Recipe share: Peach and Almond Cake with Cheesecake Frosting – an afternoon teatime treat in Gillingham, Dorset

Book your Dorset bed and breakfast stay directly and securely with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

I love to bake and I  always try to magic up a delicious cake when I know we have a house full of guests arriving.

This recipe is a tray bake topped with fresh sliced peaches (although I used nectarines in the photos shown here – just as delicious!)  and finished off with a cream cheese, cheesecake style flavoured icing and toasted flaked almonds. It’s perfect with a cup of Dorset tea or coffee at the end of a long journey.

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The recipe is available on the Waitrose website and I’m always happy to bake it upon request – just let me know when you book!


Celebrating Thomas Hardy and his connections to Gillingham, Dorset

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This weekend (June 2nd) saw the 178th anniversary of the birth of Dorset’s most famous writer, Thomas Hardy. His last three novels (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and The Woodlanders) were all set in North Dorset and we take great pride in the area’s connections to this great writer.

The article shared below is a re-blog from the Shaftesbury Tourism site and details Hardy’s connections to the area, how Dorset is reflected in his work as his fictional creation ‘Wessex’ and where and how you can still visit some of the sites described in the books.

(Spoiler alert: Gillingham appears in “Jude the Obscure” as Leddenton and we have copies of the book and the film in our rooms).

NORTH Dorset was a huge inspiration to Thomas Hardy. The principal towns, Shaftesbury and Sherborne, both feature heavily in his novels, with Gillingham also playing a supporting role.

In the surrounding countryside, the Blackmore Vale was the backdrop to his most lyrical writing about nature, with the honey stone village of Marnhull home to Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Indeed, Tess, Jude the Obscure and The Woodlanders – his last three novels – were all largely based in North Dorset.

If following in his footsteps, it makes sense to base yourself in Gillingham, then walk, cycle or drive Hardy’s rolling landscapes and historic places. We’d also suggest dropping down to Dorchester to visit the County Museum and it’s treasure trove of Hardy’s effects. The birthplace of Hardy, his family’s cob and thatch cottage outside Dorchester, is open every day this summer.

Margaret Marande from Shaftesbury also recommends finishing your Hardy trip in Dorchester. She is the author of The Hardy Way, first published in 1995. It is a 220-mile marked walking trail through Hardy’s Wessex, with his words and poems alongside each section of the route. Margaret is now 81 and in May 2018, walked the route again for charity.

Follow our guide to the places which inspired Hardy and which remain largely the same today. The real place names are followed by the names Hardy ascribed to them in his novels and poems. Take a look at our Google map of the locations detailed below.


Shaftesbury plays a leading role in Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. In Tess, Jack Durbeyfield visits the doctor and learns he has a bad heart. Phillotson runs a school there. Jude visits to see Sue Bridehead, who is wed to Phillotson and they flee Shaston together.

According to The Word Travels, which runs a Hardy literary tour of Dorset, Sue and Phillotson lived at Ox House in Bimport, near The Duke’s Arms (The Grosvenor Arms Hotel). Jude walked Park Walk, with views out over Wiltshire: it’s the site of the former Shaftesbury Abbey, founded by King Alfred (871-901) and whose gardens can still be visited.

Jude also walks through the ‘Avenue of Limes’ in Trinity Church, which are still there, and the churchyard which lies ‘nearer to heaven than the church steeple’ – which is the Bury Litton graveyard just around a sharp bend at the end of Bimport. It was that of St John’s, a church long gone, but whose churchyard was absorbed into the parish of St James church, 150ft down the hill. There are three huge yew trees on the site, dating back to the 15th century.

The view from Park Walk in Shaftesbury: taken from outside the abbey

In Tess, Shaston is one of the boundaries of her world, seen from her home in Marlott (Marnhull) “standing majestically on its height.” Hardy was fascinated by Shaftesbury, calling it “the city of a dream” because of its history and “one of the queerest and quaintest spots in England … breezy and whimsical”.

GILLINGHAM (Leddenton)

The town is four miles northwest of Shaftesbury. In Jude the Obscure, Hardy named the headmaster of Leddenton’s school as … George Gillingham. He and fellow headmaster Phillotson were friends, and Phillotson sought his advice when his marriage to Sue failed. Hardy writes that as Phillotson left his friend to walk back to Shaston, “no sound was audible but that of the purling tributaries of The (River) Stour.

MARNHULL (Marlott)

Tess Durbeyfield (Tess of the d’Urbervilles) was born and brought up in this village seven miles west of Shaftesbury. After falling pregnant to Alec D’Urberville, she returns to Marlott and gives birth to a baby boy, who dies in infancy. The Durbeyfield home is a gorgeous, privately-owned Elizabethan-period thatched cottage (now called Tess Cottage) south of the village, down a single track cul-de-sac. Tours of the cottage can be arranged through The Hardy Society.

Tess Cottage in Marnhull, Dorset

In the novel, Tess walks across the fields to Marlott (there’s a public footpath just outside the cottage) in search of her parents in the pub. There were two in the village: The Pure Drop Inn (The Crown Inn) and Rolliver’s (The Blackmore Vale Inn). John Durbeyfield tells Parson Tringham that The Pure Drop serves a “very pretty brew in tap – though, to be sure, not so good as at Rolliver’s”.

The Blackmore Vale Inn was sold last year but has happily re-opened as a pub. The Crown Inn still goes strong. A priest’s hole links to St Gregory’s Church next door, where Tess buried her dead child. The pub has 15th century oak paneling, a huge open fire and settle chairs. Hardy books and a Hardy trail map are given to all guests staying in the seven rooms.

The Crown Inn, Marnhull, Dorset

Japanese and German tourists on The Hardy Trail are regulars, as are walkers. Hardy described the landscape as one “in which the fields are never brown, and the springs never dry.” In his portrayal of the Blackmore Vale he notes that it is “for the most part untrodden as yet by tourist or landscape-painter.”

And he adds in Tess: “Here in the (Blackmore Vale), the world seems to be constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale; the fields are mere paddocks, so reduced that from this height their hedgerows appear a network of dark green threads overspreading the paler green of the grass. The atmosphere below is languorous, and is so tinged with azure that what artists call the middle distance partakes of that hue, whilst the horizon beyond is of deepest ultramarine.

SHERBORNE (Sherton Abbas)

The market place is where Giles Winterborne stood with his sample apple trees in The Woodlanders: the 15th century Sherborne Abbey is where Giles and Grace Melbury talked of their future.

In Woodlanders, Hardy says that the hotel at Sherborne was the Earl of Wessex, “a substantial inn of stone with a yawning back yard into which vehicles were driven by coachmen to stabling of wonderful commodiousness.” He was referring to The Digby Hotel, where Giles set up his mobile apple press in the yard – and where Grace saw him for the first time after her marriage.

The hotel is no longer extant, but it’s worth digging out the Digby Tap pub on part of the hotel site. It’s a cracking, flagstoned, right old fashioned back street bar, with no airs or graces but groaning with old timbers and faces, and extremely good ales. Good lunches too.

EVERSHOT (Evershed)

In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess walked from near Plush (a village northwest of Dorchester) some 15 miles west to Beaminster and back to plead for her marriage to Angel Clare. Halfway is the village of Evershot, the second highest village in Dorset and still a time warp place of prettiness.

It was one of the locations for the 2015 film Far from the Madding Crowd. In the village is The Acorn, referred to in the book as The Sow and Acorn. The pub also features in two of Hardy’s other stories: in Interlopers at the Knap, Philip Hall collected Sally’s dress left here by the courier. And in The First Countess of Wessex, Squire Dornell’s man Tupcombe sat in the inglenook in the hope of hearing news of Betty: Hardy also liked to take a drink in that inglenook.

This is also where Tess breakfasted at this thatched cottage next to the church. You can’t miss it: the home is now called Tess’s Cottage.

Tess’s Cottage, Evershot, Dorset

Information: A walking guide and map, of the 15-mile route from Plush to Beaminster (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Tour 2) is available from The Thomas Hardy Society.


For nearly two years from July, 1876, Hardy lived at Riverside Villa, just outside the town and close to the mill. This was the happiest period of his marriage, and where he wrote The Return of the Native (1878) and poems including Overlooking the River Stour and On Sturminster Footbridge.

Now a private house, the pink and blue villa overlooking the Stour boasts a blue plaque: Hardy said the location was idyllic, watching “swallows fly in curves of eight, above the river’s gleam.” The town also appears as ‘Stourcastle’ in his Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

The Mill at Sturminster Newton

DORCHESTER (Casterbridge)

He was born near here, died here and based one of his most famous novels here, The Mayor of Casterbridge. Dorchester is awash with Hardy connections: he was a founder member of Dorset County Museum which holds more than 7,000 of his items, including a first edition of Far From The Madding Crowd from 1874.

Three miles east of the town is Upper Bockhampton, where he was born in the family home in 1840. He grew up in the cottage, which is backed by Thorncombe Woods, and walked to school in Dorchester from 1849-1856, initiating his love and understanding of the countryside. In 1867, he returned from working as an architect in London to live in the cottage, and wrote Far From the Madding Crowd there in 1874. The book was his first success, and enabled Hardy to move out and get married.

An impressive new National Trust visitor’s centre opened in 2016, and the cottage is open every day this summer. From the centre, there is a lovely walk through the woods woods to the cottage, which sets the scene beautifully for the visit. The gardens are immaculate, the house fascinating: a good way to finish your Dorset Hardy tour.

Hardy was born in this cottage at Higher Bockhampton, three miles east of Dorchester, in 1840

Keep Calm and book your BnB stay in Gillingham, Dorset – DIRECT!


Book your Dorset bed and breakfast stay directly and securely with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

|| Last week it was National Book Direct Day here in the UK – a campaign urging us all to book and buy goods and services directly from the original provider, rather than through a third party. Going direct saves money, supports small businesses and gives you a more personal service.

I saw something on Twitter along the lines of “Nobody at [a big chain hotel] ever went “Yay!” when they get a new booking, but the owner of a small B&B always celebrates!” and it’s so true – I’m always delighted to see new guests pop up in my #bookdirect in-box.

So, why book your B&B stay here directly with us rather than via a third party? Let us count the ways.

By booking directly and supporting a small business, we’re able to pass some significant benefits and offers back to you – we call these our Website Exclusives and they include:

  • The very best prices: you will always pay the lowest available price for your room and breakfast when you book directly with us through our website
  • Discounts and promotional codes are available through our Special Offers page
  • A wide range of online extras, packages and services to add to your booking: how about early check-in, late check-out, or use of the hot tub?
  • A complimentary welcome drink upon arrival
  • Delicious cooked to order breakfasts, with a wide choice of options, upgrades and Specials
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    Avocado Toast (v)

    (And if you’re vegan/plant-based, please request a free PDF copy of our vegan breakfast menu when you book)

  • Free luggage storage
  • Fluffy robes
  • Your choice of bedrooms: Church View, Blackmore Vale View or Garden View
  • Discounts when booking Room Three (Blackmore Vale View) for single occupancy and
  • Multi-night discounts on Room Two (Garden View) for Sunday to Thursday stays
  • Complimentary walking maps and routes available in your room upon request or ask us for our free PDF of eight local walking routes when you book
  • A list of suggested pubs and restaurants (free PDF)
  • Walking/driving directions – how to find us (free PDF)
  • Delicious Dorset snacks menu available (free PDF)
  • Complimentary dog treats and a special offer code for dog owners

We look forward to meeting you soon.


Let’s do brunch! New ‘weekend’ menu available in Gillingham, Dorset

Book your Dorset bed and breakfast stay directly and securely with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

|| Who doesn’t love a bit of brunch at the weekend? I love checking new brunch spots and dishes wherever I am and our newly launched ‘weekend’ brunch menu reflects some of our favourites, as well as some new ideas.

(We first tried out the Parmesan French Toast as an Easter Weekend special and it proved to be so popular that we’ve decided it’s earned a place on the regular menu!)

Parmesan French Toast, Spoilt Pig bacon, roasted tomatoes

Brunch items are available from 8.30am onwards on Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holiday Mondays and by request if you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary or other event.

And also … fancy a lazy morning on the day you check out? Enjoy two Brunch items and a late check out (to 12 noon) for just £20.00. Please ask!

Let’s do brunch!

Our current Brunch suggestions are:

Toasted Waffles with a Berry Compote, Maple Syrup and Lemon Cream

Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon and your choice of either Toast or a Toasted Muffin

Parmesan French Toast with a side order of Bacon or Veggie Sausages

Build Your Own Benedict – Eggs Benedict how you like it: combine a Toasted Muffin, two Poached Eggs and your choice from Wilted Spinach, Hollandaise Sauce and either Bacon or Smoked Salmon

Breakfast in a Mushroom – a Portobello Mushroom stuffed with Pancetta and served with creamy Cheese and Chive Scrambled Eggs and Roast Tomatoes (request it without the pancetta for a vegetarian option)

Mushroom, Halloumi Cheese and Tomato Stack – served on a Toasted Muffin (vegetarian)

We look forward to meeting you and cooking brunch for you soon!

GillFest 2018 tickets now available – Ralph McTell, Arthur Smith, Ren Harvieu and many more come to Gillingham, Dorset

Book your Dorset bed and breakfast stay directly and securely with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

|| Tickets for GillFest 2018, Gillingham’s wonderful community festival, are now available via their website (complete with multi ticket discounts) and this year’s line up is as amazingly eclectic as ever.

GillFest 2018 – part of the line up

Headline artists include folk legend Ralph McTell, comedian Arthur Smith and singer/songwriter Ren Harvieu, all of whom will be performing in one of Gillingham’s small, intimate venues (spoiler alert: and all of which are a Very Easy Walk from a particularly well located B&B …)

Last year’s line up included Rick Wakeman and Cara Dillon; we had guests staying with us for both of these gigs and in each case,  the guest managed to get to chat to the musicians afterwards and get photographs and autographs. So if you ARE a fan,  GillFest provides an amazing opportunity to enjoy a really intimate, friendly show with performers who appreciate the chance to play in a small venue.

GillFest runs from 29th June to 8th July 2018 and the full programme of events plus a secure online ticket buying link is available through their website.

Don’t forget to book your tickets and your accommodation … and, as part of our support for the Festival, just mention that you’re coming to stay as part of GillFest and we’ll include a few little extra freebies* in your booking.

(* probably edible, definitely home-made)

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Restaurant review: Tapas night at The Wine Bar, Gillingham, Dorset

Book your Dorset bed and breakfast stay directly and securely with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

|| We reviewed our fabulous local restaurant The Wine Bar on here a few months ago and popped back for a return visit last week in order to try out their new Thursday evening tapas menu.

It’s a fixed price meal for two and offers a bottle of Prosecco and six generously portioned dishes (with vegetarian alternatives on some) plus home made bread and dips for £30.00.  Excellent value, absolutely delicious food and, as always, exemplary service from co-owner Sarah and her front of house team. I actually don’t now want to cook on a Thursday evening anymore!

Here’s a couple of captioned photos of what we had, plus the tapas menu.


Additionally,  the main menu has also been refreshed – I need to go back soon and try the pan fried hake with Thai green curry and tempura prawns!

As a reminder, The Wine Bar is based on Queen Street, an easy walk from ‘Sunflowers’, and is open for lunch and dinner (closed on Mondays). They do a Sunday lunch carvery as well as a Wednesday evening “Steak Night Special”: two steaks with all the trimmings plus a bottle of wine for £30.00.

We’re always happy to send our guests there and to include The Wine Bar in our list of suggested local eating spots. A copy of the main menu, the tapas menu and walking directions on how to find the restaurant may be found in our in-room folders – please ask us to book you a table when you make your reservation with us if that would be helpful.

As always, our blog reviews are unbiased, are our own personal opinions and are based on a self-funded visit to the venue. 

The Wine Bar
20 Queen Street

Tel: 01747 825 825

Opening hours:

Monday: CLOSED
Tuesday: CLOSED
Wednesday: 12 noon to 3.00pm; 5.30pm – 10.00pm
Thursday: 12 noon to 3.00pm; 5.30pm – 11.00pm
Friday: 12 noon to 3.00pm; 5.30pm – midnight
Saturday: 12 noon to 3.00pm; 5.30pm – midnight
Sunday: 12 noon to 4.00pm

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Recipe share: home made traditional Irish brown soda bread – a delicious part of your bed and breakfast stay in Dorset!

Book your Dorset bed and breakfast stay directly with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little free extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

Enjoy a little taste of Ireland here in Dorset with this traditional Irish recipe for home-made brown soda bread – as taught to me at the Dingle Cookery School in Co. Kerry last year when I attended one of their cookery master classes.

Don’t forget to request it when you book so that I can bake a fresh loaf for you!


300g brown/wholemeal flour
200g plain white flour
80g porridge oats/oatmeal (separated into 70g and 10g)
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda, sieved
A generous pinch of salt
300 – 400 ml buttermilk (the exact amount will vary, dependent on the dryness of your ingredients and the humidity in the air. I know this sounds crazy but it’s true; I need more buttermilk when I bake this bread in Dorset than I do in Ireland, where the climate is damper!)


  • Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C/180 fan
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, reserving 10g of the porridge oats.
  • Using a wooden spoon, add the buttermilk until the mixture sticks together in a stiff porridge consistency.
  • Turn out onto a floured tray and shape into a flat, circular loaf around 3″ deep and 8″ across. Use the handle of the wooden spoon to make the traditional cross in the top. Sprinkle with the remaining oatmeal.
  • Alternative baking shape: use a 2lb loaf tin (this will require additional cooking time)
  • Bake for c. 30 minutes. Check that the bread is cooked by putting a skewer into the centre of the loaf and if it comes out dry, the bread is done. If wet, the loaf needs a few more minutes.
  • Cool on a wire rack – although the bread is delicious when warm, let it cool down a bit or else it will crumble when sliced.
  • ENJOY!

Recipe share: enjoy Banana Muffins as part of your delicious breakfast here at Sunflowers B&B, Gillingham, Dorset

Book securely and directly with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little free extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

|| I’ve been getting my bake on recently and experimenting with some new breakfast ideas, particularly involving gluten-free and vegetarian recipes.

Later this year, we have two separate sets of returning guests booked in for the same weekend. One guest particularly loves banana cake. And the other couple are gluten-free … so my mind turned as to how I could combine those twin facts into something delicious that everyone could eat and enjoy … and I landed upon these banana muffins.

Homemade banana and almond muffins

The original recipe is here on the BBC website, but I modified it in order to make it gluten-free for Jonathan and Sue. If you want to do the same, just swap out the flour and baking powder for gluten-free versions (I used Doves).

I also added an additional tablespoon of milk to the amount specified in the recipe, as gluten-free recipes can incline to be a little drier than their gluten-included siblings. And I exchanged the walnut topping for flaked almonds, as that’s what I had in my baking cupboard on the day I gave these a try.

My tasting panel (me, Steve and my mum!) enjoyed the muffins as they are or sliced into two and then buttered, and the BBC recipe suggests serving them with bowls of sliced banana, crème fraiche or yoghurt (The Dorset Dairy Company’s Greek-style would be perfect for this), runny honey and extra walnuts (or almonds).

Don’t forget – let me know if you’re gluten-free, vegetarian or have any other food preferences when you book – and if you want to try some of my home baking or any of the other recipes here on the blog, mention that too.

In concert: Beth Nielsen Chapman in Gillingham, Dorset, March 2018 – come and stay and enjoy our B&B as well as a great performance

Book securely and directly with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little free extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

|| Tickets for the first of this year’s GillFest shows are now on sale and we look forward to welcoming American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman to Gillingham next month for what will undoubtedly be a fantastic concert.

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Beth Nielsen Chapman

It takes place on Saturday 10th March at the same venue where last year GillFest hosted rock maestro Rick Wakeman; it’s a small and intimate auditorium space, so a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the music of a legendary country and pop singer-songwriter up close.

Room One – Church View

We currently have rooms available over the weekend of Friday 9th and Saturday 10th March 2018,  so why not check the GillFest site for gig tickets and book your stay with us at the same time?  The concert venue is just a short walk from ‘Sunflowers’.

Concert tickets can be bought online via the GillFest website and you can also see some video footage there of Beth performing.

See you in March!

Valentine’s Day 2018 – why not make date night an overnight and spend it in Gillingham, Dorset?

Book securely and directly with us for the best price, delicious breakfasts and lots of little free extras – check availability here. Our online calendar is always up to date.

|| Farewell, January – we made it through (what always feels like) the longest month of the year and now we can look forward to falling in love with longer days, bank holidays, spring flowers, Easter – and Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day 2018 

Our 2017 Valentine’s package was a complete sell out,  so don’t miss out if you fancy treating yourselves to this year’s Special offer.

Book a mid-week overnight stay for Tuesday 13th or Wednesday 14th February 2018 and enjoy:

  • Early check in on the day you arrive: we’ll welcome you to ‘Sunflowers’ from 2pm onwards
  • Tea, coffee and home-made cake upon arrival
  • A night in one of our two lovely double en-suite bedrooms: Church View or Blackmore Vale View
  • A complimentary bottle of chilled Prosecco, complete with ice bucket and glasses
  • Use of the hot tub, with fluffy robes, pool towels and the Floating Drinks Tray
  • A delicious breakfast, at a specially decorated table – why not try one of our legendary Specials? (normally only available at weekends!)
Blackmore Vale View

This special offer is only available when you book directly with us through our website, so don’t delay – click today and get your Valentine’s on!

(And if you can’t make Valentine’s Day – why not take a look at our calendar of local events and plan your trip to ‘Sunflowers’ to tie with in one of the many 2018 festivals or activities?)