Amy Moore visited the petit town in Dorset, which looks to promote itself as a key coach tourism destination.
Wimborne is the hidden gem of East Dorset, considered an ideal spot for coach visits to the county. Wimborne features a unique blend of old and new attractions, with charming, independent boutiques set amongst more modern chains. Charity shops are a particular favourite, with the area a hotspot for antique nooks and home ware. The Squash Court Café boasts a cosy tearoom, where I enjoyed a cool ice tea around 1530hrs on September 18. Rounded tables and fancy chairs occupy the former 1932 Squash Court, with a petit shop located on the grounds where it once stood.
River Allen streams in/around the area, playing host to a number of events throughout the year, including an anticipated duck race. Whilst my guide, Rachel Limb, and I were chatting, we spotted a rare heron observing the natural flow by the Mill.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by our guides and escorted to The Chained Library, which is said to be one of four in the country. It was founded in 1686, and its name derives from the looped iron chains (formerly silver), which attach the book bind to the rail. Located above the Choir Vestry, visitors ascend a spiral staircase purposely narrowed, with triangular steps expanding left, which made it harder for right handed swordsman to fight their way up. The Chained Library houses over 400 leather-bound volumes, with half almost 300 years old. In a cabinet, there lies the oldest written book – unfinished – alongside the oldest printed book from 1495. Wimborne Minster is approximately 1,300 years old, and was constructed as a place of pilgrimage, prayer and worship.
Wimborne Minster houses five bells in total, with two clock bells located on the North face of the West Tower, signalled every quarter hour by the Quarter Jack. Visitors to the attraction might not know that the site is home to Roman remains, which lay preserved in a transparent glass case in the Nave. Use the square mirror provided to view the painted ceiling of the Central Tower – originally white – and now boasting a floral and squiggly star design.
The area is netted to prevent families of butterflies from nesting there. The entrance to the Baptistry is badly worn, and above the font stands a 14th century astronomical clock, with an outer rustic casing that dates back to the Elizabethan era. Groups would arguably be more interested in the story of the ‘man in the wall,’ with the local Wetherspoons named after this iconic character. Anthony Ettricke was an eccentric who strongly believed his death would come in 1693. The inscription on his mounted coffin has clearly been amended to 1793. He is famous for declaring that he would be buried ‘neither on their church, nor without it, neither in the ground, nor above it.” Special tours can be arranged via the Parish Office.
Wimborne offers complementary coach parking between 1800hrs and 2000hrs daily, with the option to apply for a free parking permit. Free coach parking is also awarded to those transporting a minimum of 10 passengers to the area. Minimal parking charges apply between 0800hrs and 1800hrs, costing £1 for up to two hours, £2 for up to four hours and £4 for up to 10 hours. Parking permits should be pre-registered at least 10 days in advance, and are restricted to the date of visit only. Coach companies who apply will receive a £5 gift voucher for the driver, valid at a number of local cafes in the town. Four coach bays are located in Allenview North Car Park, which is accessible via Allenview Road. In addition to parking, there are two coach drop-off points located on West Borough and King Street. To apply call Wimborne Tourist Information Centre on 01202 886116 or email firstname.lastname@example.org For more information visit www.wimborne.info
Wimborne Model Town & Gardens is a short five-minute walk from Wimborne Minster, boasting adequate space for minibus parking. Established by Charles Coffen in 1950s, Wimborne Model Town & Gardens was forcibly relocated in the 1980s - reopening in 1991 as a voluntarily-run charity. We met with Greg Hoar, who gave us a guided tour of the mock miniature village, which recently saw the installation of a new multi-track 00 gauge model railway layout, as well as a large sensory garden earlier this year. Ideal for educational groups, special rates and pre-visits are available for teaching staff or group leaders. Wimborne Model Town & Gardens is a relic of the former 1950s style town, showcasing a variety of independent trade bodies, including a vintage Kings Head Hotel and a mini Wimborne Minster, which overlooked the real thing.
Each model is 1/10th the scale of the actual town, with pulled out frontage and displays regularly refreshed towards the end of each year. 2012 marked the attraction’s 50th anniversary, with the history of Wimborne Model Town & Gardens further detailed in a picture exhibition located alongside a donated dollhouse collection, featuring an old gypsy camper and petit café. For coach booking, preferential rates are available for parties of 10 or more.
The Olive Branch is run by reputable restaurant chain Hall & Woodhouse. I was informed that they manage around six pubs in the area, catering to a petit population of around 6,000. The Olive Branch has been recently renovated to include an open kitchen, further inviting a luxury ‘fine dining’ experience. There was a smooth, rustic feel to the pub area, which was conveniently separated by a light wooden panel. When ordering, I would highly recommend the thick steak, served with skinny fries and a lightly dressed salad. The peppercorn sauce was heavenly, with a thick consistency and chunks of black pepper, giving it that added kick. The Olive Branch is situated a short walk from the King’s Head Hotel, with many local attractions within walking distance. For more information visit www.theolivebranchwimborne.co.uk
Millstream Café makes an ideal lunch stop for visiting groups, where I enjoyed an oozing bacon and brie panini, with a tangy pot of chutney on the side. I sipped on a glass of homemade lemonade whilst overlooking the gentle, flowing millstream, where there are future plans to construct a bridge boasting entry to the attraction, currently accessed via a spacious Exhibition Hall.
The Exhibition Hall houses creative displays renewed every six weeks, with a gift shop selling products inspired by the latest pieces. The Gallery Shop sells products from over 300 British designers, with local, national and international artists also contributing. We witnessed the “wood and fibre” exhibition by Anne Hitchcock in Gillingham, featuring creatively upholstered seats and boldly printed cushion covers. Walford Mill Crafts was unlike anything else I’d seen, with the attraction segmented into individual creative spaces for resident makers. Most memorable was Jen Goodwin, with her intricate stitch designs presented on a black backdrop, with patterns available to purchase. Located underfoot were glass panels, providing a voyeuristic view of the millstream.
The Kings Head Hotel stands prominent on the corner of The Square, made highly noticeable along the frequented bus route from Poole. It is reminiscent of a pub from the outside, welcoming a warm familiarity to those visiting. Part of the Old English Inns chain, the reception was reasonably small and potentially hard to find unless allocated a space in the car park directly behind.
My room overlooked Wimborne Minster, with its bells chiming every quarter hour, which added to the ambience. Deep purples and an attractive tartan patterning was aesthetically pleasing, with an old style window injecting some character. The décor was a combination of old and new, characteristic of ‘crooked walls and low beams.’ I was allocated a Superior Room, which was intimately lit by lamps and was accessible via an old style key turn lock. A one-man sofa sat at the end of the bed, which drew further attention to the thick, neatly tied silk curtains. The sofa boasts a comfortable spot by the window, where guests can feel the gentle breeze roll in. The Kings Head Hotel is around 200 years old, with photographs making a nice addition to the three-star accommodation’s history. Visit www.kingsheadhotel-wimborne.co.uk
The final leg of our tour was completed at The Priest’s House Museum & Gardens, located on the high street adjacent to the Tourist Information Centre. Focused on the history of East Dorset, the site was previously abandoned by a former stationer, whose antique stock remains exhibited, including some rather amusing Valentine’s Day cards from the Victorian era. Next up was the 17th century Georgian Hall, painted fern green in the typical fashion.
Other highlights include a working Victorian kitchen on the lower levels, which boasts an old style cooker. Housing 10 period rooms and exhibition galleries, it is recommended that guests allow at least two hours to visit. The Priest’s House Museum & Gardens is open from April to November from 1000hrs to 1630hrs, with alternate opening in winter. It is essential that group visits are booked well in advance, with guided tours of the House available upon request.
Opened in July 2014, Toad Hall fills the growing demand for a country vintage store in the area, showcasing 50 unique traders under one roof. Toad Hall is ideal for those failing to find one-of-a-kind antiques at the local Wimborne Farmers Market. Toad Hall is open Monday-Saturday 1000hrs to 1700hrs, and Sunday at 1000hrs to 1600hrs. Wimborne Farmers Market is held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with an indoor warehouse and stooping outside canopy housing an array of nooks and crannies, with interchangeable stalls throughout the weekend.