR appearance. Says The Guardian of 2018’s festival: “End of the Road is the sophisticated family camp-out where herds of Pitchfolk singer-songwriters roam wild and inventive alt-rockers scare the peacocks.” Tickets currently selling for £170.
September 5-6: THE VERVE WELLNESS FESTIVAL
This event was held last year for the first time, at Manor Farm in Ebbesbourne Wake, nine miles east of #Shaftesbury. The festival also offered workouts in the woods, spa, forest bathe and the chance to dance the night away under the stars. Before the dancing the night away on Friday, an astronomer from Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty staged a stargazing evening to teach festivalgoers about the night sky above the AoNB (it now has Dark Skies status.)
The festival clearly went well: “One of the best wellness festivals in the UK this summer” said GQ magazine. And with mental health and wellbeing very much in the thoughts of many, it might be sensible to pick up an early bird ticket from £45 for this year’s event.
It will be the seventh year of the festival, that has grown from small acorns and has achievable ambitions to be an oak. Perhaps not as grand as The Wyndham Oak (left), one of the UK’s most magnificent trees named after Judge Sir Hugh Wyndam, who bought Silton Manor in 1641. You can visit the oak on a 6.5 mile round walk from Gillingham, one of eight different walks listed on the Gillingham: Walkers are Welcome site, which include a trail of King John’s medieval hunting forest, and one in the footsteps of Constable, who regularly visited Gillingham.
The festival theme this year is Exploring Local Arts & Crafts . Details will follow but last year, there were 12 walks and all those that could be booked were booked well in advance. The visits to local food producers were a hit. Walkers enjoyed smoked trout pate, bullace gin, local wine, ice-cream made with local milk, local honey, cream teas and more. Book early for 2020!
An annual music and cider festival hosted by Cranborne Chase Cider and Myncen Farm, there are two evenings of drinking, singing and general revellery. Details to follow.
Jan 20 update: Tickets are now live to book. Early bird tickets cost from £10 for Friday up to £35 for Friday, Saturday and camping. These prices will probably last until March. Band announcements to follow shortly.
Thomas Hardy referred to the Blackmore Vale as ‘The Vale of the Dairies,’ and its heart is Sturminster Newton where, just two decades ago, 80,000 litres of milk a day was used in cheese production. Then the cattle market closed after 700 years, quickly followed by the creamery in 2000. Still, the town’s dairy heritage continues with the cheese fair, run by volunteers, and voted best food event at the Dorset Food, Drink and Farming awards in 2016.
The fact that the festival’s website is cheesefestival.co.uk shows just how pre-eminent this festival is to cheese! There is, as you’d expect, a mountain of cheese and food on show (80+ producers booked so far), with fountains of beer and cider, food demonstrations, music and crafts. More than 10,000 people packed into the tents last year – expect the same in 2020. Adults: £6, children under 14 are free.
Isabella Tree is among a number of nature, wildlife and countryside writers speaking at the first Shaftesbury Book Festival. She wrote the bestseller Wilding about a project to let nature take over the 3,500 acre Sussex estate she manages with her husband.
BBC Springwatch regular and author Kate Bradbury is another speaker, as are Keggie Carew, Philip Marsden, Stephen Moss, Mary Colwell, Ben Hoare and Yuval Zomer. Shaftesbury-area authors include Christopher Nicholson, Tim Laycock and Robin Walter, who will talk about his forestry book. Bee expert and Festival committee member Brigit Strawbridge will discuss her Dancing With Bees publication. The weekend will be based at The Grosvenor Arms Hotel, with some activities arranged in additional town centre venues including Shaftesbury Library. The festival is designed to boost the town’s economy by encouraging nature-lovers to visit Shaftesbury to listen to experts in conversation and to discover our stunning countryside setting.