How to enjoy Dorset's food and drink scene by bike and foot
PUBLISHED: 11:22 27 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:23 27 June 2017
Whether you set out on bike or on foot, Dorset Food & Drink have come up with a great way for you and your tastebuds to explore the county's food scene this summer, says Jane Adkins
A match made in heaven is the combination of good food and exercise and so thanks to support from the Food is GREAT campaign the canny crew at Dorset Food and Drink has come up with eight new food routes to encourage people to use ‘Dorset Pedal Power’ to explore the culinary delights this unique county has to offer. Whether you get on your bike or pull on a pair of walking boots, these carefully researched food themed routes will introduce you to new aspects of the county’s food and drink scene. Along the way you will also find some delicious gems that lie off the beaten track. Here are two routes:
Shaftesbury & The Blackmore Vale
This 20 mile cycle ride is one of the routes featured in the Northern Dorset Pedals leaflet which explores Thomas Hardy’s “vale of little dairies” - still much in evidence in the Blackmore Vale. BV Dairy set up here in 1958 and still sources the majority of its milk from the rich pastures of the Blackmore Vale. For cheese lovers this area is a must, with Dorset’s cheese heritage celebrated annually at the famous Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill Cheese Run in May and then again in September at the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival, which won Best Food Event at the Dorset Magazine Food, Drink & Farming Awards 2016.
The circular route takes in Gillingham which over the centuries has been home to a royal hunting lodge, silk spinning, brick making, printing, soap making and of course making cheese! Gillingham is the inspiration for Hardy’s “Leddenton” town.
Cycling towards Shaftesbury, you come across Duncliffe Wood - a wooded hill thought to have inspired Thomas Hardy to write The Woodlanders. There are many delightful places to picnic, and source your ingredients from various small independent shops along the route or stock up by visiting the deli at the Udder Farm Shop (theudderfarmshop.co.uk). Another well stocked local shop for filling up those picnic hampers is the Motcombe Community Shop (motcombeshop.co.uk) or try award-winning Lagans Farm Shop at Orchard Park in Gillingham (orchardpark.biz).
The puff – or push – up to Shaftesbury is rewarded with sensational view of Blackmore Vale from the top of Gold Hill, made famous by the Hovis “Boy on a Bike” ads. Take some time to visit Gold Hill Museum, a fascinating treasure trove of well curated displays of artefacts that reveal this Saxon town’s long and colourful history (goldhillmuseum.org.uk).
Dorset’s famous Blue Vinny Cheese lives on thanks to the efforts of Woodbridge Farm on the edge of the Blackmore Vale. Reviving production of this traditional cheese after World War II, it now makes a number of star appearances including in Dorset Blue Vinny Soup, sausages, bread and even chocolates and ice-cream. Pop into Turnbulls Deli, Café and Bistro in Shaftesbury which, due to it being founded by Charlie Turnbull an international cheese judge, showcases the pick of local cheese classics such as Montgomery and Dorset Blue Vinny (turnbullsdeli.com).
Stepping out in Dorchester
The Dorset Pedals Foodie Routes are not just designed for keen cyclists with discerning tastebuds, there are also a couple of routes for walkers. One of these is Thomas Hardy-themed so grab your copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge as Dorchester is said to be the inspiration for Casterbridge.
The seven mile walk is roughly a figure-of-eight. If historic buildings, lovely gardens, locally produced lamb, beef and pork plus an animal park whets your appetite, stop off at the Palladian style country house of Kingston Maurward, just outside Dorchester (kmc.ac.uk/gardens). Set in a 750 acre estate, this is not only a college for land-based studies including agriculture and animal husbandry, but it is also becoming well-known as a local food hub and recently hosted the Dorset Knob Throwing Festival. This annual event pays homage to the Dorset Knob – a unique savoury biscuit made by Moores - a well-known Dorset family bakery who have been making it since the 1880s. If you want to flex your tastebuds at Kingston Maurward try the Park Café next door to the Visitor Centre, or the Coach House Café, adjacent to the main house and open during term time.
Heading up to the further most tip of the figure-of-eight you arrive at Hardy’s Cottage at Lower Bockhampton, where Hardy was born and lived until he was a young man. The independently run Under the Greenwood Tree café, situated at Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre on the edge of Thorncombe Wood, offers home bake cakes, scones, soups and produce jams, chutneys and cordials. For fine dining and accommodation try Yalbury Cottage Restaurant, also in Lower Bockhampton - yalburycottage.com.
Hardy fans can follow in the great man’s footsteps to Max Gate, the house Hardy designed and built in a leafy Dorchester street, and where he spent the rest of his life. Complete the journey with a visit to Stinsford Church (Hardy’s Mellstock) where his heart is buried alongside his two wives.
Follow the route into Dorchester to find a cornucopia of local food and drink. Brewery Square on the site of the former Eldridge Pope brewery has some wonderful places to graze and browse including Yvon’s Artisan Patisserie and Morrish & Banham Wine Merchants with their dazzling array of local wines, ciders, beers and spirits. In the High Street you’ll find a wealth of locally sourced home cooked food at the Posh Partridge (theposhpartridge.com), for deli delights try The Fridge in the heart of town or the nearby Top End Deli which specialises in home cooked savouries including the legendary Dorset Pies (thedorsetpie.co.uk).
Look out for the Dorset Pedals symbol in the windows of cafes and shops along the routes where you can enjoy some tasty treats and discounts for Dorset Pedal. Download a copy of the Dorset Pedals routes at dorsetaonb.org.uk/food-and-drink/foodie-routes or pick up a copy from Tourist Information Centres, libraries, cafes, shops etc.