Author Archives: Steve Keenan

Go glamping in 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 vales and woodlands surrounding Shaftesbury, with no shortage of innovation in recent years. New options for 2017 include a converted double decker bus, shepherd huts with hot pools and luxury safari tents.

There are now a dozen glamping sites within a few miles of Shaftesbury, many with spectacular views and settings – in oak woodlands, kitchen gardens, equestrian centres and working farms. 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.

* Click on the Google below to view glamping sites in North Dorset (and one just over the border in West Wiltshire)

New for 2017

Black Pig Retreats
Two enormous canvas tents were added in May to an existing tent on a 36-acre equestrian centre in Motcombe, just north of Shaftesbury. The luxury tents have gas hobs, electric, wood-burning stove, hot showers and very local provenance: the suppliers include JD Kitchens of Shaftesbury, Boldscan Tents of Taunton, Lloyd Blacksmiths of Dorchester and Bramley Products of Mells. Besides horses (six rescues, three livery), there are sheep and pigs, including one large black pig. There’s a communal games straw bale shed (which becomes a lambing shed in spring), fire pits and pizza oven on the way. Monday and Friday are changeover days – it averages £450 for three nights. Dog and child friendly.


Stock Gaylard
Six yurts arranged in two groups of three; an extended shepherd’s hut, and – new for 2017 – a converted double-decker bus – are the options on this sprawling 1,800 acre estate (including 300 acres of oak woodland and a deer park), 12 miles south-west of Shaftesbury. The bus sleeps five, and an adjoining bunkhouse a further four. A shepherd’s hut and horsebox house a gas-heated shower, compost loo, while the top deck of the bus is home to the kitchen and open seating. A mini break for the all-in bus option starts at £510 sleeping 9-11.


Farmstead Glamping
Two high-end shepherd’s huts were sited on this Sturminster Newton farm in the spring: the Pleasant Pheasant and The Happy Hare. Both have en-suite bathrooms with flushing loos, a double bed and gas. They also have a hot tub and fire pits – and a cream tea on arrival. Both were made by Dorset hut builder Plankbridge. No website yet, prices on application: seven miles south-west of Shaftesbury.

Dither and Faff
There are sheep and hens on this farm – and a flock of inquisitive alpacas. A hand-built, oak-framed shepherd’s hut (wheels from a Bridport foundry; frame made in Dorset) should be completed by July on the farm in Marnhull, a village known by Hardy as Marlott, home to Tess of the d’Urbervilles (see Hardy in North Dorset), eight miles west of Shaftesbury. Treats and eggs on arrival, big sunsets. Prices on application.

Established glamping
* View the Google map of the sites listed below in North Dorset (and one just over the border in West Wiltshire)


Loose Reins
An established riding school in Shillingstone (bring your own horse, or hire an American Quarter), the site 12 miles south of Shaftesbury, also offers three canvas tents (sleeping six) or three wooden lodges (sleeps four). At the base of the long-distance Wessex Ridgeway trail and close to the River Stour and North Dorset trailway (a disused railway line), the combination means a wealth of trails with a comfy stay in Wild West accommodation (hot showers, fire pits, porch, rocking chairs and marshmallows).

Safari Glamping
Two very popular canvas, fully plumbed-in ensuite tents in a woodland orchard among 50 acres of Stalbridge Park, 10 miles west of Shaftesbury. Gin and tonic provided, as are hammocks, fire pit and sunloungers. Riding (£95 a day) with a guide and other adventure activities also available such as clay pigeon shooting, bushcraft and foraging. Booked out for the 2017 season.

Pythouse Kitchen Garden
The walled garden and restaurant have long made this a very popular destination, six miles from Shaftesbury, just over the border in Wiltshire. It is also a wedding venue. Now Pythouse has added six bell tents, primarily aimed at wedding and event groups, but available to hire singly for £135 a night.


Caalm Camp
Six yurts, a cottage and conference space on an old dairy farm in Stour Provost, a village six miles west of Shaftesbury. Each yurt sleeps four, has its own woodburner stove, shower room and loo in the Old Hay Barn, and use of a new kitchen with individual fridges. Chickens (plus visiting deer, rabbits and pheasants) on the farm, a lounge, kids’ play area. Prices from £399 a week.

Bloomfield Camping
Four yurts, each sleeping three, in seven acres of field and pond, each with its own kitchen and covered eating area. Showers/loos in shared block with washing-up facilites. A 10-minute walk into the village of Childe Okeford, eight miles south of Shaftesbury, and its award winning Goldhill Organic Farm Shop. Peacocks all called Dave. Prices from £190 for the weekend.


Lawn Cottage
Also in Stour Provost is this B&B with three guest rooms, which has now added the choice of a simple shepherd’s hut with a double bed. Folding foam beds can be supplied for children/friends. There is heating and power but no cooking facilities: the loo and shower is available in the B&B, a short step or two away. A breakfast hamper in the hut – or the full works available in the house: £90 a night.

Horders Farm
One home-built wooden shepherd’s hut on a working farm with sheep at the base of Melbury Hill (two miles south of Shaftesbury) overlooking the Blackmore Vale. A breakfast hamper with home-made bread is supplied, the hot water and shower are solar-powered, there’s a wood-burning stove and a compostable loo. It’s £40pppn (half-preice kids under 12) and there’s a DIY winter rate of £25pppm – bring your own linen. No dogs allowed.

The Old Forge
The Old Forge, just south of Shaftesbury,  has two shepherds’ huts (Sam and Mabel) and a 1934 gypsy caravan (all £95 per night, minimum two nights) alongside rooms in the house. The award-winning breakfast includes their own free range eggs, homemade marmalade, local honey and apple juice from the orchard. There are also  three dogs, a cat, two horses, one donkey and ten chickens on site.


Dorset Country Holidays
This place offers nearly everything: yurts, domes, bell tents, cabins, shepherd huts, airstreams and retro caravans, all within one area of a larger holiday park with toilet and shower blocks just three miles west of Shaftesbury. A gas hob/stove and fire pit is provided with washing-up and laundry facilities on site. Aimed at value glamping, with option to bring your own linen. One night stays available, dogs welcome.

* Check out the map of AirBnB options in around Shaftesbury
* Book a B&B, hotel, cottage or self-catering option in Shaftesbury
* Read more about glamping options in the rest of Dorset

What’s happened to the Gold Hill Hovis loaf?

CRUMBS! The loaf that has sat atop Gold Hill for decades has disappeared.

The town has been agog since The Hovis Loaf, a slice of Shaftesbury life, vanished overnight. “We had a lot of people asking where it is. One guest said he heard people talking about loaf theft,” said Anne Giberson, chairman of Shaftesbury Tourism and owner of The Chalet B&B.

But Anne revealed the loaf is far from being toast: it’s simply being refreshed and repackaged, having gone a bit stale in recent years after a distinguished history.

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Where to fly a Tiger Moth in North Dorset

THERE were several airfields built in Dorset during WW2, as aircraft production moved out of the bombed cities and the Allies geared up for the 1944 invasion of France.

The gliders that landed at Pegasus Bridge on D-Day took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton, while the Americans took over RAF Warmwell for their fighter planes. Henstridge was a Fleet Air Arm training airfield: Seafires, Spitfires and Masters flew from 1943 until 1945.

Today, only one of the five runways remains. But the airport is busy, with the Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance based here – as are the Yakovlevs, an aerobatics team often seen (and heard) training over the Blackmore Vale.

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A 20-mile foodie cycling tour of North Dorset


A Google map of the 20-mile cycling tour of North Dorset

IN 1973, a young film director called Ridley Scott directed a TV advert that put the Dorset town of Shaftesbury firmly on the cycling map.

Not in a Bradley Wiggins sort-of-way, granted, but in a British nostalgia way. The film of a young lad pushing his Hovis bread bike up the cobblestones of Gold Hill to the haunting music of Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 seared into the memory.

Visitors still whistle the tune as they take photos from the top of the hill. The advert has been voted Britain’s favourite of all time. And Ridley did well too – he went on to film Aliens and Blade Runner, among others.

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Thomas Hardy in North Dorset

Sherborne was transformed into a 19th century fair for the 2015 film Far From The Madding Crowd

NORTH Dorset was a huge inspiration to Thomas Hardy. The principal towns, Shaftesbury and Sherborne, both feature heavily in his novels, with Gillingham also playing a supporting role.

In the surrounding countryside, the Blackmore Vale was the backdrop to his most lyrical writing about nature, with the honey stone village of Marnhull home to Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Tess, Jude the Obscure and The Woodlanders – his last three novels – were all largely based in North Dorset.

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11 brilliant reasons to visit Shaftesbury in summer

The Great Gold Hill Cheese Challenge

NORTH Dorset comes alive in the summer with a series of superb and well-established shows and festivals that reflect the region’s rich culture and agricultural history.

Woodcrafts, dairy farming, cheese production, steam engines and the heavy horses all have their own festivals, alongside celebrations of folklore, music, theatre and outdoors pursuits. Shaftesbury sits at the heart of these bucolic outbursts of pleasure, and is the natural place to base yourself for the parties. We’ll see you soon!

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