Travel: Hole Up in a Luxury ‘Potting Shed’ in Dorset

Discover Dorset’s best-kept secret – a dog-friendly hotel with luxury Victorian Garden Potting Sheds and a hidden, Hobbit-esque eco spa 

Lead image courtesy of The Eastbury Hotel

Squeezing in a weekend break between lockdowns became one of 2020’s greatest pleasures, and a winter getaway to Dorset before London entered tier four was just what the doctor ordered.

It rained – of course it did, this is Britain – but we did manage one day of glorious sunshine, which made strolling up and down Cheap Street (the somewhat ironic name of Sherborne’s high street, which is mere steps away from one the country’s most well-known private schools) quite lovely.

The street is lined with a charming hotchpotch of Tudor buildings, stone cottages and wonky store-fronts, and filled with arts and antiques stores, independent bookshops, a beautiful Susie Watson Design showroom and a place called The Circus, which has to be one of the most impressive – and priciest – boutiques I’ve ever browsed.

But there are bargains to be had. As well as an impressive collection of charity shops full of Whistles dresses and pretty glassware, there’s also a pannier market on Thursdays and Saturdays, full of vintage items, books and food and drink.

Things were a little quieter than I imagine they would normally be during our visit, what with Covid-19 doing its best to cancel Christmas, but the market was still certainly very browsable.

The Eastbury Hotel

Speaking of Covid, this was the second time we had attempted to visit after our initial trip was cancelled due to Lockdown 2. We were staying at The Eastbury Hotel, just a 10-minute walk from the train station following our painless two-hour train ride from Waterloo, where we checked into one of the Eastbury’s new Victorian Garden Potting Shed suites. Five of these gorgeous little outhouses were installed in autumn 2019, each with its own private entrance – handy for Covid times – off the hotel’s beautiful gardens.

The self-contained ‘sheds’ – a charming way to refer to the lovely, luxurious suites – have private little terraces with fire pits, so that you might enjoy a quiet evening under the stars with the lovely bottle of complimentary red and homemade sloe gin bestowed upon each room. It’s all wonderfully hygge. Pop your hotel robe on, order in room service, and you’re all set.

The Potting Sheds are beautifully appointed – a hallmark of de Savary properties – with plush king-size beds kitted out with colourful cushions, blankets and hot water bottles, as well as cosy rugs under foot and Tweed tub chairs. In one corner, a bright orange Smeg fridge adds a modern, playful touch, and of course there’s a Nespresso machine, too. The mugs, decorated with drawings of cats, are from a charity called Arthouse Unlimited, which provides an outlet for the creative talents of adults living with learning and physical difficulties. A really nice touch, I thought. Plus it just-so happens that my partner and I are nuts about cats.

I was quite taken with the TV setup – a top of the range smart TV with a mirror finish, cleverly wrapped in an oak frame to hide the TV in plain sight. A clever bit of cottage-core trickery indeed. The bathroom is decked out in de Savary-style, too, with pale grey and green wooden flooring, a large walk-in rain shower, and The White Company shampoo, plus there’s a decent full-sized hair dryer (important for us long-haired types who like to travel light).

Things to do in Sherborne

The Eastbury Hotel also has the most wonderful little eco-spa set in a stone-walled, grass-roofed, Hobbit-like den at the bottom of the garden. The compact space manages to fit in a small gym, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and two treatment rooms. Outside you’ll also find a hot tub, which I just had to have a splash about in on a chilly Saturday night. Indulge in a full-body massage and let the talented therapists unknot those shoulders dissolve all those aches, pains and niggling anxieties.

Whether you’re green-fingered or not, a trip to Sherborne garden centre, Castle Gardens, is a must at Christmas. Talk about a winter wonderland. As well as all of the Christmas decorations that you could dream of (yes, I absolutely did need those Nutcracker tree decorations and three bunches of fake holly berries, there are giant mechanical singing penguins, a huge mechanical train set winding through snowy mountains, playful polar bears and doe-eyed deer. You could lose hours in that place.

Right next to the garden centre is the new castle (Sherborne has two – the old, which crumbled, and the new, which didn’t). The new castle is a 16th century Tudor mansion that was built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 and has been home to the Wingfield Digby family since 1617. It’s full of important collections of furniture, paintings and porcelain, and is also home to one of Capability Brown’s first commissions – a magnificent Grade I-listed, 42-acre English Landscape Garden surrounded by parkland. Sadly, it closes for the winter, as do the 12th-century ruins of Sherborne Old Castle, but do put them on your itinerary if you visit from April to November.

Where to eat in Sherborne

For dinner, the hotel’s Seasons restaurant, about 15 steps from our ‘shed’ door, was a lively spot to spend a Friday night, even in Tier 2 Dorset. The place was covered in poinsettias (garnering serious brownie points from me, given they’re my favourite festive plant), the staff are super friendly, and the food is glorious. Everything is seasonally on point, balanced in texture and flavour, and presented beautifully – hats off to locally born-and-bred Executive Chef Matthew Street.

The Devon crab with cucumber and wasabi, brown crab tuile, green apple and grapefruit dill was an impressive starter, which I followed up with a flavour-packed charred monkfish with Sobrasada Ibérico, baby leeks, romesco and toasted almonds. Do not skip dessert – both the Valrhona chocolate crémeux with candied pecan, and the salted peanut parfait with Tonka bean crème, maraschino cherry and caramel fudge – are divine.

Seasons has to be the best restaurant in Sherborne. Sure, I only had time to eat at two of them, but with 2AA Rosettes, it’s certainly a serious contender. Other dining hotspots nearby include The Green, a Mediterranean restaurant set in a lovely Grade II listed building at the top of Cheap Street, and The Plume of Feathers, a historic inn that serves very modern Italian small plates. It was the latter that caught my eye, but alas, my partner isn’t much of a foodie, and to balance out any fine dining, we always have to seek out a big ol’ plate of pasta or pizza. Tamburino Gold does this quite nicely, and certainly seems to be a big hit with local families.

Dorset's best restaurants: Seasons restaurant at the Eastbury Hotel has 2AA Rosettes

The Eastbury’s Seasons restaurant has 2AA Rosettes (photo courtesy of the venue)

In terms of cafes, Durberville is an absolute must-visit. This wonderful place serves as a café, wine bar and vintage furniture store all set in a lofty, creaky old chapel. It’s a wonderful place to while away an hour or two on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I challenge you to leave without, at the very least, a candle or two.

Sherborne, with its quaint charm, high-end boutiques and great restaurants, makes for an ideal weekend getaway for Londoners. And whether you’re a keen walker, spa lover, like to mess about with giant chess sets, or just pootle about wondering how many fine feeds you can squeeze into a day, The Eastbury is the place to stay.

Double rooms at The Eastbury start from £195 per night with breakfast included. See more things to do in the area, see Visit Dorset’s guide to 24 hours in Sherborne