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

More to read:
Run and walk the challenging hills of North Dorset
A complete guide to cycling Shaftesbury and surrounds
Shaftesbury: walk ancient trees with glorious views
A longer walk among our ancient trees


Jonathan Purssell, Horders Farm
Two shepherd’s huts on a 65 acre working farm at the foot of Melbury Down, overlooking Shaftesbury

“WE are receiving about 30% more enquiries than expected. We have fitted an additional hot tub in order to maximise potential bookings. The current thinking is to now stay open throughout the winter just in case. Both huts and tubs will be thoroughly cleaned between guests and, differently from last year, there will be no ‘hot swap’ changes in that the huts will be vacant for 24hrs between guests (to allow for deep cleaning). Thoughts going forward are somewhat mixed: we need to open as it is a key part of our income.” 

Marc Gibbs and Jeanette Harris, Loose Reins
Family and dog friendly – and you can even bring your horse. Set on the edge of Shillingstone, 12 miles south of Shaftesbury, the site has three canvas lodges and three wooden cabins

“WE are almost fully booked through the summer and the autumn is shaping up to be busy, too. We have some availability, including the October half term holiday. Our lodges are open April – October and our cabins are open all year. We have made a number of changes, summarised on our website, to keep everyone safe in light of the pandemic and are pleased to have been awarded the VisitBritain ‘Good To Go’ accreditation. We expect the remainder of 2020 to be buoyant, provided the virus remains under control and the government does not need to reintroduce restrictions.”

A lodge at Loose Reins

Mark and Carol, Caalm Camp
Six yurts, a cottage and conference space on an old dairy farm in Stour Provost, a village six miles west of Shaftesbury

“WE are getting enquiries and bookings and have relaxed our T&C’s in respect of the percentage of deposit required, and leaving the balance payments until 10 days prior to arrival. I’d estimate that we are 50% down on enquiries and bookings for August at the moment but expect a rush. July booking are higher than last year.
“There has been extensive training for cleaning staff; we have new equipment to sanitise and deep clean; cleaning protocols and check lists. Staff making signed declaration of fitness to work before each working day and guests need to sign a declaration of fitness, and have had no contact with known Covid patients. Sanitising stations are fitted around entry points and risk assessments carried out to prevent cross contamination. With the difficulties and fears of travelling abroad, we feel confident that the remainder of 2020 will be a busy year.

Kirsty Adlem, Dither & Faff
Two shepherd’s huts made in Dorset on a working farm plus sheep, hens and alpacas in Marnhull, eight miles west of Shaftesbury 

“WE have a solid almost three months of bookings. Enquiries and bookings have been so busy during the last couple of weeks. For me, I have seen a big increase in enquiries for 2021 too, so staycations definitely seem to be the way forward for people at the moment. I will operate a self check-in for guests. The huts will be thoroughly cleaned with anti-bac products and I will provide soaps, anti-bac cleaner and hand sanitiser (made in Dorset!) for all guests. I will also remove books and magazines. All the linen is processed at Stalbridge Linen, so I know this will all be safe to use.
“I am fortunate that the shepherd’s huts are self contained with their own facilities, so I feel confident I can offer a safe escape to Dorset. The rest of the year looks set to be my busiest yet, weekends are full until November and as I previously mentioned, I can see a huge boost for our local tourist trade. The last few months have been a financial hit, but it has given me the opportunity to add extra attractions (bird hide and wood fired hot tubs!) and get prepared for a busy few months. So, literally everything crossed that I can return to enticing tourists to our beautiful area safely!

Carolyn Bouchier, Black Pig Retreats
Two large luxury canvas tents in one meadow, a tent and bothy in another, in Motcombe, two miles north of Shaftesbury

“WE have closed The Bothy so one tent a can stand alone in the meadow without neighbours.  The other two tents are 35m apart in a separate meadow. July and August are fully booked bar a couple of two-night stays available. We close after the October half-term. We have blocked 72 hours either side of each booking to ensure the tents can be aired thoroughly before we go in to clean and make up for the next guests.  This has reduced our capacity by a third but safety over finance!
“I’ve drawn up a Risk Assessment for the site and put in place a strict cleaning protocol. I’m asking guests to strip the beds and place all linen and towels directly into laundry bags, which will be collected by Stalbridge Laundry weekly: we will not have to touch it.  Guests are sent a video for self check in and stay in touch by phone: I will not have any direct contact. They are all asked to keep their distance from other guests and my family. The ‘goodies’  will no longer be there (board games, condiments, tea and coffee, etc.. and there will be no floor rugs or cushions.  In the event of anyone feeling unwell they must go home asap to get a test and isolate.
“The rest of 2020 is subject to the situation. If we have to lockdown then deposits will be retained for a future booking and any balances paid will be refunded, the same applies if the guest has to lockdown and cancel their booking. We are staying flexible, calm and positive.  I feel sure that our guests can enjoy a taste of our farm in this beautiful part of Dorset safely this summer.”

Black Pig Retreats canvas tents

June Watkins, Lawn Cottage
A B&B in Stour Row, five miles west of Shaftesbury, with three guest rooms plus a simple shepherd’s hut in the field with double bed

“I shall be sending the sheets to the laundry and using a fabric spray to make sure the blankets, pillows etc are virus-free. I am doing the cleaning myself, with the hygiene rules I have been looking up online and also from Sawdays. The house is well suited to social distancing with one bedroom with private access at the side of the house and the the shepherd’s hut in the field immediately behind the house. It has been updated since the closure and the garden is a delight with plenty of space for sitting away from other guests and good walking from the house. I would love to see my guests back again as I have missed them.

Ali Russell, Ash Farm
Two shepherd’s huts and a separate camp sleeping six in huts on a family deer farm in Stourpaine, a village 10 miles south of Shaftesbury

“WE are almost fully booked for the coming summer months. The two huts are available year round and our camp operates until September: this will also be the same in 2021. We have a more intense and in depth cleaning regime between guests. We are asking guests to strip their own beds and place linen in provided bags which can be left for 72 hours before washing at high temperature. We are also providing extra antibacterial cleaning products for guests to use during their stay.
“It looks like it will be a busy summer: with most foreign travel cancelled the British tourism market has much to offer. Like many of Dorset’s holiday providers, we can offer guests the chance to get away in seclusion and safety and watch wild life, see open views of rolling countryside and escape from their city lives. I expect it will be a busy season ahead, which we will be grateful for: it has not been a very good start to the working year and like many small business we have slipped though the benefit net and so look forward to getting back to work!”

Jo Stoate, Miller’s Huts
Two shepherd’s huts at Cann’s Mills, a working mill a mile south of Shaftesbury

“We won’t be offering full capacity, only be opening the larger John’s Hut or both huts booked together. Both huts won’t be available to book by different parties. This will ensure the washroom is for their exclusive use and they can use the whole site. Guests will have the entire site to themselves which is where we can add value to their stay. I will be taking out the games, reading materials, including local maps but will be happy to send guests PDFs of local walks and direct them to all the local resources, for example details of local village stores and amenities that we feel are less busy at this time.
“Store cupboard basics have been removed and I won’t be able to offer the little extras such as a tin of homemade cake on arrival. It’s a real shame that I have had to remove these little touches, touches that I’ve always believed added to the loveliness and hospitality we extend to our guests. There will be no shortage of flowers though and we will ensure a relaxed stay!
“Sanitisers will be placed in both huts. We have always prided ourselves on a high level of cleanliness here, but will be giving more time for airing between guests. Bed linen and towels have always been washed at high temperatures. We’re asking guests that they checkout promptly and have changed our check in time to 4pm, and of course not to travel if they are unwell. With regards to bookings, we’d rather guests didn’t come if unwell and are offering full refunds or the opportunity to change their booking. We can offer seclusion, fresh air and space as well as a slice of Dorset history.”

John's Hut at Miller's Huts, Dorset
John’s Hut at Miller’s Huts, Cann

Hannah Hannam, Farmstead Glamping
Two shepherd’s huts with hot tubs (made in Dorset) on a family-run dairy farm just outside Sturminster Newton, 10 miles from Shaftesbury

“WE have had lots of booking and enquiries and are now fully booked until September with a waiting list for weekend dates. We have made a number of changes: offering self-check-in so that we do not have direct contact with guests’ changes to our already stringent cleaning protocols; removing soft furnishings from the huts (such as cushions that cannot be washed between guests) and removing paper items such as information books. 
“We have set up a guest portal on our website which contains virtual check –in, how to videos and downloadable pdf copies information books, tourist info and takeaway menus.  We have also created a ‘Safe Stay Charter’ that guest are required to sign agreeing to not travel if they have symptoms and to notify us if they develop them.  We have also ‘Ditched the deposits’ as a temporary measure to encourage people to book a stay despite the uncertainly. We have also put flexible booking terms in place, so that if a guest is unable to travel to us due to symptoms the they will not forfeit their stay. We have seen a lot more forward bookings compared to this time last year, so provided we are able to remain open we expect to see higher than average occupancy rates for the rest of the year.

Related stories:
Stringent hotel protocols unveiled as hospitality industry re-opens
BBC: ‘There will be a shortage of holiday cottages.’


Jane Colston, Updown Cottage
A cottage halfway up (and halfway down) Gold Hill sleeping six in four bedrooms

“WE are not yet getting significant enquiries or bookings but we have refunded, in full, all deposits and total balances that had been paid when the guests cancelled or were unable to stay. We are installing a hand sanitiser unit (from local company, Bramley Products) inside the lobby and leaving 72 hours between guests over the summer (to protect our housekeeper as well as guests.) My Instagram and facebook followers from America and Europe are desperate to return but we will probably not see this happen until next year.

Updown Cottage, Gold Hill

Vikki, Folly Cottages
Two luxury cottages let as one booking, with swimming pool/spa set in 70 acres four miles north of Shaftesbury. Usual booking is 8-12 people

“WE are booked until the end of the year. We’ve been lucky with bookings: most decided not to cancel their upcoming stays until the last minute when lockdown was first announced. We’ve had to amend a few bookings to allow longer times between stays, so that we could spend more time cleaning, a precaution really as we have always had high standards. Generally people book for weekends here and we are usually empty during the week, so this hasn’t been too much of a challenge.
“Cleanliness has always been a top priority for us, especially in the pool which is always disinfected between guests and the spa emptied and refilled. It’s not necessary to empty the pool due to the chemicals used in it. The cottages are thoroughly cleaned between stays by our in-house housekeeper. As always, sheets, towels and bathrobes are washed and replaced between stays even if they appear to be unused. 
“We have little to no contact with guests when they are with us, other than to show them around. We are easily able to maintain a safe distance when we do this, or we can guide them via phone or video call, whatever they are comfortable with. We do not provide any housekeeping during their stay. As we are a relatively small place we often find that we have no more than two households staying with us at one time anyway. In the cases where several couples were due to visit us together, they have cancelled. We rely upon our guests own discretion in these situations.

Hayley Berry, Well Cottage
A one-bedroomed Grade II cottage with wood burner in the corner of historic Pump Yard, a gated community in St James just below the town

“WE have had two bookings for July in the last few days. An email received from Holiday Cottages yesterday stated that ‘it has been a very busy week and we are continuing to see continuing demand from guests, with a particular focus on July and August.’  Our cottage mainly attracts domestic guests, but we have had international guests staying before. We are running a discount for July (eg, seven nights from July 31 for £725, was £801) and August, as guests need an incentive to commit to travel arrangements in the current climate.
“Our cottage is cared for with the utmost attention. In addition, we now ask our housekeeper to adhere to guidelines that ensure suitable cleaning products are used and that particular attention is paid to door handles, light switches, remote controls, key safe, banisters etc.  We have also been issued a ‘Visit Britain’ certificate verifying that we are following strict protocols to ensure cleanliness and social distancing. I am hopeful we will continue to see demand for UK holidays this year.”

Margaret McLeod, September Cottage
A three-bedroomed cottage on Salisbury Street, Shaftesbury, a few minutes walk from the centre

“WE have had four bookings for July and one for August since it was announced that we could re-open. We are open year-round and not offering any deals at present. We have always taken extra care with cleanliness and provided handwash – we will simply be extra vigilant. We will probably be unable to offer early check-in/late check-out to allow for cleaning to be extra thorough. I think it will be fine!

Sally Warren, Barbers Cottage
A Grade II listed cottage in town, a two minute walk from the High Street, which sleeps five. Private parking, terrace and garden

“WE open on Saturday when our first guests arrive. Since last week we have had lots of bookings – definitely more UK now, where as previous years more international. We have put in lots of changes: deep cleaning after every stay, removal of anything that can’t be deep cleaned (eg kids’ toys), longer period between changeover, free pocket hand sanitisers and wipes for every guest, a hand sanitiser station next to the front door, housekeeper training and have applied for certification to show we are doing the appropriate measures.
“I feel more positive about the rest of 2020 although clearly everything depends on air corridors/second spikes/quarantines. I expect fewer international customers and more UK based. It is great to have seen that Shaftesbury town centre is pedestrianised – I for one think it’s a great initiative and will help with tourism. I hope that Shaftesbury will also react positively with cafes / restaurants / pubs being allowed to use street space. The summer will be over soon, and we all need to work together so visitors have a lovely and positive experience of the town and businesses can recoup some of the lost earnings in a safe way. Would like to see hand sanitiser station outside the town hall though!!”

Inside Barbers Cottage:


David Griffin-Shepherd, La Fleur de Lys
A restaurant with eight rooms in the centre of Shaftesbury

“WE are working on 60% maximum capacity for an initial period with this hopefully increasing in time, mainly due to guidelines and also to build confidence for both guests and staff. A very small number of people are showing an interest in eating in our restaurant and we have had great support from locals. But there is no appetite to stay over at present. I am offering free upgrades but no discounts: costs at present are higher so cannot offer deals.
“We have introduced a number of measures including flexible and extended eating times and sanitizing stations at every entrance. Signage staff will have visors on and there will be restrictions on numbers in public areas. It should be noted that the hospitality industry is generally very used to keeping establishments clean as we all have annual inspections for hygiene and food safety, so this is just a very small extension of these measures to ensure we keep staff and guests safe.
“Put simply, 2020 is a disaster for the industry with most hospitality outlets simply looking at survival this year. I do feel the industry will require a large amount of more financial support over autumn/winter if we are not to see job losses on a scale never before seen. VAT cut to 10% or lower?? Along with extension of the furlough scheme for the industry. What has been done so far is a lifeline – without it you would now have five million more unemployed. Now we need some help with the rebuilding process. What is important now is that we build confidence for the years ahead so people feel comfortable once more to come out to dine, visit, stay & travel.

Sam Hill, GM, The Grosvenor Arms
A 16-room coaching inn, restaurant and bar in the heart of Shaftesbury

“WE are getting enquiries and bookings and have put out an offer of 30% off rooms rates for the first two weeks, which is proving popular. We always offer free upgrades if a better room is available on the day. We have a new order-to-pay app to allow guests to maintain social distancing and be in control of their visit – there will be no cash. We have introduced two new front-of-house roles, a host to control numbers through the door and a cleaning role that will be operational during service times to keep all contact surface areas sanitised.  We have sanitiser stations around the business, one way systems and staff training.  
“We have made the most of our trading areas including creating a lovely pop up bar area in our assembly room (normally an upstairs function room). You can order drinks through the app. The restaurant will have more space between tables but people can also eat in the conservatory, snug and main bar.  It’s going to be tough but we will make the most of it and are chomping at the bit to get going!

Lesley Ali, GM, Best Western Royal Chase Hotel
A 33-room hotel on Salisbury Road, Shaftesbury, The Chase is a former 17th century monastery and offers a heated indoor swimming pool

“YES, we are re-opening with full capacity. The level of enquiries and bookings is moderate: we are not offering any deals at present. We have a heightened cleaning schedule and social distancing measures in place. We are limiting face to face contact by making things accessible via the internet. Staff will be wearing PPE and encouraging guests to do so. We have a high volume of sanitising stations available. My expectation is that it is going to be a tough year.

Chris Goodinge, The Coppleridge Inn
A popular wedding venue, with a barn and woodland ceremonies, plus 10 rooms just north of Shaftesbury. Mapped Coppleridge Walks available

“WE look forward to welcoming everyone back. The health and safety of our staff and customers is our highest priority, therefore we will keep a temporary record of customers details for 21 days to assist NHS Test and Trace, and take customer temperatures before allowing entry to the building. All rooms have their own keys and we have lots of Government approved cleaning material and PPE for the chambermaids. We supply all linen and have a new, special washing powder and hot wash.
“There is a minimum two-night stay requirement, and check-in is from 5pm. The bar is open to residents from 5-8pm, Mon-Thu but sorry, there is no food. The bar is open, with food on Friday from 5-8.30pm and we are open from noon to 8.30pm on weekends (food served at lunch and early evening). We will serve continental breakfasts. The more you go into it the more difficulties you hit. However, that’s how we will operate initially but it’s very much a suck it and see situation. The good news is that all this year’s weddings have rebooked for 2021 so there’s light on the horizon!”

The Coppleridge Inn

Nina Bartlett, The Grove Arms
Six rooms in a pub on the A30 in Ludwell, a village just two miles east of Shaftesbury

“We are able to offer full capacity in relation to accommodation – however, our bar and restaurant areas will be restricted. We will prioritise bookings for food with our residents’ requirements paramount and then place further bookings around these guests. We are very popular with the walking and dog owner communities, which I would say are the communities with the most confidence in returning to leisure as they are relatively human contactless.
“We always upgrade bookings where possible and will continue to do so where achievable, depending on when previous guests check out – we wish to leave 72 hours between guests to ensure virus protections for those staying with us. We have completed a full risk assessment and, prior to reopening, we will revise again. There are sanitation points in all rooms; we have abolished the buffet breakfast (Mon-Fri continental breakfast in the room, full English offered at a pre-booked time only in the main restaurant to avoid contact with other guests). 
“Staff will be in full PPE and we have a one way system so passing in corridors etc is not necessary.  We also have a large outside terrace which will be available pre-booked with priority to residents. We feel the rest of the season will be positive as we are confident in the product and the service we are providing and the safety of this.  We would not open if we do not feel that our product is safe. Nb: The Grove is offering three nights for the price of two (peak rates).

The Fontmell
Six rooms in a lovely village inn on the A350 south of Shaftesbury. The pub extends over Collier’s Brook, a stream which flows between the bar and dining room. A garden too

“ALL rooms will be open, and food will run at about 75% capacity. We are getting more than expected enquiries and bookings and won’t have any offers at the moment. We have a number of hand stations throughout the pub, sneeze screens, online ordering, less tables, reduced menu, one way system and extra cleaning procedures.” More details on safety measures here

Plumber Manor
A 16-roomed traditional country house hotel set just outside of Sturminster Newton, 11 miles from Shaftesbury. It is still owned by the same family that built the house in the 1600s

“WE are opening at full capacity and are experiencing high levels of enquiries and bookings. We will do all that we are asked to do by the government and will open year-round, except February. There may be quite of lot of people who do not want to travel abroad – but would appreciate lovely surroundings and great food and hospitality. We very much hope to continue to have a good footfall.” Nb: Plumber has a re-opening offer of £150pp, dinner, bed and breakfast – three nights minimum.


The proximity of owners and their guests, and the quick turnaround of a room, are big challenges for B&Bs: Holbrook House, The Chalet and The Retreat are not opening their doors on July 4. Bernard Skam of The Retreat told The Alfred Daily that he and his wife Sheena may stay closed until Spring, 2021. “I am vulnerable. And if a guest is diagnosed, they would have to self-isolate here.” His regular business guests are furloughed until October, and the only major inquiry he has had is for a family booking next May, added Bernard. One Shaftesbury B&B that is open is 3 Ivy Cross.


Leah Newing, Two Love Lane
A two-bedroomed AirBnB cottage in the heart of Shaftesbury, a minute or two’s walk from Gold Hill and Park Walk

“I’M looking to reopen in September, to bookings that I already have: this will all depend on what’s going on locally and in-line with government advice. At this moment, I’m redecorating inside and out, making the most of this opportunity to set the cottage up for easier self catering options.
“My cottage is thoroughly cleaned and managed by myself. Extra precautions will be in place with an 72-hour exclusion period after guests have left, before I enter the cottage to clean. I have invested in hand sanitizers, dedicated cleaning clothing, PPE and changed my calendar to ensure that my preparation time will not be compromise by any future bookings. This will impact on the number of booking that I’d normally handle but this is changing times and the only safe way forward.
“I closed my little cottage mid-March: it’s been on standby and offered to Shaftesbury Westminster Memorial Hospital staff during this difficult time to enable staff to isolate if unable to return home. Who knows what may happen next? The key is to stay positive and remain agile: I’m not expecting too much to happen for the remainder of this year.”


Clare Pestell, Melbury Vale Winery
Three glamping barrel pods on a vineyard, a mile or so south of Shaftesbury

“Whilst we are disappointed that we will not be able to welcome glamping guests into our giant timber barrels this summer, we are re-opening in July for wine tours, tastings and local produce lunch. Tour guests will be able to lunch out in our glamping accommodation if the weather is not perfect, so they can socially distance and picnic, whilst they admire the fantastic views over Melbury Vale vineyard and Melbury Hill.
“We are making alcohol- based sanitiser through our distilling licence: in case any businesses want to source this locally and need it, it’s for sale on our website.