Sturminster Newton, or Stur as it's called locally, is a historic market town in North Dorset set alongside the fording point of the River Stour. The town once hosted a large livestock market, and today continues its market town traditions dating back to the 13th century with a celebrated weekly Monday Market. A monthly Farmers' Market also takes place in the town. A great time to visit is during the annual Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival in September which has been known to attract local celebrity chefs like River Cottage based Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
The picturesque watermill that sits on the south bank of the river has been restored and now houses Sturminster Newton Museum and Mill which tells the story of the market town's history. The mill has been restored to working order and you can see how the flour was milled on special event days throughout the year. The heart of the town is The Exchange where you'll find various local services, a supermarket and an Arts and Learning Centre. The Stour Hall within The Exchange offers a programme of films, theatre productions and regular art exhibitions in the gallery.
Thomas Hardy was born and spent most of his life in Dorset. He took inspiration for his novels and poems from real life incidents and the towns and villages that he was most familiar. He crafted his books around the county of Wessex and would often change place names for the fictional stories but enough of the landscape and architecture was alluded to to give us clues as to where the stories were really set. Sturminster Newton overlooks Blackmore Vale within Dorset's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Hardy called Blackmore Vale the "Vale of the little dairies" in "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" which is set in this part of North Dorset. Thomas Hardy lived in Sturminster Newton with his first wife for a time. He wrote "The Return of the Native" while living in Riverside Villa, a cottage overlooking the River Stour.
The prolific poet and author William Barnes hailed from Sturminster Newton. He wrote hundreds of poems throughout the nineteenth century and was noted as making a significant contribution to publishing in Dorset dialect; most notably in the "Poems of Rural Life" series. He also published philosophical works and called for the purification of the English language by removing Greek, Latin and foreign influences so it could be better understood by those without a classical education. Barnes was a friend of Hardy who was greatly influenced by him. Hardy published a selection of Barnes' poetry in 1908.
Described by exhibitors and visitors as 'The best garden party in the West', The Cheese Festival in September is a major annual event in Sturminster Newton. This great day out in the heart of Hardy's Blackmore Vale runs over two days and brings together cheese producers from across the South West, as well as raising considerable funds for local charities. You can sample and buy cheeses as well as other locally produced food and drink including real ale and local ciders. The event also showcases local Dorset crafts from pottery and jewellery to hand knitting and home furnishings. There are cheese making and cookery demonstrations, live music and children's entertainment. Plentiful parking is onsite, and a park & ride service operates from the northern edge of the town. The Cheese Festival takes place at Sturminster Newton's recreation ground just off the A357.
The Stour Valley Way stretching for 64 miles is a long distance walking path which passes through Sturminster Newton. It starts on the Dorset Coast at Christchurch where the river flows into the sea and ends at its source in Stourhead in Wiltshire. The route wends its way through the Dorset countryside via Christchurch, Wimborne Minster, Blandford Forum and Sturminster Newton. It is waymarked with a distinctive kingfisher logo. Being alongside the River Stour, Sturminster Newton makes an excellent base for a spot of fishing. The River Stour is well known for coarse fishing including barbel, bream and chub in the lower stretches, pike dace and perch are also common.