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North Dorset

Due to high demand from our guests, we have recently started looking for properties in this area. If you have a property and are considering letting, please get in touch with Claire, our property manager on 01929 448694 or email c.macdonald@dorsetcottages.com

Famous as Thomas Hardy’s ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’, the Blackmore Vale is at the heart of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty bounded by the Dorset Downs chalk ridge, the chalk scarp of Cranborne Chase and the watershed of the Stour and Yeo valleys. It is also home to some of Dorset’s most beautiful scenery – more than adequate reward for a clamber to the top of Hambledon Hill, Okeford Hill or Bulbarrow Hill, all of which afford magnificent views.

Dotted throughout is a collection of working villages that have yet to fully succumb to creeping gentrification and still reflect their origins as local agricultural centres. This is the Dorset that Hardy chose as the opening backdrop to Tess of the D’Urbervilles – the novel’s Marlott with its Pure Drop Inn is actually Marnhull and the pub is the Crown. Shillingstone boasts one of the best preserved railway stations on the old Somerset & Dorset line and has been extensively restored; while until it closed in 1998 nearby Sturminster Newton was home to Britain’s largest weekly cattle market. (The town was also, at different times, home for both Thomas Hardy and his mentor Dorset dialect poet William Barnes.)

The Vale town of Stalbridge has a fine market cross – dating from the late 15th century it’s 30-feet high and made of yellow Ham stone. Almost as striking is Giles Gilbert Scott’s Arts and Crafts-inspired war memorial in Iwerne Minster. The hill town of Shaftesbury grew up around the Abbey founded by Alfred the Great in 888 and was one of the wealthiest in the country. It’s perhaps best known for Gold Hill, the steep cobbled street that provided the setting for Ridley Scott’s classic 1973 advert for Hovis bread.

Further west Sherborne was once the capital of Wessex and Alfred’s brothers King Ethelbert and King Ethelbard are buried in the Abbey, which was founded by St Aldhelm in 705. In the town centre the distinctive hexagonal Conduit was a washing area for monks and dates from the 16th century, as does Sherborne Castle, built by Elizabethan favourite Sir Walter Raleigh.
Just outside the Blackmore Vale, with its notable Georgian buildings designed by local architects John and William Bastard following the great fire of 1731 and partly paid for by King George II, Blandford Forum (the Latin word for market) once boasted a weekly animal market and a seasonal sheep market. Today a general market is held in Market Place every Thursday and Saturday. As well as a centre for farming Gillingham was the site of Dorset’s first grammar school in 1516 and a silk mill in 1769, but the arrival of the railway in the 1850s meant industries like brickmaking, cheese making, printing, soap manufacture and a petrol engine plant flourished and ushered in a new era of prosperity.

Well, I Never… Britain’s oldest post box still in use can be found at Barnes Cross in the village of Holwell, near Sherborne. It arrived in 1853.

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