North Dorset

Famous as Thomas Hardy’s ‘vale of little dairies’ from his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the Blackmore Vale lies at the heart of the Dorset AONB and the traditional dairy agriculture that for centuries flourished in the lush pastures of the Stour valley.

Bounded by the chalk ridge of the Dorset Downs and the hills of Cranborne Chase, the Vale’s main towns Gillingham, Sturminster Newton and Stalbridge were major farming centres with busy markets, prosperous merchants and generations of hard working people. The area was also known for its flour and textile mills and one of Dorset’s last remaining working examples can be found on the Stour at Sturminster Newton.

Today, the region’s proud heritage is remembered in a series of food festivals that celebrate the diversity and innovation of local producers, many of which enjoy national reputations for the quality of their wares.

The attractive hill town of Shaftesbury grew up around its former Abbey founded by King Alfred and boasts limitless views for miles around; while perhaps the very definition of ‘picture postcard pretty’, the village of Milton Abbas was designed by Capability Brown as part of his extensive reconstruction of the landscape around Milton Abbey. 

Home to some of Britain’s finest Georgian architecture, the result of a catastrophic fire in 1731, the market town of Blandford Forum actually dates from Saxon times and is mentioned in Domesday. Hall & Woodhouse brews its famed Badger Ales here and the Royal Corps of Signals is based just outside the town.

A tributary of the Stour, the River Tarrant runs through Cranborne Chase and gives its name to eight charming villages that line its route – Tarrant Gunville, Hinton, Launceston, Monkton, Rawston, Rushton, Keynston and Crawford, as well as Stubhampton although that has since dropped its Tarrant prefix.