Author Archives: Steve Keenan

Get close to nature this summer: chill out on holiday in Shaftesbury, Dorset

Story updated July 6

SHAFTESBURY is again ready to welcome visitors to our hilltop town and the breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful landscapes that surround us. After months of lockdown, the doors opened on July 4 to a huge range of fantastic glamping and camping sites close to Shaftesbury, together with a large number of cottages, hotels and pubs/restaurants with rooms.

Accommodation providers have been hard at work ensuring they meet all government requirements regarding distancing and cleanliness. In some cases, there will be gaps of 24 or even 72 hours between bookings to ensure deep cleaning. Many will offer visitors self check-in. The usual rules about deposits and balance payments have also been relaxed in places.

We know families want to be able to relax, to run around, to chill. We know that visitors want to enjoy a meal, to walk the hills and de-stress. As Ali Russell at Ash Farm says: “Like many of Dorset’s holiday providers, we can offer guests the chance to get away in seclusion and safety, watch wildlife, see open views of rolling countryside and escape from their city lives.”

After seeing their income evaporate since March, our hosts are ready to roll out the red carpet. “I would love to see my guests back again – I have missed them!,” says June Watkins at Lawn Cottage. It is already clear that there is pent-up demand for a staycation this summer. And a survey this week by Visit England says that top of the list is – a short break in the countryside in a holiday home. Some 38% of consumers surveyed cited they “want to get close to nature” as the main motivation for a holiday. Well, we can tick all the boxes there.

We’re just off the A303, halfway between London and Cornwall. We are an hour from the coast and on the doorstep of Stourhead and the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which includes the Thomas Hardy landscapes of Fontmell and Melbury Downs, both maintained by The National Trust. Many of our cottages and glamping properties are buried deep in the countryside, many on working farms.

We are all very excited to begin the new normal phase. But while the rules mean marked differences in a pub or restaurant, our providers have done their utmost to make you feel safe and very, very welcome. If you need any help in town, visit our Tourist Information Centre on Bell Street – open 10am-2pm, Monday- Saturday. See you soon!

  • We contacted 40 accommodation providers within 12 miles of Shaftesbury for information on their offering this summer: just over half responded, and their details are below. We will add more responses as and when we receive them
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Where visitors to Shaftesbury have come from

The town has attracted visitors from all over the world

Shaftesbury can’t rest on its laurels. OK, we’ve had visitors from 89 countries and territories across the world but look at the map! We need to step up marketing to central Asia and Africa – and our efforts to woo visitors from the Indian sub-continent have frankly failed to get off the ground.

Large countries such as Cambodia, Croatia and Indonesia could all do with a bit of love. Still, visitors from Namibia, Brunei, Panama and Iran have all had the pleasure of Shaftesbury: let’s hope they’ve raved to all their friends.

How do we know this? It’s not sophisticated digital research, no app has been involved nor have Facebook profiles been raided. The answer is in the town’s Tourist Information Office (TIC) – look up, to where the walls meet the ceiling.

“The first person to come in when we opened about 10 years ago was from Canada, then we had Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Japan,” says David Taylor, the TIC’s manager.

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When will the Shaftesbury area attractions re-open?

This article was updated on July 2

The long, slow return to a form of tourism normality has begun, with plans to re-open attractions such as Stonehenge and Wardour Castle shortly.

Both are operated by English Heritage, which opened the first of its 400 properties on June 13. Stonehenge will open on July 4, with timed tickets needed to be booked in advance.

Deer now nibble the grass around the stones, and a family of hares are nesting in the ring, says a report in The Guardian, in which EH chief executive Kate Mavor says people should expect a markedly different experience, much of which will become the “new normal” for visits to historic sites.

Visitors will be directed via one-way systems, outdoor catering stalls will replace cafes and trestle tables will sell momentos in the open air. Guests will also need to pre-book tickets with a specific time slot.

The narrow corridors and close quarters of Wardour Castle, a 14th castle very close to Shaftesbury, present more challenges and its re-opening is taking a little longer. It will open in early August, with limited numbers.

Elsewhere, National Trust has yet to announce any plans for Stourhead although the NT began a rolling programme of re-opening gardens and parklands on June 3. All of its houses remain closed for now.

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Where to buy the best of Shaftesbury and North Dorset online

Pic: Coconut and Cotton

THE disruptive impact of the coronavirus is considerable, and will continue to be so for months to come. The independent shops in Shaftesbury are a strong feature of the town, and will need a lot of support to stay afloat.

Many food outlets have adapted, providing takeaway or delivery services. Some, including Coconut and Cotton, will deliver locally. Shaftesbury Wines will also deliver locally. But most shops will remain closed to visitors until it is deemed safe to re-open – an updated list of retailer status is available at This is Alfred website.

In the meantime, many retailers have an online shop where you can browse magnificent North Dorset gifts and produce, perfect for North Dorset ‘expats,’ and for those living here who’d like to send a gift to friends and family further afield.

So do take a look at their sites. Many will still be able to dispatch products immediately, some may take a while longer, some have closed operations for the duration. But all will need huge support in 2020 to ensure long-term health, and keep Shaftesbury thriving as a must-visit destination.

WHERE TO BUY NORTH DORSET ONLINE:
FOOD AND DRINK

Green + Grainy

This gluten-free and vegan plant-based food company in East Orchard, Shaftesbury, was created in 2018 by Jasmin Giles, who is passionate about promoting healthy eating, and the positive affects this can have on our bodies, the environment and our general well being.  The range of ‘no-bake’ bars and ‘bliss balls’ are made using nuts, seeds, dried fruits and nutrient dense ingredients. It’s health-conscious eating, and G&G works with a yoga retreat and nutritionist locally. Jasmin also runs a catering business as well as selling her treats online.

The four bars (Raw Snickers, Orange & Almond, Berry Bounty and Salted Maca Millionaire)  can be bought online (eight bars for £16.50).

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The best full English breakfasts in Shaftesbury

The full English at the John Peel on Shaftesbury High Street

THE TOP FIVE FULL ENGLISH SPOTS IN SHAFTESBURY (as voted for by members of the Shaftesbury, Dorset Facebook group).

Last Saturday morning, at 8.30am, Paula Whitworth posed a question on the Shaftesbury Facebook group: “Best place to go for a full English breakfast?” Some 80+ comments and dozens of likes later, members of the 6,700-strong group had voted. And the results were:

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20 glamping hotspots near Shaftesbury, North Dorset

 

SHAFTESBURY has a very good collection of hotels, cottages and B&Bs. But as the town sits on a hilltop, there isn’t a great deal of room to innovate with glamping options. Happily, there is a great deal of space in The Blackmore Vale and Cranborne Chase surrounding Shaftesbury – and there has been a considerable amount of innovation in recent years.

From a list of 12 in summer 2017, we now have 20 sites close to Shaftesbury which offer glamping options, from luxury safari tents and yurts to a converted double decker bus, eco pod and shepherd huts with hot pools. 

Many have spectacular views and settings, in oak woodlands, deer parks, kitchen gardens, equestrian centres and working farms. And they all add to the wealth of accommodation choices in North Dorset, alongside a number of AirBnB options. Come and stay in north Dorset for a short break, or a full family holiday: we’re halfway between London and Cornwall, just off the A303, and within easy reach of Dorset’s world famous Jurassic Coast.

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2020: The 20 best festivals in North Dorset

UPDATE June 20: ALL events have been cancelled up to and including The Great Dorset Steam Fair in late August.

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!

MAY

May 1-3: TEDDYROCKS FESTIVAL, nr 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. 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.

Watch the video of the 2019 festival

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Six brilliant reasons to visit Shaftesbury this winter

 

  • January-March: Shaftesbury Snowdrop Season
  • January-March: Go behind closed doors at Stourhead
  • January: The 92nd anniversary of Thomas Hardy’s death this month (and June 2020 marks the 180th anniversary of his birth)
  • January: Celebrate cider with a wassail in January!
  • February: Dark sky stargazing on Cranborne Chase
  • Bonus event: Have Gold Hill to yourself!!

REASON NUMBER ONE

THE SHAFTESBURY SNOWDROP SEASON
Late January – mid-March

Are you perhaps a galanthophile (a lover of snowdrops)? You’ve come to the right place – Shaftesbury’s snowdrop season is the biggest event of its type in the country.

Shaftesbury Snowdrops is a project that aspired to create Britain’s first ‘Snowdrop Town’ – and it has succeeded. The project began in 2012, since when more than 200,000 snowdrops have been planted. A further 20,000 were bought to sell on, at cost, to help build links with neighbouring festivals. The unique community-owned Shaftesbury heritage collection has also grown during the past year to more than 100 varieties.

The study day at Shaftesbury Arts Centre (alongside the Gallery’s snowdrop art exhibition and a pop-up shop) will be held on February 8 and comprises lectures, lunch, Q&A with an expert panel and horticultural talks. Tickets cost between £35-£40: you can book here.

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Cranborne Chase wins official Dark Skies Reserve status – the largest area in the UK

Cranborne Chase Dark Skies

Photo: King Alfred’s Tower by Paul Howell of Pictori Images

IT’S OFFICIAL! Shaftesbury has one of the best stargazing spots in the world on its doorstep.

The Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AoNB) has been recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve, an area that restricts light pollution and promotes astronomy.

The AoNB has the largest central area of darkness of any International Dark Sky Reserve in the UK. It’s also the first AoNB in the country to receive the recognition, and only the 14th reserve across the globe to join an exclusive club of International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Protected Areas to gain international recognition for our dark skies.

“Some people are lucky enough to recognise ‘the Plough’, but for others, seeing stars and their constellations is often impossible because of light pollution. Here in Cranborne Chase we can see the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy, if the clouds allow!” said Linda Nunn, Director of Cranborne Chase AONB.

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8 surprising places to lunch near Shaftesbury, Dorset

THERE are an awful lot of very good places to lunch in Shaftesbury when it comes to hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants. The surrounding countryside of The Blackmore Vale and Cranborne Chase also has some seriously good pubs serving top class food.

The Fontmell in Fontmell Magna; The Crown Inn at Marnhull; The Ship at West Stour; The White Lion at Bourton; The Coppleridge at Motcombe; The Benett Arms at Semley; The Beckford Arms at Fonthill Gifford and The Forester in Donhead St Andrew are just some we can recommend.

But what we also have close to town is a number of eclectic places which offer an extraordinary lunch experience, from a baguette in a prison cafe, light lunch in a motorbike dealership or village shop, food on the farm to amazing spreads in a brush factory, walled garden and airfield cafe.

Now, where else could you say that?!

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