The Dorset market town of Sherborne sits close to the Somerset border and is one of England's most beautiful towns with Saxon roots and a wealth of medieval architecture. Sherborne was an ancient capital of the old Kingdom of Wessex. Its name comes from the Saxon word for 'clear stream' and two Saxon kings are buried in its famous Abbey. The town is ideal for exploring the wider countryside as it sits on the edge of Blackmore Vale - the beautiful green valley around the River Stour that was the setting in Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Sherborne is Hardy's "Sherton Abbas".
Architecture spans several periods from medieval through to Georgian. Around Sherborne Abbey you'll find a cluster of 15th century buildings and on the outskirts are the two castles - Sherborne Castle set around a Capability Brown designed lake and the ruins of Sherborne Old Castle. The old almshouses of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist were built in 1438 and later extended by the Victorians. Sherborne centre has a wide range of specialist and boutique shops. Antique shops are in abundance and there are regular antique fairs and auctions. Sherborne continues its market town traditions with weekly markets every Thursday and Saturday, where you can pick up a whole range of fresh Dorset produce. The town also hosts a monthly Farmers Markets on the third Friday in the month.
Find out about local history at the Sherborne Museum in the heart of the historic centre. The museum holds a huge array of items detailing the history of the area including models of how the Old Castle would have looked before it fell into ruin. A wall painting dating from 1480 is also on display. It was discovered in 1962 under layers of paint and paper in a medieval house in the town. Displays span several centuries and include extensive photographic and costume collections.
Sherborne Abbey was founded in AD 705 by St Aldheim and originates from a Saxon Cathedral that was the central cathedral of the twenty six Saxon Bishops of Wessex. Within the church you can see the oldest vaulted fan in the country. King Ethelred and King Ethelbert, the elder brothers of Alfred the Great, are both buried in the Abbey as is Lord John Digby whose family have lived in Sherborne New Castle since 1617. You'll see his tomb marked by an elaborate marble effigy. The Abbey hosts the annual Sherborne Abbey Festival in May, a festival of classical music organised by volunteers in the town.
Sherborne Old Castle was built in the twelfth century by Bishop Roger of Salisbury as a defended palace that became a powerful Royalist base during the Civil War. It finally fell in 1645 after a fierce eleven day siege led by General Fairfax during the English Civil War. The ruins are cared for by English Heritage and open to visitors. Sherborne New Castle isn't all that new. It was originally a medieval hunting lodge within the deer park of Sherborne Old Castle. Sir Walter Raleigh fell in love with it and petitioned Elizabeth I to persuade the church who owned it to transfer it to the Crown. This they did and Raleigh was granted a 99 year lease. He intended to spend his retirement here with his wife and he set about modernising the Old Castle, but eventually decided to build a new home on the site of the old hunting lodge. The New Castle dates from 1594 and a stained glass window bears Raleigh's initials. Unfortunately his plans were cut short after only nine years of living here when James I ordered his execution. The Castle was then bought by Sir John Digby in 1617, and the Digby family have lived here ever since. The gardens and lake were designed by Capability Brown in 1753. There is a shop and tearoom on the site, and a varied programme of public and private events run through the year.
Sherborne Golf Club on the edge of the town has an 18 hole parkland course with spectacular views across Blackmore Vale. The Club was formed in 1894 as Blackmore Vale Golf Club. From the course you can see as far as Glastonbury Tor and Cheddar on a clear day. Visitors are warmly welcomed.