Sturminster Newton, once the hub of the Blackmore Vale’s dairy industry, still celebrates its heritage with an award-winning Cheese Festival, but on its high street it is bucking the trend by repurposing defunct bank premises into vibrant community ventures

Great British Life: Fiddleford Manor. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)Fiddleford Manor. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

What a picture! 

With its picturesque riverside setting by the Stour, which runs through the town, Sturminster Newton Mill is one of the most photographed watermills in the country. Mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086 as one of four mills in the Sturminster area, this rare survivor has a fully working water mill that, every second weekend in the month, still makes stoneground wholemeal flour which can be bought in the onsite shop. In 1904 the mill wheels were replaced by a turbine, and it ceased as a business in 1970. Now operated by volunteers from the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust it is open Monday, Thursday and weekends (11am-5pm) until September 30.

Say Cheese! 

Once the hub of Dorset’s dairy industry, with milk and cream coming in from small local farms across Hardy’s ‘vale of little dairies’ Sturminster Newton was where churns were taken by rail around the country until railway’s demise in 1966. Cheese-making at the town’s creamery ceased in 2000, but its dairy heritage is still celebrated annually at the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival (September 9-10). This award-winning event attracts an array of regional cheesemakers, including the Davies family from Woodbridge Farm at nearby Stock Gaylard, who revived a 300-year-old recipe for Dorset Blue Vinny, which now has PGI status and won gold at the World Cheese Awards in 2018.

Great British Life: Richard and Alison Prideaux-Brune outside Plumber Manor. (Photo: and Alison Prideaux-Brune outside Plumber Manor. (Photo:

To the Manor Born 

Located 1½ miles southwest of Sturminster Newton is Plumber Manor Country House Hotel & Restaurant. Built by Charles Brune in the early 17th century, this fine Jacobean house has remained a family home of the Prideaux-Brunes ever since and for the last 50 years it has been a luxury country hotel, they celebrated their half century in June. It is very much run as a family affair: Richard is front of house, alongside his wife Alison and brother Brian. Head chef Louis Haskell sources the finest seasonal ingredients to create dinner and Sunday lunch menus which has seen them in the Good Food Guide every year for over four decades.

Great British Life: Fiddleford Manor. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)Fiddleford Manor. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

Trailway Treasures 

The North Dorset Trailway is 14-mile traffic-free access for all path running from Sturminster Newton to Spetisbury which is largely made up of sections of the old Somerset & Dorset Railway. Places of interest along this route include Shillingston Station with its restored station buildings, museum, shop and café (open Weds and weekends). The Countryside Restoration Trust’s Bere Marsh Farm which offers events such as Autumn Wildlife Walk (Sept 4) and a Fungi Foray (Sept 24), and Fiddleford Manor, looked after by English Heritage, 14th century medieval manor house whose splendid timber roof over the great hall and solar are said to be the most spectacular in Dorset (open daily).

Literary Connections

Three great Dorset writers associated with the town are celebrated at the Sturminster Newton Literary Festival (June 8 –16, 2024) - Thomas Hardy, William Barnes, and Robert Young – alongside current and aspiring Dorset and Wessex writers with talks, workshops, guided walks, and collaborative events that promote writing from the region. Thomas Hardy, and his new wife Emma, rented Riverside Villa (1876-78) overlooking the Stour from Robert Young, which is where Hardy wrote The Return of the Native. Dorset dialect poets William Barnes (Linden Lea) and Robert Young (Rabin Hill’s Visit to the Railway) were both Sturminster Newton natives and who shared Hardy’s love of Dorset’s rural life which they often wrote about.

Great British Life: Blyton for grown-ups come to The Exchange. (Photo: Bumper Blyton)Blyton for grown-ups come to The Exchange. (Photo: Bumper Blyton)

Cultural Exchange 

Sturminster Newton was once home to the UK’s biggest calf market. On June 30, 1997, the final cattle market was held, ending a 700-year tradition of trading livestock in the town. A new cultural hub for the town was built on the site, and The Exchange is now a busy community space and arts centre. Events on this month include Bumper Blyton, a satire aimed firmly at grown-ups this is a riotous tongue-in-cheek improvised parody by award-winning comedians as they have a ripping time as The Famous Five and then skip off for some midnight feasting at Mallory Towers. Expect lashing of satire with your gingerbeer (Sept 16).

Great British Life: 1855, a former bank coverted into a venue for multiple traders. (Photo: Cheryl Basten)1855, a former bank coverted into a venue for multiple traders. (Photo: Cheryl Basten)

Banking On It 

Sturminster Newton Community Benefit Society (CBS) actively promotes the economic development of the area. This started with The Boutique on Market Cross, a community charity shop selling pre-loved clothes and accessories, any profits are ploughed back into supporting town events. Next came The Emporium on Market Place, formerly Lloyds Bank, which sells books, music, collectables, homewares and toys. It also houses Stur’s Community Fridge. Then last November, the former NatWest building on Market Cross reopened as 1855 (named after the year the bank opened). Renovated and repurposed, it provides selling space for over 70 traders offering a dazzling range of goods and products with a connection to the Blackmore Vale area.

Great British Life: Market Day in Sturminster Newton in 1906. (Photo: Barry Cuff Collection/ Dovecoate Press)Market Day in Sturminster Newton in 1906. (Photo: Barry Cuff Collection/ Dovecoate Press)

Shop and Dine 

Local food and drink are still an important part town life, its Monday Market was established by Royal Carter in 1219, and there’s also a monthly Farmers’ Market. Thriving independent businesses include Harts of Stur on Station Road. This fourth-generation, family-owned country department store offers an impressive range of kitchenware. Meanwhile Olives Et Al, on the Stalbridge Road is where you can browse a delicious range of Mediterranean goodies. Within its compact centre there are various cafes and restaurants including Bank House Brassiere (in the former Barclays building), and two pubs dating from the 18th century, The Swan Inn and The White Hart Alehouse.