Head to Dorset with kids this summer and don’t miss Sherborne. A little off the beaten track, this charming, honey-coloured town is one of Dorset's best kept secrets. It’s not a rising star like Bruton and it doesn’t have Bath’s crowds come summer, but it's endlessly historic, fascinating and fun as we recently discovered on a short break at The Eastbury Hotel.
The Eastbury Hotel is a perfect base to explore Sherborne and the rest of Dorset with kids. It’s a former Georgian mansion, now transformed into a very comfortable, boutique hotel with plenty of parking and easy access through the garden to both the restaurant and reception. Worth noting here that the gardens are very pretty and full of activities for kids, there’s even a giant chess set on the patio.
We stayed in the new Eastbury Cottage (it's new to the hotel, but actually dates back to the 17th century). Self-catering with a fully fitted kitchen the cottage is also close to the hotel, so families have independence as well as access to Seasons Restaurant, the hotel grounds and a beautifully designed spa. The cottage is thoughtfully furnished and its original beams and fireplaces add a lovely sense of tradition. The comfortable family lounge, and rather a grand dining-room, are laid out on the ground floor. Upstairs, two first floor bedrooms both have their own bathrooms. And a steep cottage staircase leads to a further bedroom and bathroom in the attic.
The cottage also has a private garden and woodfired hot tub. Plus it's pet-friendly, like most of The Eastbury's accommodation.
First, take a stroll around Sherborne: The Eastbury is well placed to explore the castle area and the historic centre of the medieval town with its interesting independent shops. Everywhere you go, there’s honey-coloured stone and impressive architecture, none more so than grand Sherborne Abbey set off by its grass precinct. The Abbey was founded in 705 AD as a Benedictine monastery and has passed through many stages to become the beautiful parish church it is today. Pay particular attention to its fan vaulting, high altar, and the great West Window by John Hayward - installed in 1997and dedicated by the Queen.
It’s tricky to separate the Abbey from Sherborne School as a short walk around the magnificent building quickly brings you to cloisters with honours’ boards and the school’s large quadrangle. But, fascinating as Sherborne is, if you want to do more in Dorset with kids, the local railway station is just downhill from the Abbey for trains to Poole and the dramatic Jurassic Coast.
Any visit to Sherborne has to include a tour of the ruined 12th century Sherborne Castle and the ‘new’ castle - inhabited by the same family for the past 400 years. Both buildings are set in extensive parkland about a mile from the town centre in beautiful parkland and their historical connection to Sir Walter Raleigh are fascinating. The Elizabethan favourite was born in Devon and always loved the West Country; despite making his life in London as a trusted courtier to Queen Elizabeth I. In fact it was his good standing with the monarch which allowed him to obtain the lease of Sherborne Castle and the Estates. It was Raleigh who built the house in the deer park now known as New Sherborne Castle and he also designed the gardens and water features which can still be seen today.
Don’t miss the castle’s landscaped gardens and 50 acre lake designed by Capability Brown in the 18th century. And families have the present owners to thank for fun stuff like the bamboo maze, explore-worthy fern garden, walkable woodland trails and the Castle’s tea room.
And one of the best things about exploring Sherborne with kids? Knowing that at the end of the day we’d return to The Eastbury and possibly spend a soothing hour in the spa or enjoy the hot tub in our own garden, before choosing between dinner at the cottage or in the hotel’s award winning Seasons Restaurant.
The Eastbury Hotel has received the Visit England ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard. Prices for Eastbury Cottage start from £850 per night, based on a family of four (minimum two night stay). Hotel double bedrooms, including breakfast, range from £206 per night.