Rural Dorset: England’s forgotten gem

Michael Edwards savours a gourmet break at La Fosse, Cranborne
smoked local pigeon and goosberries

La Fosse, a gourmet restaurant with comfortable, quaint rooms is at the heart of the beautiful Cranborne Chase that time nearly forgot. From Normans to Stuarts the Royal Hunting Grounds, at one time larger than the New Forest, were protected from development. Then when hunting declined Lord Salisbury proclaimed that the railways would not cross his land.

The result is peaceful forest, meadow and hedgerow countryside, with moments when you only hear birdsong. No cars, no trains, no planes. Some guests park-up and savour slow travel for a few days, forgetting their car until it is time to check-out, putting on their walking boots or taking advantage of La Fosse’s bike hire.

La Fosse

Each of the six comfortable bedrooms, every one of them named after a Dorset cheese, has folders of routes to walk or cycle. The Hardy Way runs through the village and many visitors relax and slow to the pace of Jude or Tess walking through the north of Hardy’s Wessex. But Cranborne is a glimpse of what village life could become rather than a nostalgic backward glance at yesteryear: it is thriving with a bakery moving to larger premises, a renowned Ancient Technology Centre plus a micro-brewery opening soon

Breakfast at La Fosse exemplifies this entrepreneurial village. Eggs come from the neighbouring Cranborne Estate employing dozens of locals. Fresh bread is from the bakery in the Village Store while bacon and sausages originate from a rare-breed small holding at Three Legged Cross. With fruit and vegetables from his allotment Mark Hartstone, chef and co-owner with his wife Emanuelle, often talks of food yards rather than food miles.

“Sometimes guests book all of the rooms for a house party and enjoy a break in their own way. One group asked for a chocolate-making lesson in the afternoon for the ladies whilst the gents followed a gentle walk with a few pints in the village pubs before reconvening for dinner,” said Mark.

Mark’s thoroughbred training at Le Manoir aux Qaut’ Saisons and the Chewton Glen Hotel is evident from his imaginative menu. Tuna nicoise with pheasant eggs, hot apple wood smoked mussels or beetroot bhaji accompanied by radishes dressed in truffle oil and rhubarb chutney were all popular starters with guests.

The passion for locally sourced ingredients continues onto main courses including smoked haddock with a clam jus, char-grilled lemon chicken and a duck duo with a sweet chilli stir-fry. I’d like to report on deserts such as the marinated pineapple Carpaccio or poached rhubarb but every diner I saw opted for the legendary cheese board.

Guests travel from afar for a cheese board comprising an ascending scale of 11 Dorset cheeses, beginning with delicate goats’ cheeses and moving right to a heady smoked cheddar and a gutsy mature blue.  Damson butter and a shot of cider brandy are perfect accompaniments.

The Cranborne Estate

Claire Whitehead

No ‘second-home’ controversy in this peaceful village. The Cranborne Estate only leases houses, marked by a blue door, to locals working in a very tight community. When Cranborne Manor recently opened its Gardens for a rare weekend, Wednesday is the usual opening day, twenty villagers opened their gardens too.

“I don’t just have staff, I have twenty passionate gardeners who all live locally,” said Claire Whitehead who runs the Cranborne Garden Centre typifying village spirit. Within the walled garden of Cranborne Manor lies a restful haven of lawns and garden seats to inspire first and sell secondly. Creative drawing workshops, art exhibitions and visiting speakers are making the centre a key part of life for Cranborne’s population of just over 2000 folk.

Exploring further afield it is just 20 minutes to the medieval architecture of Salisbury Cathedral. Within the serene cathedral close there is also the National Trust’s Mompesson House, once described as having the “best view in Britain” and not surprisingly this elegant 18th century house starred in the film of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  Alternatively drive south through Wimborne and Poole, you can take the ferry to Studland Beach, and onto the attractions of Corfe Castle and the Jurassic Coast.

Whatever your choice just make sure that you are back in time for dinner. You wouldn’t want to miss a meal cooked by Dorset’s Chef of the Year.

More information

Learn more of La Fosse’s menus, themed evenings, BBQ Hut and accommodation at

Visit for information on tickets for Cranborne Manor Gardens.

The next scheduled weekend opening for the Gardens is 9th and 10th July 2016.

Images: ©Lara Jane Thorpe Photography

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 4:43 pm Around The UK