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Described as a ‘beguiling ancient town’, which is set on the banks of Dorset’s River Stour, Wimborne Minster’s claim to glory – as its name suggests – is its great church, the ‘Minster of St. Cuthberga’. And in the year 2005 Wimborne Minster celebrated 1,300 years of ministry.

Built on the site of an eighth-century monastery, the church’s massive twin towers of multi coloured stone is said to ‘dwarf’ the rest of the town. And it lays claim to ‘some of the finest Norman architecture in the country’. It’s said that at one time the building was even more dominant in appearance, for it also had a soaring spire. But it’s recorded that the spire crashed down to the ground during a morning service in the year 1602. Miraculously, no-one was injured – but the spire was never replaced.

The church is mainly of Norman origin, but later features have been added, such as the ‘astronomical clock’, and the ‘Quarterjack’, which is a life-size figure dressed as a grenadier of the Napoleonic era, who strikes the bell with a hammer every quarter of an hour. Inside, the church’s interior is said to contain many memorials. Considered to be particularly striking is the ‘orrery clock’ within the west tower, with the sun marking the hours and the moon marking the days of the months.

The church organ, likewise, is also distinctive – having trumpets that point out towards the congregation instead of pipes. The church’s unique Chained Library, which was founded in the year 1686, and which is located above the choir vestry, is said to contain more than 240 books, amongst which is a 14th century manuscript on vellum.

The library is claimed to be Wimborne’s ‘most prized possession’ and is considered to be one of the oldest public libraries in the country. The Priest’s House, which is situated in the High Street, was originally built as lodgings for the clergy, and is described as ‘a lovely Elizabethean house set amidst beautiful gardens’.

It is now an ‘award winning museum’, and is known as the Museum of East Dorset Life. It is said to re-create 400 years of history, with each room in the museum being furnished in the style of a different period. These rooms include a working Victorian kitchen, a Georgian parlour, and an ironmonger’s shop. The building also has an archaeology gallery – featuring a display of items relating to local archaeology and history.

And situated within the walled garden at the back of the building there is a summer tea room. A recreation of Wimborne as it was in the early 1950s can be located in another part of the town. This is known as Wimborne Model Village and it represents a miniature version of the town – with everything being one tenth of its real size. Featured within the Model Village also is a replica of an Old English Fair, and a working small-scale Model Railway.

In the centre of the town, within a former pottery drying shed, stands the Verwood Heathland Heritage Centre, which features permanent displays of the Verwood pottery industry. Verwood Village itself lies north of Wimborne. And on the outskirts of Verwood Village lies The Dorset Heavy Horse Centre. Here visitors are given the opportunity of either driving a horse and wagon or a vintage tractor, or logging or ploughing with the heavy horses.

The centre also has numerous other attractions and displays, and lays claim to a resident menagerie of various animals, which include donkeys and miniature ponies. And it has a gift shop, a café and a picnic area. Honeybrook Country Park also stands on the outskirts of Wimborne. And the park’s attractions include many pure breed animals, pony rides, a period farmhouse, river and countryside walks, picnic areas and a tea room.

The park also hosts numerous events, including country sports days, tug-of-war competitions, beer tasting and barn dances. Situated about a mile northwest of Wimborne is Kingston Lacey, which is described as being one of the country’s finest 17th century mansions. It stands within 250 acres of wooded parkland, which houses a herd of Red Devon cattle. The mansion has been the home of the Bankes family for more than 300 years, who were exiled from Corfe Castle after the Roundheads reduced it to ruins.

Originally a brick building, Kingston Lacey was clad in grey stone during the 19th century by Sir Charles Barry, co-architect of the Houses of Parliament. William Bankes, the owner of the mansion, was a great traveller and a collector, and the building lays claim to a collection of paintings of Old Masters such as Brueghel, Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Velazquez. In fact, apart from those owned by the Queen, it is claimed that the pictures on display at Kingston Lacey are regarded by experts as ‘forming the finest private collection in the country’.

The mansion’s gilded leather Spanish Room and its Grand Salon both have lavishly decorated ceilings. The building also has an exhibit of Egyptian artefacts which date back to 3000 BC. The Kingston Lacey estate was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1981 in the Will of Sir Ralph Bankes. And the land can never by sold, developed or mortgaged. All four floors of the building are open to visitors.

The estate’s garden features two formal areas –‘ the parterre’ and ‘the sunken garden’. And it’s claimed that ‘The Victorian Fernery’ has twenty five types of fern while ‘The Blindwalk’ has flowering shrubs and groundcover plants. And the 18th century Lime Avenue leads to Nursery Wood where specimen trees, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias grow.

It’s said that some lovely walks can be undertaken through the wooded parkland, where a genuine Egyptian obelisk can be located. A recent addition to the estate is a Japanese Tea Garden which follows a traditional Japanese design, with features such as a waiting pavilion, a dry stream raked with gravel, and a thatched tea house.

‘Bradbury Rings’ can also be located within the grounds of the estate. This is described as an Iron Age hill fort, and is reputedly the site of a campaign undertaken by King Arthur. It’s claimed that Kingston Lacey is such a popular ‘sightseeing site’ that sometimes at the week-ends the National Trust has to issue visitors with ‘timed tickets’ – which restricts the length of time that can be spent on the premises.

Wimborne Minster lies within close proximity to Corfe Mullen, which is claimed to be the largest village in the country, and which has a population of more than 10,000.

Also situated alongside the River Stour, it lays claim to an ancient mill which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. And the self same mill is turning once again –after having its wheel rebuilt. The mill, however, is now located inside a glass cage, which stands in the middle of a tea room! Corfe Mullen also has a medieval church – whose first rector was installed in the year 1162, and a privately owned 300 year old manor house.

Wimborne Minster is easily accessible by rail from London. There is a direct train service from London to Bournemouth, which lies seven miles south east of Wimborne. Likewise travelling from London by car entails following the motorway routes of the M4, the M25, the M3 , the M27, and then joining the A31. Wimborne Minster lays claim to a number of eating places, both within the town confines and on its outskirts. Many are pubs or inns which also offer overnight accommodation.

A particularly popular pub is The Mount, which not only provides meals and real ales but also offers bed and breakfast accommodation – a service that has been in existence since the year 1990. The pub lays claim to a bar area with a wooden floor, an open fire, a darts area and a pool table, and also a lounge bar which has an open fire as well, and overlooks the property’s Beer Garden.

And the pub’s landlady is said to have introduced a ‘novel form of catering’ by having ‘takeaways’ delivered to the pub from half a dozen outlets in the immediate vicinity. A variety of entertainment is available at the pub, including a ‘Sing Around’ of folk music, a karaoke night, and several quizzes. And The Mount is also the ‘home base’ of the ‘Wimborne Acoustic Folk Club’.

‘Bless this Nest’ is the unusual name of another popular Bed and Breakfast establishment, which occupies a superb location that overlooks views across twenty miles of Dorset countryside. ‘Bless This Nest’ has a 3 Diamond rating and a ‘Warm Welcome Award’ from the R.A.C. The establishment also has an outdoor heated swimming pool in the garden, together with a six hole putting green for the amusement of the guests. And it also lays claim to being able to provide ‘filtered drinking water’ from its kitchen.

The Woodcutters Arms is another popular inn, which has a reputation for serving excellent food at very reasonable prices. And the establishment’s regular ‘Sunday Roast’ lunches are said to be particularly popular.

The inn has an old-style Public Bar, where two real ales are always available. It also possesses a Beer Garden where there’s a barbecue as well. Kenways too is a popular bed and breakfast establishment, and it lays claim to a particularly beautiful spacious garden – gardening being a prime accomplishment of its owner. The garden lies to the rear of the property, and is said to be a blaze of colourful shrubs, plants and palm trees. It also has an ornamental pool and a bridge.

Sited within the building is a games room that has a full size table tennis table, a snooker table, and a darts board. In fact, Kenways is described as a place that offers ‘excellent accommodation’. Undoubtedly, Wimborne Minster’s main claim to fame – and its top tourist attraction – is its world renowned ancient church, namely the ‘Minster of St. Cuthberga’.

And the church’s unique library – considered to be one of the oldest public libraries in the country – represents an added attraction for visitors viewing the building. The town’s ‘award winning museum’, known as the Museum of East Dorset, also draws the crowds into its confines. And the manor house known as Kingston Lacey, which is considered to be one of the country’s finest 17th century mansions, is claimed to be such a popular ‘sightseeing site’ that visitors are often issued with ‘timed tickets’ since so many people want to explore the premises at the same time!

Many more places of interest can be visited at Wimborne Minster, not least of which are the attractive pubs and inns that border its outskirts, where one can relax, drink and dine, and stay in comfort, following days spent indulging in some fascinating sightseeing……

Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.