As I walk down a cobbled alleyway, lined with medieval half-timbered and honey-hued stone buildings I feel like I’m stepping back in time. As the path widens, the centre of Sherborne lies before me. Enchanting almhouses, historic inns, and independent shops, all huddle around the town’s majestic Abbey and along the picturesque streets. This must be one of the finest market towns in England and there are plenty of things to do in Sherbourne
Disclosure: I visited Sherborne while staying at the Eastbury Hotel & Spa. My accommodation, spa visit and dinner were complimentary for review purposes. However, as always, I am free to write whatever I wish and these are my own, honest opinions.
Sherbourne by the River Yeo on the edge of the Blackmore Vale lies about six miles east of Yeovil near the Dorset/Somerset border. Many highlights from these two fabulous counties of southern England are within easy reach but the town itself, which dates back to Roman times, should not be overlooked. It oozes charm and history from every pore.
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Things to see in Sherborne
Founded by St. Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury, in AD 705, following his appointment as the first Bishop of the West Saxons, Sherborne Abbey was originally a cathedral. It later became a Benedictine Abbey. Lastly, following the Reformation in the 16th century, it became a Parish Church and remains as such today.
One of the most striking features of the cathedral is the stunning fan-vaulted ceiling., the earliest of its kind in England It is truly spectacular. As I gaze upwards, I imagine the sound of the Bendictine monks’ chants filling the air.
Guided tours are held regularly from April to November, offering an enthralling insight into the Abbey’s rich history. Two Saxon Kings are buried here, as is Tudor courtier and poet, Thomas Wyatt. Sir Walter Raleigh, the founder of Sherborne Castle, worshipped here.
Almhouses of Sherborne Abbey
The striking former Almshouse of John’s on the edge of the green around the Abbey. was built in the 15th Century for “12 poor men and 4 poor women”. Now a residential home it can be visited, by prior arrangement, by groups looking to learn more about its fascinating history and to see some interesting historic documents
To book your visit, please call 01935 813245 or email [email protected].
Sherborne Old Castle
Sherborne’s original castle was built in the 12th century as a palace for Roger Bishop of Salisbury as an administration base for the western part of his large diocese.
Although now in ruins, it is still an impressive sight and can be seen from the grounds of the newer castle next door. For a closer look buy your tickets for Sherborne Old Castle cost £6 and can be bought online here (free to English Heritage Members but booking is still required). Please note the castle closes each winter.
This elegant mansion, set in grounds designed by Capability Brown, was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594.
Two years earlier Raleigh acquired the Old Castle which he initially tried to renovate. He soon turned his efforts to the Hunting Lodge in the adjacent deer park and built his four-storey mansion there. Six years later he added hexagonal turrets to the four corners of his house, topped with heraldic beasts.
In 1617 the diplomat Sir John Digby acquired Sherborne Castle and added four wings in keeping with the same style as the original Tudor building. In the eighteenth century, Georgian sash windows, panelled doors and white marble fireplaces. The castle is still owned and lived in by the Digby family to this day.
The castle itself wasn’t open when we visited but inside, you’ll find some fine collections of furniture, paintings, and porcelain.
Castle Gardens Sherborne
The gardens at Sherborne Castle are well worth visiting in their own right. They were designed by Capability Brown, England’s most famous landscape architect. His first commission was simply to instal the rather splendid lake in 1753 but he later returned to redesign the grounds as a whole in 1776. The result creates a fitting setting for the magnificent former home of Sir Walter Raleigh.
In spring, enjoy the colourful display of daffodils and tulips, in summer the herbaceous borders bloom brightly, while in autumn the endless shades of reds, rust and gold of the fall leaves will enchant you.
There are two walking trails through the grounds, both taking around 45 minutes. We had a lovely walk to the Fossil House recently built to celebrate 400 years of ownership by the Digby Family. Along the way, we had a good view of the Old Castle.
Sherborne Castle Gardens are protected by their Grade 1 listing on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England.
Both the garden and castle close each winter. For more information visit, SherborneCastle.com.
Things to do in Sherborne
Walk Sherborne Town Trail
A great way to visit all the above sites and many more is by following the Town Trail. It starts outside the Almshouse of St. John on Trendle Street and ends at Sherborne Castle. The main part of the route is 1.5 miles long and takes you around the town but excludes both castles. If you have time to also visit the last 3 points on the trail, it more than doubles in length but includes both castles ending at Sherborne Castle and Gardens.
Explore Sherborne Museum
Sherborne Museum is small but fascinating and lies in the heart of the town just a few minutes’ walk from the Abbey. It’s free and well worth popping by if you want to know more about Sherborne’s history.
Wander along Cheap Street
Lined with Independent boutiques, antique shops, quaint cafes, and art galleries, Cheap Street is the main shopping street in Sherborne. The historic buildings make a wonderful setting for an eclectic collection of independent shops and businesses.
Discover Sherborne Steam and Waterwheel Centre
To the northeast of the town on Oborne Road (B3145), this small museum of Victorian engineering includes an intriguing 26 feet diameter waterwheel built in 1896. The museum is run by volunteers and is only open once a week on Sundays. For more information visit SSWC.co.uk.
Relax at The Eastbury Spa
The quirky Eastbury Spa, which would look quite at home in a film about Hobbits, is open to residents and non-residents alike. It’s the perfect place to treat yourself or a loved one to some pampering with a full range of beauty and wellness treatments available.
The best of Sherborne’s pubs and restaurants
Tucked away along its quaint cobbled streets, Sherborne has some particularly interesting and historic pubs, as well as several excellent restaurants.
Seasons Restaurant at the Eastbury Hotel
Whether tucking into a hearty breakfast or enjoying an elegant evening meal, all the food and drink we enjoyed when we stayed at the Eastbury Hotel in their 2 AA rosette restaurant, Seasons, was superb. The staff are excellent and attentive but not too fussy and the food is sublime. I particularly enjoyed the Balsamic Braised Shoulder of Lamb served with charred hispi cabbage, crispy new potatoes, and an anchovy emulsion.
The Cross Keys
The Cross Keys is a historic Inn set in a little square close to the Abbey on Cheap Street. While outside it has kept its character, inside is bright and modern – a typical gastro pub.
I enjoyed a classic burger and chips. It was too much to finish and despite it being very tasty, I found myself rather envious of my friend’s vegan stew: Rose Harissa Roots Vegetable and Chickpea Stew with herb couscous and flatbread. It looked so good.
Cross Keys Hereford Beef Burger with bacon, cheddar cheese, baby gem leaves and tomato chutney and hand-cut chips, £17.50
The Digby Tap
The Digby Tap comes recommended by The Good Pub Guide and it didn’t take long to find it just a short stroll from the Abbey in Cooks Lane. This down-to-earth watering hole offers regularly changing ales and excellent value. Expect no frills, just well-kept quality ales and generously portioned pub grub at a great price. And if you are wondering about the photography collection on the walls of the Digby Tap, they were taken during the filming of TV adaptation of John le Carré’s A Murder of Quality in 1990. Le Carré went ot the famous Sherborne School in the late forties.
Two Italian restaurants, The Plume of Feathers, just opposite the Abbey and the Tamburino Gold just around the corner, both also came highly recommended to us by locals but sadly there wasn’t time to check them out. Alternatively, if you are after a takeaway, The Abbey Friar has a reputation for excellent fish n chips.
Sherborne Farmer’s Market
If you are staying in self-catering accommodation, such as the Eastbury Inn’s lovely self-contained cottage, a visit to Sherborne’s Farmers Market is a must. It’s also a great place to pick up some edible souvenirs to take home with you.
Held on the third Friday most months, it’s overflowing with delicious local produce. Run by Dorset Farmers Market (who run several markets in the area) they guarantee that whatever you buy here will have been produced within 30 miles of the market.
Things to do near Sherborne in Dorset and Somerset
Sherborne is in Dorset, in the south of England (southwest of London) near the border of Somerset making it a great base from which to explore both counties.
To the north, the colourful town of Glastonbury is about a 45-minute drive. With its Abbey, colourful new-age shops and bohemian vibe, it makes for an interesting day out. Climb Glastonbury Tor for some spectacular views and visit the Chalice Gardens to dip your feet in the healing waters of the Red Spring. For the more open-minded, pop by the White Spring just across the road and immerse yourself in the sacred, and very cold, waters. Be sure to take a towel, a swimming costume is optional!
Above: Glastonbury Tor, across the county border in Somerset
Just a little further north lies the stunning cathedral city of Wells and a little further still you can discover the picturesque home of one of England’s best-known cheeses in the village of Cheddar in Cheddar Gorge. I had a fabulous day out here, learning to make Cheddar Cheese.
Alternatively, head south for the stunning beaches of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast including the famous Harry Rocks and Durdle Door. Catch a steam train in Swanage and visit the lovely village and castle ruins of Corfe Castle or explore the spectacular coastline on foot for glorious cliff-top views.
In whichever direction you travel you are sure to stumble across charming market towns, picturesque villages and stunning countryside.
What’s the Weather like in Sherborne, Dorset
As with anywhere in England, the weather in Sherborne can be very changeable from one day to the next and even within the same day you may experience stark contrasts.
For warm-weather activities, the best time to visit Sherborne is from June to early September but it is a great place to visit any time of year.
In winter, the average daytime temperatures are between 6 and 8°C and there is rarely any significant snowfall but of course, there can be exceptions to this some years. The winds can feel icy so do wrap up in warm layers. On sunny days when the air is crisp and clear, winter is a wonderful time to explore Dorset. Look out for winter fairs and Christmas Markets.
Spring is a great time to visit if you prefer the weather a little warmer but you want to avoid the crowds of summer, with average daytime temperatures between 10°C and 17°C.
In summer, Dorset can get busy but the weather is at its best without it getting really hot. In July and August, the average temperature is around 21°C but it can get a lot hotter on occasion.
Autumn is another great time to visit for milder weather and fewer people with the added bonus of the spectacular fall foliage. The average daytime temperature range is at its greatest at this time of year, however, typically being between 9°C and 19°C.
Whatever time of year you visit I would recommend never being too far from some wet weather gear as while the sun may shine at one moment it may well not be long before it rains again (and vice versa).
For an up-to-date short-term weather report visit BBC Weather.
How to get to Sherborne, Dorset
Trains run from London’s Waterloo Station every hour to Sherborne with the journey taking about 2 hours and 25 minutes. If coming from the southwest, trains from Exeter take just over an hour. From the southeast, it’s about an hour and a half by train from Southampton.
Sherborne is about a 2 and half hour’s drive from London. Take the M3 to junction 8 where you’ll join the A303 heading west (towards Salisbury). Follow the A303 as far as Holton then take the B3145 south to Sherborne.
From the southwest of England, Sherborne is just a 10-minute drive from Yeovil while from the southeast it is about an hour and a half from Southampton, either via Sailsbury or the New Forest.
Where to stay in Sherborne
We stayed in the Eastbury Hotel & Spa, a luxurious, elegant hotel with a great range of rooms including several dog-friendly rooms and suites with direct access to the garden, family rooms and even a self-contained cottage sleeping six.
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