Launceston Farm, Dorset

“Exemplary farmhouse b&b in the lovely Tarrant valley”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th May 2011.

"Farmhouse bed and breakfast" – the sign alone is enough to make the heart beat faster. You never quite know what you're going to find in a b & b these days (anything from twitching nets to dripping luxury) but 'farmhouse' immediately conjures British hospitality at its most conducive: cuddly animals and Agas, slap-up breakfasts and cosy beds warmed by hot-water bottles.

It's all there at Launceston Farm, but with an added dash of the sort of contemporary style that makes a place, however traditional at heart, seem fresh and fun.

Owner Sarah Worral was born here. Who wouldn't want to return to the enchanting Tarrant valley – which on my visit was awash with blossom and Royal Wedding bunting – if they got the chance? Sarah did, first caring for her elderly father and his farm, and later reinventing his equally elderly farmhouse as a professional six-bedroom guesthouse.

The mellow, old-brick house has a new stone portico and airy, cream-painted rooms, with woodwork picked out in dove grey. An original 19th-century cast-iron spiral staircase, oddly ornate, leads up from the hall. The furniture is a charming mix of Sarah's auction house finds: Persian rugs, fancy mirrors, carved wardrobes, silk hangings. A couple of rooms have lavish beds, another an assortment of oriental furniture. Sarah took the advice of a friend: don't match when starting from scratch; homely interiors are built up over time. "I wanted the feel to be genuine rather than perfect".

And it is, though the unlit sitting room was a bit off-putting in the evening when I fancied a drink from the honesty bar. My bedroom was huge, with a pair of Thirties armchairs, and my bathroom even larger, with a slipper bath, a crimson wing chair and a fine chestnut tree outside. There was a choice of teas, flat-screen TV, Wifi, locally made toiletries and that hot-water bottle. No radio, though: I somehow expect a comforting retro radio in a farmhouse bedroom.Breakfast, cooked to order and eaten at a single table but at guests' preferred, pre-arranged time, was all one could wish for, with bacon and sausages from the farm's pigs and eggs from its hens. And then Jimi appeared.There's gratifying continuity at Launceston. Jimi is Sarah's son and runs the farm, just as his grandfather did, with intelligent, friendly passion, though the latter's dairy herds have long gone and these days it's all about organic meat and sustainability. Jimi's right-hand man is Merv, whose own grandfather was head dairyman and who has lived and worked here all his life, long enough to remember milking the whole herd by hand, which he learned at the age of three. Jimi happily takes interested guests on a fascinating farm walk that serves a double purpose: it adds value to any stay and it gets out the message about organic food and farming."I hope at least people go away determined to buy British," he says. He can be sure of that. As soon as I left I popped up to the farm shop in Tarrant Gunville and bought local produce, including a piece of fresh Launceston Farm Aberdeen Angus beef for Sunday lunch.

Tarrant Launceston, Blandford Forum (01258 830528; www.launcestonfarm.co.uk). Doubles from £80 per night, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.

Fiona's Choice

What to do

Sarah has compiled a superb list of ideas for what to do in the area. Take your pick from local towns – the "certain sort of charm" of Blandford; Sherborne: "small but very smart"; Shaftesbury: tiny but fascinating, with a great deli, Turnbulls (9 High Street; 01747 858575;www.turnbulls-deli.co.uk) and the famous Gold Hill used in that well-known Hovis advert.

Walks and beaches

Beaches: from Sarah's favourite, Ringstead Bay, to Kimmeridge – "like going back in time". Walk from the farm to Chettle village and back, or a route that takes in Wingreen, Bulbarrow, Hod Hill or Badbury Rings.

Shops, pubs and more

Local shops include Home Farm Shop at Tarrant Gunville; Crichel Bakery at Long Crichel; Simon Harvell butcher at Iwerne Minster; and Chettle village shop ("how village shops should be"). The best pubs include Langton Arms, Tarrant Monkton; King John, Tollard Royal; The Bull, Wimborne St Giles; and The Anchor at Shapwick. Among "The Weirdest Places in Dorset" are Knowlton Ring; Cerne Giant; Tyneham; Chesil Beach; and Moreton Village.

Stay at this hotel

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
4 out of 5

Characterful and pleasing; two large front rooms have fine views

Service
4 out of 5

A b & b, not a hotel: guests asked not to hang around during the day

Character
4 out of 5

Learn about life on a fine farm in a beautiful valley

Food and drink
4 out of 5

Sarah cooks dinner Monday and Friday; otherwise the welcoming, unpretentious Langton Arms is a strol

Value for money
4 out of 5

Twice the interest of many a hotel for half the price

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