Star studded Dorset – where ALAN can’t spoil everything

Tina Ediss is gazing upwards

“We’ll have to find a good place to watch the stars,” I tell my husband Roy as we head for the Dorset village of Cranborne. 

We’re booked in for some serious eating, and sleeping, at La Fosse.

This 6 bedroom B & B and restaurant is owned by husband and wife team Mark and Emmanuelle Hartstone.

The couple met whilst working at Hampshire’s Chewton Glen Hotel, they’ve now been running La Fosse for fifteen years.

The village is on the edge of Cranborne Chase, an AONB with 380 square miles of scattered villages, ancient woodlands perched on top of steep hills and rolling chalk grassland.

“It’s an overlooked part of Dorset,” explains award-winning chef Mark.

“People tend to drive through on their way to the New Forest, the Dorset coast, the Chase or on to the West Country.”

The entire area was designated an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2019, one of only 19 in the world. Many areas of Dorset have low levels of light pollution so are not spoilt by ALAN – Artificial Lights at Night – which makes it a great place for stargazing.

The location, on the borders of Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire makes it great for short breaks.

“With a staycation,” explains Mark, “all of the time is spent enjoying yourself rather than driving for hours or contending with airports.

And because we’re small, people feel particularly comfortable here.”

We get our bearings with a walk around the village. The footpaths wind and loop around in a way that challenges my sense of direction. We end up high on Castle Hill, the castle – and its story – are long gone but the motte and bailey earthworks remain.

A short drive away is one of the recommend star gazing sites at Knowlton. Here ruins of a 12th century church stand surrounded by pre-historic barrows and henges. Some visitors claim to experience a mystical atmosphere due to Pagan rituals from the dark, distant past – all we feel is the bite of a wind so bitter we decide not to come back after dark.

Besides, my husband is keen to visit the Sixpenny Brewery on the outskirts of Cranborne for an evening of live music. We get there just after 5.30pm; the tiny tap-room is already packed and full of laughter. The music is good (as is the beer, says Roy). Here the atmosphere is warm, owner Scott Wayland is fun – and proud that the brewery has been running for 15 years. We leave with smiles on our faces and plans to return.

We’re back at La Fosse in time for dinner and sit by the fire with other guests sharing stories of our day.

Mark uses seasonal ingredients sourced from local suppliers, including fruit from his orchard, herbs and vegetables from his allotment and marmalade made by his aunt Angela.

As well as the main menu, La Fosse offers a 6 course tasting menu, with a matching wine flight if you want it.  They also run a themed monthly supper club and have a Scandinavian style BBQ hut in the garden.

We choose the main menu which changes every day.  Our delicious three course meal is a cosy, leisurely event.  Everything is cooked to order, the service is great and we don’t have to worry about driving or getting a taxi home later.

Before we get ready for bed we take a stroll around the village. It’s late, there are still a few lights on but it’s pretty dark, not much sign of ALAN.

We’ve had a lovely day but I know I’ll regret not seeking out one of the recommended star gazing sites.

Then I look up.

It’s a clear night, the sky is the blackest I have ever seen, the stars are brighter than I knew they could be. 

Above us thousands of stars sparkle in the Milky Way and I’m pleased with myself for recognising the Orion Constellation.  Apparently the Andromeda Galaxy is also visible but I don’t see it.  It’s over 25 million light years away, a figure so far beyond my comprehension it overwhelms me.

We sit watching from the little park, about twenty steps from the B & B.  Seems we didn’t need to go far to see the stars after all, they were above us all the time.

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