Things to see and do in Blandford Forum
PUBLISHED: 10:24 09 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:24 09 August 2016
Otters, local beer and stunning Georgian architecture, Sara Niven is enchanted by this beautiful north Dorset town that has so much to offer visitors
Tourist guides often proclaim it to be “the most complete, small Georgian town in England,” but Blandford Forum has more to it than just architecture. Over the centuries it has also been known for lace making and brewing – the latter still being relevant to this day as the Hall & Woodhouse Brewery has been based here since 1899.
The town’s most significant event however, took place in 1731, when fire broke out in a workshop on a site now occupied by The King’s Arms pub on White Cliff Mills Street. It spread quickly, devastating the town in a matter of hours. Around 16 people are believed to have lost their lives and one casualty, ‘Emily’ is said to haunt the pub with room 9 being her particular preference.
The total damage from the loss of the majority of the buildings across town amounted to an estimated £84,000 – around the cost of a Blandford studio flat today. With the rest of the country rallying round to offer financial support, local architect brothers John and William Bastard took on the task of rebuilding the town. The event is marked by a memorial known as The Fire Monument, situated next to the parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul (which was rebuilt eight years later.) A fountain has now replaced the original pump the 1760 memorial incorporated to ensure there was a source of water in the event of future similar emergencies.
For the last 24 years the town has marked its distinctive historical heritage with a Georgian Fayre, next year on 1 May 2017 will be its 25th anniversary (blandfordgeorgianfayre.co.uk), so you can expect the event to be even more of a celebration than usual.
A bite to eat
Locals often enjoy homemade cake or savouries at The Forum Café on Salisbury Street which also hosts weekly Thursday tapas nights usually from 6pm (patasarriba.co.uk). These are proving extremely popular so turning up early is advisable.
A Hint of Ginger on the same street is another daytime café that has started running regular Friday and Saturday bistro nights. Starters and desserts are all under a fiver and main courses like Haggis stuffed chicken and lamb tagine priced at around £11.
Nearby the Yellow Bicycle café entices hungry passers-by with fare including homemade baked beans and freshly baked sourdough flatbreads, while Vecchia Roma is an independent Italian restaurant tucked down an alleyway off East Street which does great pasta and pizza and often has lunchtime deals on both.
The Crown Hotel on West Street has been an inn since the 14th century and offers suitably salubrious surroundings for lunching ladies (or gentlemen) and the chance for al fresco dining in the summer. A recent major refurbishment has transformed the bar and dining area of this imposing oak floored Georgian house, while their outdoor seating area is always popular on a sunny evening.
If what you’re craving is a traditional British brekkie and cuppa, then The Gorge Café, on East Street, is where locals head for a no frills fry ups (bubble and squeak fans be warned – it sells out extremely quickly!).
Shop till you drop
Established in 1962, The Hambledon Gallery on Salisbury Street is a joy to browse with everything from upmarket fashion labels to Miller Harris fragrances and candles. The two storey shop also specialises in homeware, quality natural toiletries and baby gifts with an August sale featuring reductions starting from 30% off.
Further down the road is Papyrus, another lovely place for gifts or a personal treat, with casual and special occasion wear clothes, reasonably priced silver jewellery, cards and gift wrap.
Still on Salisbury Street, Aurora Gems is a quirky little shop, specialising in gemstones, jewellery and fossils. Further down at the Market Place, a variety of locally made craftwork and upcycled furniture can be found at 4ever Vintage which opened next to Beatons Tea Rooms at the start of the year. They also offer a commission painting service where you can bring in your furniture for a makeover.
The Dorset Bookshop on East Street is a treasure trove of new and second hand books as well as other curiosities. Set out over three floors, with two accessed via a winding Georgian staircase, the building dates back to the early 1730’s and has been used as a basket makers, wood turners and tailors, before becoming a book shop in the 1950’s.
Fans of yesteryear should seek out Nostalgia on West Street, a small antiques and retro shop or Milton Antiques and Restoration opposite the Blandford Town Museum in Bere’s Yard. As the name suggests, the latter also provides restoration and repair services.
Out and about
Those with an artistic streak can head to The Pottery Parlour (potteryparlourdorset.co.uk), set up by talented ceramicist Vanessa Conyers whose family has owned the building it is situated in for more than 100 years (the nearby Conyers Gun Shop was established in 1886.) Don’t expect to sit and sedately paint a ready-made pot – this is a much messier and decidedly more fun experience suitable for all ages. The Parlour regularly host birthday and hen parties and will be running a number of clay workshops through the summer.
For anyone with an interest in history or fashion, The Blandford Fashion Museum (theblandfordfashionmuseum.com) offers an insight into both. Situated in Lime Tree House, a restored Georgian townhouse, it showcases a collection of fashion and accessories dating from the 1730’s. There is also a tea room serving cream teas.
Those more inclined towards other types of refreshment should opt for a tour of the Hall & Woodhouse Brewery (call 01258 486004 to book) where you’ll be taken through the brewing process before enjoying a complimentary pint of Badger and a chance to browse in their new brewery shop.
The Blandford Town Museum (blandfordtownmuseum.org) is free to visit and records the history of the town and surrounding areas with exhibits ranging from prehistoric to the 21st century. There is also a model railway and until 17 August 2016 it will be host to The Somerset and Dorset Railway touring exhibition which marks the 50th anniversary of this much loved railway line’s closure.
At the other end of the technological scale the Royal Signals Museum, situated on Blandford Camp (royalsignalsmuseum.com), provides a fascinating insight into the electronic cutting edge of the British Army. Expect interactive displays, a chance to guide a laser beam, set up satellite networks, break codes and more.
Back to nature
The River Stour and Stour Meadows provide a chance for otter spotting – check out facebook.com/Blandford-Otters-and-Wildlife which is devoted to sightings. Locals have recently reported seeing two families of otters feeding on the river most mornings.
Nature lovers will also enjoy exploring the North Dorset Trailway - a continuous, surfaced 9 mile track between Blandford and Sturminster Newton. It leads you through spectacular countryside and pretty villages with The White Horse in Stourpaine providing a handy refreshment point!