Crowning Dorset’s beautiful Blackmore Vale, Shaftesbury has Old-England charm down to the last cobble, but now that the Grosvenor Arms hotelis on the scene, there’s something for the more modern-minded visitor, too.
11am. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Both can be flexible on request.
Double rooms from £105.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
If you plan to explore, ask the hotel to prepare you a packed lunch. Transport can be arranged if you fancy a few rounds on the nearby Rushmore golf course or a microlight flight from Compton Abbas Airfield.
At the hotel
Courtyard garden, ballroom, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: coffee maker and bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
In summer, pick Balcony Suite 9, overlooking the hotel’s central courtyard. In winter, go for the Cranborne Suite, where there’s vast bay windows, a free standing bath and a shower that could accommodate a significant proportion of Shaftesbury’s residents at the same time. The rooms facing the courtyard (3, 4, 9, 15 and 16) are a mite more peaceful.
Shaftesbury’s the heart of Dorset rambler’s country, so bring your boots ’n’ Barbour combo.
There’s one room adapted for mobility-impaired guests, and a lift to the first floor (but not to the second). Guests are strongly recommended to book a table for dinner, as the restaurant is very popular with locals.
Dogs are welcome in all room types for £10 a stay, and will be greeted with a gift box that includes treats and a toy; their humans should contact the hotel in advance to notify it of the impending arrival of furry-four legged guests. See more pet-friendly hotels in Dorset.
Welcome. Cots are free for under-twos, and extra beds are £20 a night; these can added to Premium Double rooms, Balcony Suites and the Cranbourne Suite.
In summer, the restaurant spills out onto a little courtyard garden – a lovely spot in the early evening.
Wear what you like – the atmosphere is casual.
The Grosvenor Restaurant has an elegant main dining area (and two smaller seating areas) where you can sample a menu of locally sourced rustic fare. For a more informal affair grab a seat in the restaurant's pizzeria, where you can watch crust crisp and the cheese bubble in the wood-fired oven as you wait. Chefs Tom Blake and Tyler Barns create vibrant dishes from local ingredients, including Brixham-caught fish, Gloucester-raised pork, and Shaftesbury-milled flour. There's a conservatory and terrace for dining (or simply stopping for a pick-me-up of homemade cake or pastry with your afternoon tea and coffee) on sun-drenched days, and a private dining room too.
Plonk into an aged-leather armchair and let the fire warm your cockles as you browse the hotel's extensive wine list. There's also a range of real ales from local breweries and a bar menu with snacks, salads and some rather upper-crust pizzas topped with cured ham, ewe’s cheese, wild rocket and olive oil; you can order off the restaurant's menu too.
The restaurant is open daily for breakfast (7.30am–11am Mon-Sat; to 10.30am Sun), lunch (noon–3pm) and dinner (6pm–10pm). An afternoon menu of pizzas, salads and sandwiches is available from 3pm to 6pm, and drinks are served until 11pm.
Crowning the Blackmore Vale in Dorset, and within a couple of hours' drive of London, Shaftesbury is a great base for exploring and rambling – and the perfect pitstop en route to Cornwall.
If you’re arriving by private plane, Compton Abbas Airfield is four miles away. Otherwise, Bournemouth Airport’s the closest, less than an hour’s drive away Bournemouth Airport. Heathrow and Gatwick are both a two-hour drive away, along the A303.
Trains run every hour from London Waterloo to Gillingham (four miles away), or Tisbury (seven) on the Exeter line.
The A303 and the M3 are the hotlines to London – a two-hour drive in good traffic (and the former gives you a glimpse of Stonehenge). Bath (with Bristol beyond) is a 45-minute cruise up the A360.
Worth getting out of bed for
Rural pursuits abound: the historic hunting grounds of Cranborne Chase are close to Shaftesbury, and in their midst, the refreshingly non-cliquey Rushmore golf club offers iron-swingers a relaxing day out. The Compton Abbas Airfield hosts a range of flying experiences, including taking the wheel of a classic plane and wing-walking. Head to the 14th-century Old Wardour Castle in the valley. The castle has graced many a movie and is the perfect spot for a picnic. Another great spot to hunker down with a hamper is the Fonthill Estate, a five-minute walk away. Stonehenge is a 20-minute drive away, Bath, 30 minutes, and (for younger Smiths) Longleat’s safari park is just 20 minutes away. Guides to rural rambles around Shaftesbury can be found in the little tourism office opposite the hotel, as can copies of Blackmore Vale – a handy guide to local events.
The villages around Shaftesbury are riddled with proper country inns serving gastropub goodies. Drive over to Farnham to taste the treats on offer at theMuseum Inn, which, as it’s set on the edges of hunters’ heaven Cranborne Chase is great for game in season. The Beckford Arms in Fonthill Gifford is the pub embodiment of lazy Sundays afternoons, with cosy fireside sofas, fabulous roasts, and even the occasional suckling pig. The King John Inn at Tollard Royal is a close second for Sunday lunch if the Beckford’s full.
Make the 10-minute drive to The Udder Farm Shop outside Gillingham, which, as well as fantastic views and a tempting cheese counter, has a bright, airy eatery attached that’s great for coffee and cakes. The Potting Shed Café in Pythouse Farm, at the heart of Cranborne Chase is open for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, and, if you book ahead, dinner on Thursday evenings. Fruit and veg all come from the Victorian kitchen garden on site, and you can bring your own wine if you fancy a tipple. TheSalt Cellar has prime position at the top of Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill, and is worth its weight in scones.
I'm excited. We're going to a bison farm. I had no idea we had bison in the UK, let alone Dorset. Nor, for that matter, am I especially clear on what a bison actually is. But here we are on the road out of Shaftesbury – where we've been staying at the new Grosvenor Arms hotel – in search of a creature which is a bit like buffalo, and which probably makes an excellent roast.
Our decision to explore offbeat agricultural initiatives is the result of round three of ‘Brown-Sign Bingo’, an edifying game we’ve invented that involves letting Visit Britain’s helpful signposts tell us what to do next. You know the ones – the white-text-on-brown signs that make suggestions such as 'Whipplethwaite Pencil Museum' and 'Bodger's Dyke'. Since being in Dorset, we’ve already checked out the ever-perky Cerne Abbas Giant, been dangerously tempted by Monkey World, and speculated about what thrills await at the Royal Signals Museum. Now it's the turn of the Bison Farm…
Except it's closed. Never mind – seasoned players of Brown-Sign Bingo are used to disappointment. In any case, the boutique hotel we're returning to more than makes up for the lack of chunky bovines (they are bovines, right?). When we first accepted our reviewing mission to Shaftesbury, Mrs Smith and I were expecting a country tavern-style stay: all open fires, beam-loads of brass tat and perhaps a splash of Farrow & Ball to up the chic. Not so at this hip hotel: in an area of Britain dominated by chintzy B&Bs, cosy coaching inns and wellie-trodden wayside gastropubs, the Grosvenor Arms stands out like a manicured urban thumb.
The listed Georgian facade in the town's main square is impressive enough, but inside, a mammoth two-year renovation has turned a – by all accounts, dodgy – pub-hotel into a gleaming space of calming taupes and olives, walls hung with tongue-in-cheek artworks and celebrity sketches. The only traces of the building's period history still apparent are in the odd under-carpet hump in the floorboards and in the vast dimensions of the first-floor ballroom.
The 16 smart, city-style bedrooms are adorned with gigantic headboards, Cecil Beaton fabrics, Tassimo coffee-makers and the cleanest lines in Dorset. Our room – Junior Suite, number 14 – is disconcertingly spacious. It’s almost as though there's some furniture missing; later we find out this is because there is – various bits and pieces are due to be shipped over any minute from their manufacturer in Italy.
Still, there's only so many in-room cartwheels one can do before getting bored. Luckily, the gigantic roll-top bath offers its own distractions. Mrs Smith disappears into the huge bed, while I pour myself a tub of bubbly (thanks to the Ren toiletries) and settle in the suds to watch Saturday afternoon wander past Shaftesbury Town Square, through the sash window in the bathroom. It's like voyeurism in reverse.
By dinnertime, we're a touch anxious: last night's meal in the town centre was not a gastronomic experience we're keen to recreate. We only had ourselves to blame, the warning signs had all been there: restaurant in a former church, walls painted into a sickly pastel approximation of 'Tuscan', a waiter with the hammiest Italian accent since Super Mario, and clientele straight from a Benidorm poolside. It took a lunch trip to the rather wonderful Museum Inn down the road at Blandford Forum to restore culinary equilibrium. Now it is up to the Grosvenor's restaurant, to maintain it.
Our meal tips the scales – in the right direction. After a quick visit to a bar dotted with sculpture and mismatched furniture in trendy loft-apartment style, we take our seats. (After much debating through the Dulux colour chart, we decide that 'Sagehouse' might be a better moniker.) And the very worst I can say is that the chairs are oddly low-slung, so unless you have a torso like Keira Knightley, you're likely to be eating that Michelin-starred local fare with Euro flair with your elbows around your chin. But with imaginative and intricate food such as this, we forgive them in an instant.
My fish-loving Mrs Smith frequently laments how rarely I plump for it from a menu, but on this occasion I find myself drawn to the salmon and ginger raviolo in langoustine bisque – probably because the word 'bisque' is just so awesome. The dish itself follows suit. It tastes like – and believe me it's almost impossible to adequately convey its toothsomeness without it sounding a turn-off – a jam roly-poly with a fine fishy zing. I’m still raving about it months after our stay, attempting to convince anyone who'll listen that a salmon soup that tastes like pudding is actually a Very Good Thing.
And no wonder: the Greenhouse's chef, Mark Treasure, has dipped his toes in Michelin-starred waters before, with stints at Feathers in Oxford, Mirabelle in London and, funnily enough, our lunch-spot the Museum Inn. Old town Shaftesbury might be the last place you'd expect to find the fireworks of Mod European cooking – in these parts, it's usually a hunk of local meat (bison?) with veg and ale. But every course that reaches us could have come from the kitchens of the latest Soho sensation.
Obviously, heading miles outside the capital to eat like a Londoner isn't really the point of our romantic country break, so we're lucky that Shaftesbury itself makes for such a lovely trad weekend escape. In fact, these BSB players conclude the property should have its own brown sign. Remember the Hovis ad, where the flat-capped scamp schleps his bread-laden bicycle up a cobbled slope? That very hill is pretty much next door to the hotel. Don’t let nostalgia for classic ’80s TV advertising draw you to this charming town, though – the style, comfort and dining at the Grosvenor Arms should alone manage that.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in The Grosvenor Arms’s Guestbook below.
The room was lovely and the bed very comfortable. The bar area is a great place to enjoy a drink after a day exploring the local area.
Stayed on 19 Apr 2019
The decor and the food at the Grosvenor Arms. Both the breakfast and dinner menu were fantastic and the staff were lovely.
Stayed on 5 Aug 2018
Stayed in the junior suite - beautiful room, very comfortable. Amazing staff - especially Kirsty, Abi and Tom. Delicious food in the restaurant. Can recommend walking the Jurassic coast and visiting Corfe castle.
A wild night out in Shaftesbury!
Stayed on 29 Jul 2018
The laid back atmosphere and good service.
Stayed on 19 Jun 2018
A laid-back but professional edge to the service and amenities. Food was good and bedroom was simple and comfortable