What it's like to live in the Blackmore Vale
PUBLISHED: 11:37 15 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:38 15 August 2017
Andy Greeves explores a beautiful area of Dorset immortalised in the novels of Thomas Hardy where you can truly experience the feeling of being far from the madding crowd
Blackmore Vale is a spectacular area of countryside with charming towns and villages dotted here and there. The Blackmore Vale, and accompanying Vale of Wardour, covers an area of 302.76 square miles across Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. The Vale is nestled between the Mendip Hills and Avon Vales to the north, the Dorset Downs and the West Wiltshire Downs to the south and east, while the Yeovil Scarplands run along its western boundary. It also forms part of the Stour Valley, which is situated within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) referred to Blackmore Vale as the “vale of little dairies” describing it as a place where “the fields are never brown and the springs never dry”. Nearly a century later the Vale has lost none of the bucolic beauty that captivated Hardy. Limestone hills across Blackmore provide spectacular views of lush green pastures, scattered pockets of ancient woodland and the meandering rivers Stour and Yeo.
The Vale offers rural living but is also well connected, with the A350 linking it to the M4 motorway, and London via the A303/M3. Both Tisbury, just over the border in Wiltshire, and Gillingham have mainline train connections to London Waterloo.
Blackmore Vale has a relatively sparse population in comparison with the rest of the county and many of its properties come with decent sized grounds. This is reflected in its house prices, which regularly exceed the average sale price for Dorset.
Town or village
Towns in Dorset’s Blackmore Vale include Blandford Forum, Gillingham, the smaller towns of Stalbridge and Sturminster Newton, with Shaftesbury and Sherborne on the edge of the Vale. Villages include Child Okeford, East and West Stour, Hazelbury Bryan, Hinton St Mary, Marnhull, Okeford Fitzpaine, Shillingstone, Stour Provost and Todber.
Farnham, with a pub (The Museum Inn) and a population of around 200, is a typical example of a village in the Vale. A 3 bedroom cottage recently sold here for £387,500, while a 4 bedroom home with good-sized garden fetched £715,000 in 2016.
The largest of the Vale’s towns situated in Dorset is Gillingham (pronounced with a hard ‘G’). Four miles south of the A303, it has eight primary schools and one secondary. The majority of homes sold here in 2016 were terraced properties with an average price of £184,238, while detached properties sold for an average price of £310,122.
House price information from rightmove.co.uk
Spotlight on Blandford Forum
One of Blackmore Vale’s real gems is the market town of Blandford Forum. Located on the banks of the Stour, it is notable for its Georgian architecture, with the majority of the town having been rebuilt following a devastating fire in 1731. To find out more about its history a visit to Blandford Town Museum in Bere’s Yard is a must. Displays of artefacts from Blandford Forum and the surrounding villages cover over 400 years of local history (blandfordtownmuseum.org). Blandford Fashion Museum, located in elegant Lime Tree House on The Plocks, has extensive collections of dresses, coats, hats, gloves, shoes, bags, parasols and fans covering 1740 to the 1970s (blandfordfashionmuseum.co.uk). The elegant Georgian house was built by brothers John and William Bastard who were responsible for the rebuilding of Blandford. The town’s Georgian roots are celebrated every year on the first May Bank Holiday at the Blandford Georgian Fayre where its stunning Georgian architecture provides a backdrop to a huge street fayre and locals dress in period costume (blandfordgeorgianfayre.co.uk).
Things to do in and around Blandford
2017 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Blandford-born designer, painter and sculptor Alfred Stevens. Blandford Art Society and Blandford Town Museum are marking this anniversary with a series of events. Local author and architectural historian Teresa Sladen is giving a talk in the Corn Exchange on 23 September at 7.30pm covering Stevens’ journey from Blandford to Italy and back. An exhibition of Stevens’ work is on display at the museum from August to October.
Augugst marks the launch of the Famous Authors and Signallers exhibition at the Royal Signals Museum situated within the confines of Blandford Camp (royalsignalsmuseum.com). It covers the careers of World War I Signals Officer and Propaganda Officer, A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) and World War One Signals Office and World War Two code breaker, J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings).
Fancy some summer magic? Baffling Blandford is back for its second season, with husband-and-wife magicians Paul Hyland and Jana Bundy hosting a walk with a difference every Sunday until 10 September. The walks, which depart from the Crown Hotel at 4pm and last about 90 minutes, have been described as “magic on the move” with the couple stopping at hotspots around the town to perform illusions which illustrate the quirky character of Blandford Forum. Tickets £8 (families £20, concessions £7) from Crown Hotel, Blandford TIC or Paul and Jana on the night (artoftheimpossible/magic).
Brewed in Blandford
Hall & Woodhouse have been brewing in Blandford Forum since 1777. The family owned brewery creates a range of award-winning craft beers including Tanglefoot, Fursty Ferret and Blandford Flyer. Find out more about how their master brewers do this on a guided brewery tour followed by a refreshing pint of Badger or a bottled beer. Tours run Monday - Saturday at 10.30am, booking 01258 486004. There is also an on site shop open to the public (hall-woodhouse.co.uk).
All Steamed Up!
One of the most famous local events, which is also of international importance, is the Great Dorset Steam Fair (24- 28 August 2017). This family run event, started 49 years ago by Michael Oliver, is now the world’s largest heritage and cultural event showcasing Britain’s national industrial, agricultural and leisure history. Held in the village of Tarrant Hinton it attracts steam fanatics, heavy horse fans, and those who love traditional fairground paraphernalia like carousels and fairground organs. More at gdsf.co.uk.