2021: The 17 best festivals in North Dorset

NOBODY does festivals and events like North Dorset does and here we’ve selected what we consider to be the 17 best, chosen to reflect the sheer diversity and class of festivals in the region.  Not all will go ahead this year – but many of those that don’t have already announced dates for 2022, so put them in your diary too. Meanwhile, do please support and enjoy the events that are making so much effort to bring you pleasure. 

Enjoy your abbreviated summer of festivals – we’ll see you soon!

MAY

CANCELLED

TEDDYROCKS FESTIVAL, near BLANDFORD

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. In 2020 and 2021, The Amazons and Fratellis were booked to appear.

The event has raised £367,000 over the years for the charity. The festival is named after Ted Newton, who died aged just 10 from a rare bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. When last staged, tickets cost £70 for the weekend (or from £92 including a tent pitch).  The 2022 dates are April 29- May 1. All tickets purchased for 2020 and 2021 remain valid for next year.

Watch the video of the 2019 festival

CANCELLED

SHAFTESBURY FESTIVAL OF FOOD AND DRINK

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. No date has yet been announced for 2022 although organisers intend to be back for Spring 2022.

May 16: THE NORTH DORSET CYCLE RIDE

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 (£25 for adults, £12.50 juniors, under-10s free with adult).

Watch the video of the 2019 event

May 21-23: RUNNING FESTIVALS IN NORTH DORSET

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 Rushmore Ox Races event from May 21-23 kicks off their season in 2022, an event which features six runs over varying distances over three days: as ever, camping onsite. The runs are held on the glorious Rushmore estate on the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just four miles from Shaftesbury. WSR also stages running events across Dorset.

The long established North Dorset Marathon, which takes in ten villages in the Blackmore Vale, has been cancelled for 2021 – but is rescheduled for May 1, 2022.  * Read more about running North Dorset in our special feature

JULY

July 4: GOLD HILL FAIR 

This fundraising day run by Rotary features free music in Shaftesbury Abbey, dance, community choir, market stalls and children’s entertainment. It will be a smaller event this year, with the Fair moving from the High Street and Park Walk to the field at Barton Hill, where numbers can be better controlled.

It will be a music and community event, with a stage and 40 craft and food stall and will run from 10am until 5pm. 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.

 

 
 

TO BE CONFIRMED

July 3-5: UK BOOGIE WOOGIE FESTIVAL, STURMINSTER NEWTON

It would have been the 17th year of the festival last year. And 2019 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. There is a new website being built but no further information at this stage.

 

 

CANCELLED

THE LARMER TREE FESTIVAL

For the last 30 years (barring 2020), 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. Visitors have enjoyed 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).  No news yet on which dates the festival will take place in 2022.

 

AUGUST

August 18-19: GILLINGHAM AND SHAFTESBURY SHOW

For 161 years, 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.

This year, the event will be held over two days to better manage numbers. There will also be fewer marquees, wider avenues, sanitising and handwashing stations in place. The food tent will be replaced by picnic tipis, and some competitive animal classes will disappear. There will be displays in two rings: in 2019, one had a full day of horse showing and show jumping classes, while in another ring, countryside sports included ferret and terrier racing, birds of prey, sheep dogs and the dog & duck display. Adult tickets, £13 each day, (booked online). There will be no tickets sold on the day,

August 27-30: THE SHAFTESBURY FRINGE

It would have been the fifth year of The Fringe in 2020, 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). This year’s free registration offer has encouraged an a number of comedians, singers, bands and artists to book.

In 2019, there were 170 performances over the weekend with venues including Rolt Millennium Green and King Alfred’s Kitchen in addition to a bakery, dentist’s, arts centre and flower shop, all within walking distance.  This year, it is likely that most events will take place outside, with fewer indoor venues and more of a local performer focus.

Watch the Fringe Video Highlights from 2018

CANCELLED

THE GREAT DORSET STEAM FAIR

The show has been rumbling since 1969 until covid interrupted proceedings last year. It also claimed this year, with organisers calling it off in March  as there was “still too much uncertainty.” A shame, as  it’s 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. The show has been rescheduled to run from August 25-29 in 2022.

August 28-29: THE STOCK GAYLARD OAK FAIR

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.

 

SEPTEMBER

September 2-5: END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL, LARMER TREE GARDENS

For the last three years until 2020, EotR had 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 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 4-11: GILLINGHAM WALKING FESTIVAL

It will be the ninth 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 Wyndham, 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. Says organiser Debbie Sparkes: “We’re back and we hope to have walks of all sorts of lengths on a variety of themes based around our wonderful town. We will be following the COVID guidelines as set by The Ramblers and you will need to book each walk as numbers will be limited. All of the walk details and how to book will be available on our website (please note walks may be subject to change).” In 2019, there were 12 walks and all those that could be booked were booked well in advance. 

September 11-12: THE STURMINSTER NEWTON CHEESE FESTIVAL

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 in 2019 – it’s unlikely that as many will be able to do so this year. 

September 25: THE VERVE WELLNESS FESTIVAL

This event was held in 2019 for the first time, at Manor Farm in Ebbesbourne Wake, nine miles east of #Shaftesbury and 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. For this year, it will be a one-day event and is being held at Pythouse Kitchen Garden, a lovely venue a bit close to Shaftesbury. There will be a limit of 250 tickets at £59 each. Organisers Anna and Charlotte say it will feature fitness, yoga, meditation, breathwork and sound bathing in the walled gardens. There will also be music, workshops and nature walks and talks.

 

TO BE CONFIRMED

THE LAST OF THE SUMMER CIDER

The event started as a one-off event a decade ago but became n annual music and cider festival hosted by Cranborne Chase Cider and Myncen Farm. There are two evenings of drinking, singing and general revellery. It didnt happen last year but acts lined up included Bournemouth boys Dr. Beatroot with bluegrass, roots and skiffle. Cider drinking favourites and all round comedians The Skimmity Hitchers and Lady Winwoods Maggot also were due to feature.

 

2022

READING THE LAND – THE SHAFTESBURY LITERARY FESTIVAL

Isabella Tree was among a number of nature, wildlife and countryside writers lined up to speak at the first Shaftesbury Book Festival that was due to take place last November. 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 was another speaker, scheduled as were Keggie Carew, Philip Marsden, Stephen Moss, Mary Colwell, Ben Hoare and Yuval Zomer. But it’s hoped that many speakers will still be available for its latest attempt to get going on March 20-21, 2022. 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.