January, short days and cosy evenings in front of a log fire.
For the past few years we have had snow here, which has been magical.
The sound of the snow crunching underfoot and seeing Sammie my labrador leaping in the air in excitment, seeing and feeling snow for the first time.It was a joy! We don’t see much snow here so we are often not very well prepared but it is good to be stuck sometimes and gingerly make our way down to the Digby Tap for a spot of lunch. It is a hidden gem of Sherborne tucked away down a very narrow side street, but with a good selection of beers and a remarkably inexpensive meal. One needs to arrive by 12.30 at the latest or all the tables will be taken.
By February we have had enough of the cold wet weather and are looking forward to seeing the first Snowdrops to lift our spirits. Their nodding white heads are a cheery sight and there is even a Snowdrop festival during the second half of February in Shaftesbury. Otherwise drive down to Kingston Lacy , near Wimborne who open especially to show their carpet of snowdrops at this time of year
The Hellebores are also in full bloom and only a short drive out on a cold crisp day one can see many gardens by the road side coming alive. One particularly lovely village is East Coker. Park in the Helyar Arms and have a spot of lunch and then walk through the village to wards the church, past old stones cottages, thatched rooved and cottage garden plantings and there may be lambs in the fields too. If lunch is not too much, stop at the Goose Slade farm shop and stock up on local produce and maybe have a tea in their new tea room. Later in the year, the fields around this farm shop are surrounded by free range geese. In the other direction drive out to Corton Denham, through narrow winding country lanes and have lunch at the Queen’s Arms. Wellies & Dogs welcome, always a good sign. They have an excellent menu and on one side is a log fire facing low comfortable seating for informal dining and through another door is a more formal restaurant. I always choose to sit near the log fire!!
Corton Denham is surrounded by rolling green pasture and sheep regularly graze on the somewhat steep sides of these hills. We are very fortunate to have such a beautiful landscape around us. At the end of the month Sherborne Castle usually opens for a special day to see all the daffodils . The banks of bright yellow are a glorious sight, heralding in spring at last. The change of seasons are a constant joy, for in April drive out of town towards Dorchester and see the garden at Minterne House, and the banks of bluebells and daffodils. Further along having taken the lower road to Dorchester turn off to Upcerne . A delightful hamlet and see the swathes of bluebells in this magical valley. It never fails to delight. Looping back onto the lower road, drive on to Cerne Abbas, say hello to the giant and turn left into the the village.
The Royal Oak is in the centre of the village, next to the church. Here, they serve a very good lunch, under low beamed ceilings dating back to 1540 and still incorporates any original features.
After a leisurely lunch, walk down abbey street past the church towards the pond, and turn left as you near the pond down a narrow track that will take you through the secret Cerne. Follow the path alongside the stream, which meanders through woodland beside some very pretty old cottages. It is peaceful and tranquil
If it happens to be Wednesday, carry on to Dorchester to visit the very large open market situated near the railway station and find some bargains. The county town in buzzing on market day and it is not always easy to find a parking space, but don’t let that stop you. Whilst there, Poundbury is on the edge of Dorchester where there is a splendid gallery with coffee shop / eaterie in the middle of Queen Elizabeth Square.
At the beginning of May, Sherborne comes to life with the now annual Music festival, always on the first week-end of May. The town is alive with music; in the Abbey, Castleton Church, the Tindale Centre and other rooms in Sherborne School from morning until late at night and from Friday until Tuesday. Over the years we have listened to the wonderful pure voice of Emma Kirkby, Julian Lloyd Webber on the Cello, James Galway and Harry Christopher’s Sixteen who are my favourite, with their programme of early music. I never tire of it! There is also our own festival choir headed by Paul Ellis who put on a spendid performance at this festival as does the Sherborne Choir throught the year also headed by Mr Paul Ellis. For info re the concerts go to www.sherborneabbeyfestival.org
The gardens in the area are literally burgeoning during May, the air perfumed by the heady scents of spring. See the gardens at Minterne now, especially towards the end of the month and see the Rhododendrons in all there glory, not to mention many others now at there best. The garden is in a valley full of bright colour and after walking the past the rich colours of the azaleas and rhododendrons s follow the path down to the stream. Here there are magnificent hostas, huge gunnera looking somewhat primeval as they open up. After the tropical feel of this valley bottom, climb up slightly and then find a lovely quiet spot by the lake, overlooked by rolling Dorset hills. Real Hardy country. Go to www.minterne.co.uk for more information.
At the end of May on the next bank holiday Monday is the Sherborne Country Show, based at the new castle. This is not to be missed. There are rare breeds shown, including Shire horses, Draught horses, Dartmoor ponies, Short Horn and Galloway cattle and the small Dexter, not to mention tiny piglets suckling whilst mother tries to get some rest and many prize winning breeds of sheep with their young. There is a arena showing falconry displays and eagles swooping down for their morcel of food from their handler. Awesome!! Hounds are put through their paces, some are still employed!!
There is a silent auction, dozens of stalls showing local crafts and industries and a wide selection of eateries.
There are lots for children to do and see: dragon boat racing on the lake, many rides, archery and they can enter their dog in many competitions. All in all a very happy day out at the castle.
And then it is June. Hopefully sunny June!
On a clear sunny day , having made an early start, head west out of Sherborne, but take the back roads, via Bradford Abbas, Clifton Maybank towards Stoford and the East Coker. Follow this road towards West Coker driving slowly on these narrow lanes. It is worth it. Much prettier and more tranquil than fighting the traffic through Yeovil.
This road leads to a junction at the traffic lights in West Coker. Turn left into the main road and carry on towards East Chideock. Watch your speed. It is too easy to drive too fast through these beautiful rolling hills and open views. Follow this road through Crewkerne towards Lyme Regis, through the blackdown hills and some lovely lttle villages, such as Birdsmoorgate and Marshalswood, all surroundedby vast open expansive views across Dorset. Then, through an ancient woodland and dense shade. Take your sunglasses off! Then into the sunshine again and on to Raymonds Gate and follow the signs to Lyme via Up Lyme.The best car park I think is near The Cobb. Leave the car here and walk alongto the end of the Cobb and have all the cobwebs blown away and realise how many changes this Cobb has seen through the centuries, then walk on the beach towards Marine Parade and the centre of Lyme for lots of shopping and many eateries. The beach near the harbour is sand, but the rest is large shingle so wear appropriate footwear!!
Don’t just stay here though, drive along the coast road towards West Bay, feeling on top of the world at the expansive views all around,a patchwork of sun dried wheat fields alternating with bright green fields of pasture spotted with lazy friesians lying in the sun and every now and then a glimpse of the sun glimmering on the sea through a v shaped valley. Go cautiously through Chideock and the speed camera! Then, on to West Bay and a fish supper
If you have any energy left take another day out and visit the open gardens in Cerne Abbas usually in mid-June. There is a rich variety to see and opposite the royal Oak there is a large sales table of healthy plants. Dogs are welcome in most and it is a lovely way to learn a little more about some unusual plantings.
If you can tear your self away from the tennis there are lots of outings to be had in July. A few miles north west of Sherborne is the Fleet Air Arm base at Yeovilton. In July they hold a special air day, with many air displays and is a good day out for all. The museum however, is worth a look any day. Log onto www.fleetairarm.com to see opening times etc.
If flying is not for you there is the Leigh Food festival on July 19th. This is the 9th Food Fair and Classic Car Show. Sample all the best locally produced Food and Drink. Leigh is 6 miles SW of Sherborne, leave on the Dorchester road but turn right just before Longburton. If you haven’t had enough of cars, the next day is the huge classic car show at the castle with a sale too! You might come away with another car!!!!!
During July and August why not try drive down to Burton Bradstock to the Hive fish restaurant, right on the beach. The journey down is through typical dorset rolling hills with its open views.