Autumnal Escapes

Starry nights and autumnal delights at Fiddlesticks

‘The sky was clear – remarkably clear – and the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body timed by a common pulse.’ – Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd.

Friday lunchtime saw us making our way slowly to Dorset from Cornwall, taking our time to admire the cobalt blue skies against the fiery copper colours of the ever-changing autumnal trees. As we approached Dorset, we breathed a deep sigh as we made our way along the quiet country lanes, breath-taking views through every gap in the hedgerows.

Fiddlesticks, our home for the next three nights, lies in the ridiculously beautiful village of Fontmell Magna, where chocolate-box pretty cottages huddle oh-so-quietly together, boasting a lovely community village shop and café and an excellent pub too.

We easily found Fiddlesticks; a large, thatched cottage on the outskirts of the village with white wooden frontage, deep red roses climbing the walls and a pretty cottage garden to the front and a large garden to the back.

Eagerly letting ourselves in, the kitchen was warm and oh-so-welcoming; huge glass windows overlooked the garden, golden-toned in the evening light, whilst on the table sat a hamper full of goodies including Prosecco, cake, cheese, bread, eggs, milk, chocolate, butter, jam and other delights.

We explored Fiddlesticks from top to bottom. On the ground floor leading on from the kitchen is a double bedroom, a shower room, a bathroom and stairs up to the gorgeous twin room, perfect for little ones. Back downstairs and you move into the older part of the house; a tucked away dining table and study then through to the sitting room complete with velvet sofas and a huge wood burner.

Here, a second set of stairs lead up to two further bedrooms – the master bedroom with freestanding bath and en suite loo (which I bagged for myself, of course!) and a double next door, where Paul slept.

Needing to stretch our legs after a long drive, we dumped our bags and unpacked our shopping before heading out to explore the village, so peaceful on a Friday evening with the starry sky above and the occasional hoot of an owl. We stumbled across ‘The Fontmell’, the village pub, and sat out in the garden for a drink before heading home for supper.

The kitchen is extremely well-equipped, so it was easy for me to rustle up a meal to be eaten on the huge kitchen table, listening to music on the DAB radio. We ended the evening in front of the flickering wood burner, then took ourselves off to bed.

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful, with hardly a cloud in the sky, so we ate a quick breakfast after a blissful nights’ sleep (with a Nespresso coffee or two to wake us up!). Today being Saturday, we decided to visit a couple of the local towns we had heard so much about. First on our list, Shaftesbury, just five miles from Fiddlesticks.

Dating back to the Saxon times, Shaftesbury has held a prominent position for hundreds of years. Alfred the Great founded a Benedictine abbey here in 888AD in thanks for winning the battle against the marauding Danes and has been of importance ever since. Today, the abbey is little more than a ruin but it’s well worth a visit for its award-winning museum, knowledgeable volunteers, and exceptional views from Park Walk over Blackmore Vale.

Today, Shaftesbury is perhaps more well known for Gold Hill, made famous for a certain ‘Hovis’ advert, it’s steep cobbled road lined with ancient cottages a real photographer’s delight.

We admired the view and investigated the hidden lanes and shops, before heading to our next destination: Sherborne.

Sherborne is a 40-minute drive from Fiddlesticks along gorgeous country lanes, and well worth a visit. Its streets are lined with fabulous independent shops to explore and lots of choice when it comes to eating and drinking, whilst its incredible abbey, at the heart of the town, is an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle. We took some time to explore the abbey, then wandered the streets and parks, enjoying the surprising warmth of a sunny October’s day.

On leaving, we took our time getting home, passing villages and undulating countryside, golden light touching the green fields and woodland. Back at the cottage, we relaxed in the hot tub, enjoying the Prosecco kindly left for us, before cooking dinner. The evening was spent again in front of the fire, chatting and playing a game of chess we found in the cupboard – 

whilst I also treated myself to a long soak in the stunning bathtub in my bedroom.

Sunday saw a slower start to the day, we took our time getting up and I cooked a big, hearty breakfast; today we were keen on doing some walking and we had a full itinerary! Again the weather was just glorious, so we ate breakfast outside in the garden around the huge table, listening to the sound of birdsong and watching the jackdaws squabble in the neighbouring trees.

First stop for the day was Duncliffe Wood, just a few miles away. Managed by the Woodland Trust, it’s one of the largest and oldest woods in north Dorset and is even mentioned in the Domesday Book. With a handy car park and trails to follow, it’s a wonderful, leafy spot. Although the car park was pretty full, we soon lost ourselves amongst the trees and barely saw another soul during the few hours we walked there. With steep paths and escarpments with astonishing views, it was a wonderful start to the day.

Next stop Fontmell and Melbury Downs, a very different offering with grassy plains and exceptional views. Bought in memory of Thomas Hardy, this is a wonderful spot with far-reaching vistas across the Blackmore Vale. We parked our car at the top of the fabulously named Spread Eagle Hill, from which there are plentiful circular walks, and wandered about. During the summer this is a haven for wild orchids, butterflies, and glow worms, but today a plethora of light aircraft kept us company, landing and setting off from nearby Compton Abbas Airfield.

It was getting on for late afternoon, so we headed to nearby Child Okeford for a quick drink before climbing the magnificent Hambledon Hill, an incredible spot and an Iron Age fort dating back to between 4,000 – 2,500 BC. One of the most iconic sites in Dorset, it’s a very steep climb (over 190 metres above the Blackmore Vale), but well worth it for the exceptional views.

It’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to over 28 different species of butterfly.

We timed our arrival for sunset, so we spent some time in quiet contemplation as the sun descended over the countryside, leaving us with a maelstrom of rich colours strewn across the sky.

Back at Fiddlesticks, we made the most of the gorgeous hot tub to soothe tired limbs, before heading to the kitchen and cooking a roast dinner. We spent the rest of the evening in front of the fire with a drink or two, before heading to bed for our final night.

The next morning, we packed our things, sad to be leaving but so grateful for being able to experience the warm welcoming embrace of Fiddlesticks, our glorious Dorset home for the weekend.

Fiddlesticks sleeps eight people so perfect for families, but being oh-so-romantic, it’s ideal for couples too, with a bubbling hot tub and blissful master bedroom. All of the places we visited was within a close radius to the cottage, so there’s plenty to see and do whether it’s for a week or a short break. It’s a must for nature lovers, those seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of every day, but with plenty of amenities close at hand if need be.

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