10 of the best things to see and do in Blandford
- Credit: Archant
Wherever you may venture within the county you are never too far away from a sign directing you towards Blandford.
Blandford Forum, to give this north Dorset town its full name, is famous for its thriving market scene set amidst the grandeur of some of the finest Georgian buildings in the county. It is also a hub for business and commerce and is the administrative headquarters for North Dorset District Council. With a number of successful schools in the area, and surrounded by spectacular countryside, it is a popular choice for families wanting a taste of country life without being too remote. Blandford Forum also captured the imagination of Thomas Hardy who used it as his inspiration for Shottsford Forum.
A Georgian Gem
Perhaps one of the most striking features about Blandford is the largely Georgian architecture of the town centre. In fact very little remains of pre-Georgian Blandford, this is despite it being an important centre for commerce and an established stopping point for travellers on the road between Weymouth and London. During the early 1700s the town was ravaged by a succession of fires. The final great fire in 1731 razed much of the town to the ground, so Blandford was rebuilt from scratch by brothers John and William Bastard.
Money to help with rebuilding poured in from across the land, as well as a significant donation of £1,000 from King George II. The brothers drew up plans for a re-envisaged Blandford which saw the building of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, which still presides over the vast Market Place. This was closely followed by the grammar school and residential houses and business premises. The brothers also designed the impressive Grade I listed Corn Exchange as the centre piece of Market Place. Built out of Portland Stone the Corn Exchange stands out from the largely red brick town centre. To commemorating the rebuilding of the town, which was largely complete by 1760, a portico was placed above a spring outside the church.
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Historic Market Town
Post the great fire of 1731 the large open market place was designed around the Corn Exchange, which still hosts a weekly indoor market. In fact there has been a market place at the very heart of Blandford for centuries; the inclusion of the Latin word Forum - meaning market - into the town’s title occurs from the 16th century onwards.
Markets remain a regular feature of town life, with weekly markets on a Thursday and a Saturday, as well as a popular monthly farmers’ market. Regular stall holders include Weymouth-based Boasty’s Best award-winning preserves and chutneys and specialist fine game dealers L & C Game with their range of sausages and smoked and cured meats from their farm at Buckland Newton. Oxfords Bakery, on nearby Salisbury Street, bring freshly baked goods to the market. Steven Oxford, a fourth generation family member, continues to use traditional family recipes from traditional cottage loaves and long ferment malted wheat breads, to buns and cakes. The next farmers’ market is at Market Place on Friday, March 14.
With the Cranborne Chase just a short distance away, and the rolling Dorset downs nearby it is not surprising that Blandford has attracted and inspired many artists over the years. The Blandford Art Society holds a number of exhibitions throughout the year in the town. This year the Society will also be taking part in the popular biennial Dorset Art Weeks, when artists across the town will throw open the doors of their studios and workshops to visitors. However you don’t have to wait until the Open Studio event to get a taste of what’s in store. Blandford Art Society member and area co-ordinator for Dorset Art Weeks Annabelle Valentine regularly welcomes art lovers into her portrait studio on Salisbury Street by appointment, while fellow Society member Claire Thomas shares her artistic expertise with those keen to brush up on skills during her watercolour workshops.
The Beautiful Stour
Sweeping around the edge of the town is the River Stour, which is responsible for giving Blandford its name; Blaen-y-ford, meaning the place near the ford. Away from the hustle and bustle of town the river peacefully winds its way through a number of tranquil waterside gardens and meadows.
Last year the Milldown and the riverside meadows of the Marsh and Ham, Stour Meadows and Langton Meadows, all open to the public, were nationally recognised with Green Flag Awards. The Milldown is a firm favourite amongst visitors and locals for picnics. It is also home to a rich variety of wildlife includes over 60 species of birds and 200 different types of wildflower. Enclosed in the Milldown is an area of chalk grassland known as the Hangings which has been designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest by Dorset Wildlife Trust. The riverside meadows of the Marsh and Ham are a popular choice for walks along the riverbank and are just a stone’s throw away from the town centre.
A Passion for Fashion
Lime Tree House, situated at The Plocks, is an elegant Georgian house built by John and William Bastard. It provides a fitting setting for the Blandford Fashion Museum whose collection is housed within its ten rooms. Each year the museum, whose collection features pieces from 1740-1970, hosts themed exhibitions. This year’s there is a new Blushing Brides exhibition of wedding dresses, the Victorian Parlour is filled with crinolines, while the accessories room has a large display of bonnets, bowlers and berets. There is also a small exhibition commemorating the First World War.
For more details visit theblandfordfashionmuseum.com***
A Taste of Blandford
If you visit Blandford on a market day you will certainly get a chance to taste some of the locally grown, raised and homemade produce that is bought to market. Look out for Blandford baker Keta Hunt of Boozy Bakes (boozybakes.co.uk). She has taken inspiration from some of our popular cocktails to create tantalising cuptails including Baileys Hot Chocolate and delicious cocktail classics such as Cosmopolitan, Margarita, Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada.
If locally grown organic vegetables and meat are on your shopping list pop in to Goldhill Organic Farm Shop (goldhillorganicfarm.com) in the nearby village of Child Okeford. Run by Andrew and Sara Cross, the shop offers a wide variety of organically grown vegetables, meat products and locally made gifts as well as weekly veg boxes. There is also an onsite cafe serving organic homemade soups, bread, cakes, salads and teas and coffees.
If you arrive into Blandford from the south you will come across three badgers frolicking on a roundabout. These sculptures proudly signify that Blandford has been home to the Hall and Woodhouse, brewers of Badger Beer, since 1777. Look out for their beers such as Fursty Ferret and Blandford Flyer in the local pubs. The brewery also offers a behind the scenes tour and there is also an on site shop.
For more details visit hall-woodhouse.co.uk
The Great Dorset Steam Fair
For the five days following the August Bank Holiday the roads around Blandford are filled with the sights, sounds and aromas of brightly polished steam traction engines. They have all come to take part in the Great Dorset Steam Fair in the nearby village of Tarrant Hinton. The family run event, now in its 46th year, attracts some 200,000 visitors from across the world. There are 3,000 exhibitors and trade stands, heavy horse demonstrations and rural crafts but the star attractions of the fair are undoubtedly the hundreds of traction engines and steam rollers. Last year the fair was awarded a Guinness World Record for the largest parade of steam rollers, consisting of 103 vintage steam rollers. This year’s Great Dorset Steam Fairruns from 27-31 August.
For more details visit gdsf.co.uk***
The Royal Signals Museum
There has been a military connection with the town since the 18th century and it continues right up to the present with Blandford Camp, a working military base which is home to The Royal Corps of Signals. No visit to the town would be complete without stepping into the extraordinary world of military communications at the Royal Signals Museum. The museum reveals the technology that kept the military one step ahead of its enemies from semaphore and dropping agents behind enemy lines right up to modern day encrypted satellite communications and integrated battlefield communications.
For more details visit royalsignalsmuseum.co.uk***
Although it’s easy to be distracted by Blandford’s magnificent Georgian town square, you would be missing a trick by not exploring the quieter backstreets that lead off from Market Place and East Street. This secret network of streets offers charming restaurants, delightful tea rooms and specialist retailers and antique dealers. Unwind at the aptly named Georgian Tearooms or enjoy a taste of Italy at Vecchia Roma next door. If the weather is fine enjoy a pint in the beer garden of The Greyhound, an old coaching inn.
Passing through another archway further down East Street onto Bere’s Yard, you’ll find the Blandford Town Museum. Here you will find a faithfully recreated 00 gauge replica of the long gone Blandford Forum railway station and museum volunteers are actively involved in recording oral histories from people in the town and surrounding villages as part of the Living History Project. The museum is also home to a Victorian Garden, which is tended by the garden club producing both plants and produce for sale in the museum shop. The museum holds regular talks on the first Thursday of the month. The next one is on 6 March when Michael Le Bas with Mark Churchill and Bill Lovell will deliver a talk on the Museum Archives at 7.30pm.
For more details visit blandfordtownmuseum.org***
A Georgian Fayre
Blandford’s love of the Georgian era extends far beyond the buildings that characterise the town. Blandford’s Georgian Fayre takes the town back in time to its heyday. The idea was thought up by local business woman Janice Driscoll who, while holidaying in the USA, witnessed a small town in Wyoming transform itself into a traditional western town to celebrate its origins. Eager to evoke a sense of pride in Blandford’s own illustrious heritage, Janice with an army of volunteers decided to recreate some of the magnificence and grandeur of the Georgian era of their home town. The supposed one-off event was held in 1992, but has since become a popular annual fixture. Main roads are closed and the town centre is taken over by an open air fair featuring rural crafts, a farmers’ market, falconry, terrier and lurcher displays and ferret racing as well as folk and Morris dancers. In keeping with the Georgian atmosphere, visitors are encouraged to join stall holders and organisers in their traditional Georgian costume and help recreate the Blandford of the 1700s. This year’s Georgian Fayre is on 5 May and will raise funds for the Weldmar Hospicecare Trust.
For more details visit blandfordgeorgianfayre.co.uk------------------------------------------------------------
3 Local Country Pubs to try
The Langton Arms
This 17th century thatched inn in nearby Tarrant Monkton serves up traditional country fare on its a-la-carte menu, paired with an ever changing supply of real ales. The pub has also recently opened its own butchery selling Tarrant Valley beef. Address: Tarrant Monkton DT11 8RX More details: 01258 830225 or visit thelangtonarms.co.uk***
The Charlton Inn
Serving up ales from Hall and Woodhouse the Charlton Inn in Charlton Marshall is a popular calling point for a drink to round off a day of exploring in Blandford, or to enjoy a home cooked meal from the inn’s extensive locally sourced menu. Address: Bournemouth Road, Charlton Marshall DT11 9NH More details: 01258 453 160 or visit thecharltoninn.co.uk***
The World’s End
As the Diners’ Choice Toptable award winner in 2012, The World’s End in Almer is just a short drive away from Blandford and well worth the detour to peruse its mouth-watering menu and comprehensive beer, ale and wine list Address: Almer DT11 9EW More details: 01929 459 671 or visit worldsendalmer.co.uk------------------------------------------------------------
Three Local Walks
A Riverside Ramble in Town Without even leaving the town’s boundaries you can enjoy a riverside walk through the meadows of the Marsh and Ham. Footpaths run along the banks of the River Stour as it passes under the impressive six arched bridge. Benches along the route offer the opportunity to pause and enjoy the local wildlife and scenery.
Follow the Trailway A missing link in the North Dorset Trailway has recently been opened to take in an area around Blandford and is proving popular with those keen to stretch their legs in a picturesque environment. The Trailway, which is mostly made up of sections of the old Somerset and Dorset Railway which used to link Bristol with Bournemouth and Christchurch, runs from Sturminster Newton to Spetisbury, providing an off-road trail for walkers and cyclists. The latest section of the route to open is between Stourpaine and Blandford. More details can be found at northdorsettrailway.org***
Explore Cranborne Chase Covering 380 square miles of glorious countryside and taking in four counties the Cranborne Chase is just a short drive away from Blandford town centre. Rolling chalk grassland, ancient woodlands, downland hillsides and chalk river valleys make the Chase a very distinct and recognisable landscape, which has earned it the status of an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty. For more details visit ccwwdaonb.org.uk------------------------------------------------------------
Property Prices in Blandford Forum
What can I get for under £250,000?
9 Damory Street, Blandford Forum A refurbished Grade II Listed three bedroom mid-terrace character cottage in the heart of Blandford Town Centre. The accommodation is laid out over four floors and a basement which could possibly be utilised as additional living accommodation. Guide price: £185,000. Agent: Symonds & Sampson; 01258 452670
What can I get for under £500,000?
Artisan House, Blandford Forum A charming Georgian Grade II Listed 5 bedroom property centrally located in the heart of Blandford town centre. Spread over three storeys with three reception rooms and a versatile layout. In addition there is a one bedroom flat comprising bedroom, bathroom and sitting room with kitchenette. Guide price: £375,000. Agent: Symonds & Sampson; 01258 452670
What can I get for over £500,000?
Sutton Oaks, Stourpaine Just two miles north of Blandford with far reaching views across the Stour Valley, this is the perfect home for a country loving family. The spacious four bedroom property dating from 1959, has a separate flat standing in 2 acres. There are extensive outbuildings for dogs, horses or other livestock. Guide price: £980,000. Agent: Symonds & Sampson; 01258 452670