Loose Reins is a glamping destination with a difference, not only offering accommodation in the form of luxurious cedar-clad cabins and canvas lodges, in a beautiful scenic location, but also taking you out to discover the countryside beyond on horseback – with lessons for beginners and those hoping to brush up their skills. We reckon that's a winning formula, though the hand-crafted pioneer lodges and ranch cabins make for a luxurious and unique place to stay whether you're a riding enthusiast or not.
Tucked away in a natural combe below the Wessex Ridgeway, they have three cabins and three lodges, all of which look out over Blackmore Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, towards the ancient forts of Hambledon and Hod Hills. Each of the lodges has a generous amount of space to itself and can sleep up to 6 people in comfort (the cabins sleep 4), with just the right balance between high comfort and proper glamping – with decent furniture (Hypnos mattresses, luxury linen and even a four-poster bed in the lodges!), proper plumbing and electricity, fully-equipped kitchens with a gas oven, real loos and hot showers with plenty of towels, but they also have wood-burners and outdoor fire bowls, and overall there's a prevailing sense of discovery and closeness to nature that can only come with staying in a cabin or a canvas lodge. There's also an on-site shop selling essentials, fresh, milk, eggs, local sausages and bacon, even home-cooked ready meals for the evening and marshmallows for campfire-toasting. Plus they take dogs, and supply beds, bowls, towels and treats for good measure.
As for the riding, it would be silly not to give it a go, but there's no pressure at all to do so. Michelle and Marc also know all the best places to ride hereabouts, and they specialize in Western Riding, with Western-style tack and American-trained horses. They'll school you in the essentials before taking you out and will tailor each chosen trail to your requirements; they also go out in a maximum group of four so the experience is always very intimate and special. If you're more into the idea of a walking or cycling holiday, the site is within easy reach of some of the best walks, cycle paths and bridleways in the Southwest: there's nearby Blandford Forest and the Wessex Ridgeway, and the North Dorset Trail Way passes right through the village; and the Loose Reins folk will always provide a picnic to take with you.
Failing that, you could just hang out on your front porch and watch the buzzards circling; and come the evening, grab a beer and light the fire and do a spot of stargazing: it's a beautiful spot, and you may find it suits you just fine to stay put here for a few days.
Our favourite spotGlampers only, with no additional tents or caravans allowed. Large groups permitted but must book entire site (sleeps 30). No stag parties. No pets.
The local area
The campsite is located in the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale – made famous in Thomas Hardy's literature. It's around a half hour drive to the author's cottage (01305 262366), just outside Dorchester, now owned by the National Trust. While there, visit St Michaels Church, featured in Tess of the D'urbervilles and now home to Hardy's grave. Dorchester itself is packed full of museums – perfect for a rainy day – and fabulous architecture for daytime wanderings. Closer to base, explore the ancient hill forts of Hambledon Hill and Hod Hill or visit the UK Bike Park (07719 335076) in the woods just behind Loose Reins for some seriously extreme downhill cycling. The site is also around 45 minutes from Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, home of countless famous natural landmarks including Durdle Door, Kimmeridge Bay and Lulworth Cove – drive to the coast then walk a stretch of the coastal footpath. Also nearby, the Tank Museum (01929 462359) in Bovington and Monkey World (01929 462537) near Wareham are around 25 mins drive away.
Best local places to eat and drink
Some essentials are already provided in the kitchen for your arrival, plus cooking essentials such as oils, condiments, foils, films, bin bags, washing up essentials and sauces. Guests will find fresh herbs growing in a pot on their porch and your hosts will have popped a few bits and pieces in your fridge or cupboard for a drink and nibble when you arrive. For fuel you will have some charcoal for the fire bowl and a basket of logs and kindling on the porch. A small, onsite honesty shop has all your other camping basics – bacon, sausages, eggs, beans, milk, butter, juice, preserves, cereals, bread, biscuits, cakes, rice, pasta, marshmallows, chocolate and a range of home made meals made from high quality local ingredients and frozen. Pub-wise, the nearest is The Royal Oak (01258 861561) in Okeford Fitzpaine – nearly 2 miles by the wiggly roads, but about a 1 mile walk by footpath.
Why stay with us?
Cabins feature a kingsize bed and 2 single bunk beds which are created from the seating area. A kitchenette includes sink, oven, hobs, fridge and all the dining and cooking equipment needed for 4 people. A wood burner, lighting and sockets, private internal bathroom with flushing loo, sink and shower. Covered porch with rocking chairs, a dining table and benches. Plus basic larder essentials are provided as well as everyday kitchen consumables. The Canvas Lodges feature a large kitchen, dining and sitting area with sofa, armchair, chest of board games, dining table and benches, wood burning stove with oven above, combination microwave, hobs, fridge and all the dining and cooking equipment needed for 6 people. A raised king size cabin bed with children’s play area underneath and opposite, through a sliding door, an internal bathroom with flushing loo, sink and shower. 2 further separate sleeping areas, one with a 4 poster, king size bed and one with 2 singles. The lodge has wood partition walls and curtains to separate the sleeping areas. Bedding, linen and towels provided in all accommodation. Riding on site includes professional tuition, trail riding and Western handling skills. See website for full details.
Three pioneer cabins – Trappers, Gold Panners and Ranchers – each sleeping up to 4 people; plus three canvas lodges – Foresters, Hazel Meade and West Coombe – each sleeping up to 6 people.
Cabins cost from £745 a week in low season to £1,065 a week in peak season; lodges £995–£1,145. There is also stabling for you to bring your own horse, but costs for this vary throughout the year.
Cabins are available all year, lodges only from March to October.
Following the A357 to Shillingstone, take the first right after the Old Ox pub into Gunn Lane; from the south, enter the 30mph speed zone and take the 3rd on the left. Continue on Gunn Lane past Everetts Lane on your right and Wessex Avenue on your left and take the next right turn into Brodham Way. Continue for about half a mile, and at the T-junction turn left into Lanchards Lane. Loose Reins is right at the end of a no-through-road on Lanchards Lane, so keep on going to the very end. On arrival, take the left-hand gate into the yard and park on the concrete apron by the little shepherd's hut. Follow the signs to the reception where we will give you your keys and show you to your accommodation. No cars are allowed near the cabins and lodges but there's a guest car park a couple of minutes' walk away on clean gravel tracks and each cabin or lodge has its own handy trolley.Train station on the Waterloo to Exeter line is Gillingham (08457 484950) in Dorset. Taxi’s are £23 or Loose Reins sometimes arrange a collection for the same money if arranged in advance.
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