We are based in the heart of the Blackmore Vale a broad stretch of gently rolling quintessential English countryside, that falls between the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural beauty to the east and the chalk Dorset Downs to the South. Many come from far and wide to explore the region including the world heritage Jurassic Coast and Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral & Magna Carta, Bath and Longleat to name but a few. However, in an area bristling with hidden gems and so much to explore and experience it is difficult to know where to start. Here are just a few ideas to capture your imagination – there are many more!
Step inside the home of one of the most powerful families of Dorset and discover the history of Kingston Lacy and the flamboyant Bankes family who owned vast swathes of Dorset for over 400 years. From fighting the forces of Oliver Cromwell to gathering one of the world’s largest collections of ancient Egyptian artefacts, the magnificent Kingston Lacy is a must-see with many events and exhibitions and a wonderful place to visit for the whole family.
Alternatively, visit Sherborne, with its abundance of ancient and beautiful buildings, superb abbey dating from Saxon times, picturesque almshouse and two castles (one built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594). Also visit the castles beautiful gardens and nationally important collections of fine art, porcelain, and furniture.
If literary history fascinates, then take a short drive to Dorchester (the town fictionally portrayed as ‘Casterbridge’ in Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’. Visit ‘Max Gate House’ (built by Thomas Hardy and where he lived until his death in 1928) or ‘Hardy’s Cottage’ the place of his birth. Now, if the literary juices are really flowing, you could go on and further visit Clouds Hill, the home of T.E. Lawrence (of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fame) which is close by.
Even closer to hand is Shaftesbury Abbey and Museum and the beautiful Gold Hill where at the top there is a delightful café (that conveniently has a wine license as well as one of the most breathtaking views in Dorset). Constructed in the 9th Century by Alfred the Great as a fortified settlement, the abbey was the burial place in 979 of Edward II, known as Edward the Martyr, who was murdered at Corfe Castle and is also where King Canute died in 1035.
If for some reason you haven't managed to fit in an African safari into this year's busy itinerary then all is not lost! Longleat House and Safari Park are within easy reach and a fantastic day out for the whole family.
Salisbury Cathedral is also within easy reach. Although acclaimed for its magnificent architecture and spire, it is also home to the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta.
Close by are some of the most beautiful formal gardens in the country. We heartily recommend a visit to Minterne Gardens. These secluded gardens famed for their seasonal profusion of Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Japanese cherries, and Magnolias, are set in a peaceful wooded valley and have been described as a ‘corner of paradise.’ Small lakes, streams, and cascades offer a new vista at each turn around the one mile round horseshoe-shaped gardens, and there is also a tea room, perfect for a quick pick me up after the mini trek. On the way home, you may also want to drive by the Cerne Giant (in all his glory)!
Also close to hand is Stour Head Gardens. With hills, water, and classical architecture overlaid by a fabulous collection of trees and shrubs, Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’ when first opened in the 1740s. Stourhead is breathtaking in any season, but it's the perfect place to relax and enjoy a picnic in summer.
Lastly, a little further afield but most definitely worth a visit is Maperton House. Mapperton is one of the most important and distinctive gardens in the country and famous for its romantic setting, varied planting and sense of tranquility. Indeed, Maperton House was itself described as the finest Manor House in England by ‘Country life Magazine’.
Walks on the Wild Side
One could write a book on the walks and Trailways around Dorset – and indeed many have.
However, for the casual walker seeking to extend their legs, fill their lungs and view breath taking surroundings, and generally feel good about themselves, (yet still be able to return for tea) a climb up nearby Hambledon Hill is highly recommended. On the hill you will find one of the country's best-preserved Iron Age hill forts.
The area is also a National Nature Reserve so there is an abundance of interesting flora and fauna to look out for. Plants include pyramidal orchid and wild thyme. Butterfly species include dingy skipper, grizzled skipper, chalkhill blue and adonis blue. From the 192 m (630 ft) summit, there are fabulous views over the Blackmore Vale, the river Stour, Wiltshire, and Somerset. This circular walk starts from the village of Child Okeford (close to Hammoon) and follows country lanes and the Stour Valley to the hill summit. You then descend back to the village via Fernhayes Copse.
The Stour Valley Way and the Wessex Ridgeway both cross the hill so for the more intrepid, these long-distance trails can be picked up to extend your walk.
Fossils & Beaches
One cannot mention Dorset without mentioning the Jurassic coast. No more than 45 minutes from Hammoon, the drive takes you through some of most breathtaking scenery in Dorset towards Lulworth Cove and the Durdle Door. Fossil and shell collectors come from all over the world to this wonderful part of the 95 mile long Jurassic Coast now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Coast Path to Durdle Door ascends Hambury Tout from the western end of the main car park in West Lulworth. It’s a bracing walk along high cliffs with panoramic views of the English Channel. Swimmers and sunbathers enjoy the calmer waters of Man O’ War Bay and Durdle Door. It can become quite busy during the Summer with day-trippers, although interestingly few seem to bother to walk down to Durdle Door beach - preferring to view the arches from the cliff top - actually a blessing!
Less heard of but close by is Kimmeridge Bay. The moment you park, you are greeted with stunning views out onto the bay. It is stony rather than a sandy beach with huge limestone ledges that reach out into the sea. Kimmeridge is renowned for rock pooling and fossil hunting. It is also a firm favorite among surfers. Less well known than other beaches, it is somewhat of a hidden gem. While we are on the subject of hidden gems, another is Chapman's Cove. Fortunately, it seems to have been omitted from the 'tourist must-see Jurassic Coast bucket list' which is a blessing since it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful locations on the Jurassic Coast even during the height of the season. Long may it last!
Visitors often assume that the time to visit the Jurassic coast is in the Summer. Yet for ourselves, when the tourists have left, and the nights are beginning to draw in one can really savour the beauty and power of nature on this magnificent coastline.
Festivals are very much an English summer experience. While we are all familiar with large music festivals such as those in Glastonbury Somerset, for others seeking something quite unique and special (and dare I say a little more cerebral), I cannot recommend highly enough the Chalke Valley History Festival.
Set as you would expect, in the Chalk Valley in Wiltshire, the festival’s theme is a celebration of history past and present in a setting of gentility and civility. World-renowned writers, political figures, war heroes, (a smattering of celebrities) and experts in any number of related fields come to speak. There is plenty of food and drink to be had, re-enactments, the obligatory Spitfire fly past and masses to do for all the family - try learning to fire a long bow (harder than it looks), or experience living in a WW1 trench. The festival lasts for a week and has the feeling of a family affair even if a large one! Truly a hidden gem, don’t miss it. Normally held in the last week of June but do check online.
The Stock Gaylard Oak Fair is a totally unique event in rural Dorset and just down the road from Hammoon. Although there are more than 200 exhibitors, the fair is a family-run estate event and there is nothing corporate about it. One of the main reasons it is so special is the demonstrators and exhibitors who come from near and far to celebrate traditional country crafts and skills. There is truly something for everyone. Practice axe throwing, tree climbing, or archery or enjoy the children’s activities and workshops. Watch the displays of falconry, the Adam’s Axemen Display team, or just browse the exhibitors. Take a tour of the estate and its magnificent oaks, or sit back and have a drink and something to eat. It really is a celebration of Dorset and our beautiful countryside and it’s peoples. Normally held in late August but do check online.
The History of Hammoon Manor
In 1066, Thomas de Mohun of Moyon in Normandy, gathered forty-nine knights and their retainers in support of William, Duke of Normandy’s, invasion of England. Now we know the outcome and it certainly helped that Thomas was on the winning side. Thomas’s reward for his loyalty, (among other gifts of land) was the manor of Ham, which would perpetuate his name by becoming Ham Mohun, (gradually anglicised to Hammoon) and which his descendants would own for the next eight hundred years.
The last of the Mohun's name to live at Hammoon (although the property still remained in the family), was John who died in 1479 age 73. The manor subsequently passed to Sir John Trenchard, the son of John Mohun’s daughter Christian. Sir John Trenchard supported Henry Tudor in his claim to the throne and when Richard III became king in 1483 his estates including Hammoon manor were confiscated. He was lucky to avoid execution but in 1485, after the battle of Bosworth when Henry Tudor won the throne, his estates and Hammoon manor were restored to him.
In 1818, the Trenchards sold the manor to General Sir John Slade who had served under the Duke of Wellington. This sale was the first time (apart from the brief interlude under Richard III), that the manor had changed hands since 1066. The manor remained in the Slade family until the late nineteenth century when it was sold to Viscount Portman in the mid-1920’s. Since then it has passed through only two hands prior to being purchased by the current owners.
Under its expansive thatched roof, the manor has been described as ‘One of the most picturesque houses in Dorset’. Unlike its grander counterparts, it exudes an understated elegance and, as can be seen from the drawing above little has changed over the years.