From great bustard tours to dry stone walling – Rachael Rowe presents The BV’s guide to local gifts for the person who has everything.
We all have that one person for whom gift buying is increasingly tricky. Maybe they’re hard to please – or perhaps they’re just someone who really doesn’t need or want anything. Christmas gift buying can be challenging. There’s also a growing trend to not buy more things, but instead to enjoy experiences – you might give the promise of something to look forward to in 2024.
Although there are well-known national gift voucher schemes, The BV team prefers to support our local businesses, and we’ve found several ways to give family or friends an experience to remember, and one that also highlights the best of the Blackmore Vale and the surrounding area.
Meet the bustards
Great Bustards were a common feature on Salisbury Plain and the wider English countryside – that is, until the Victorians shot them to near extinction. Thanks to the endeavours and diligence of the Great Bustard Group, there are now around 100 of these huge, magnificent birds in Wiltshire. They are thought to be the heaviest flying birds on earth. The conservation group offers tours where visitors can learn about great bustards and view the birds from hides on Salisbury Plain. You’ll also help fund their valuable conservation work.
A two-hour tour is £25
Garden visits galore
The Newt, between Castle Cary and Wincanton in Somerset, is based at the former Hadspen House estate. Here the South African entrepreneur Koos Bekker has created new gardens, a deer park, restaurants, shops and food and drink businesses.
There is an annual membership at The Newt which not only gives unlimited access to the Somerset attraction, but also some of the country’s most famous gardens including The Eden Project, Kew, Great Dixter, Wakehurst, Blenheim, Chatsworth, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and even Bekker’s South African estate, Babylonstoren.
£85 per person
Tour and taste local wine
Dorset is full of award-winning vineyards with wonderful wines. Visiting a vineyard and learning about how the wine is produced is a great way to discover more about the local food industry.
Try the guided tour at Langham Wine – their English sparkling wine has beaten top Champagne brands in international competitions (see our review of the Langham Wine vineyard picnic experience here). The two-hour experience costing £25 per person and includes a tutored tasting of three of their wines.
Learn to make a lardy cake
If you’re looking for a baking masterclass there’s nothing quite like the original bakehouse at Oxford’s Bakery in Alweston, with its century-old ovens still in daily use. Participants are taught baking skills by the one and only Steve Oxford, and will learn to create a range of fabulous baked goods, from lardy cakes to bread rolls (a huge amount of goodies are produced in the lesson to take home and devour as well!). Choose from sourdough, traditional baking or lamination.
£99 per person.
Drive a steam train
For any railway enthusiast who ever dreamed of being a train driver, Swanage Railway has a range of exciting experiences that make excellent gifts. There’s the chance to drive a steam train (under supervision, thankfully …) along an 11-mile stretch of railway, learning how the engine works. And for those who just want a day out there are fish and chip journeys or a simple steam ride through the Purbeck countryside. Gift vouchers are available from the Swanage Railway website.
Steam train driving experiences are £295 – and they sell out very fast.
Create your own Dorset charcuterie
Buffets and cold meats are popular all year round, but The Real Cure offers charcuterie workshops where participants get to make their very own chorizo or homemade bacon.
Participants will learn about cold smoking, different types of curing, preparing a gammon and making chorizo on a one-day course. It’s an excellent way of preparing for Christmas 2024 while learning something new.
£180 per person
Walk with alpacas
Animal lovers will adore a walk in North Dorset with an alpaca. The 90-minute experience with Alpaca Adventure includes meeting the delightful creatures and learning how to handle an alpaca, followed by a leisurely walk around the fields near Shaftesbury.
Gift vouchers start from £20 for an adult walking experience.
Learn the art of dry stone walling
If you know someone who loves a DIY project or who has a bit of garden landscaping to do, a weekend dry stone walling course makes an unusual but practical gift.
Dorset Dry Stone Walling Association is running beginner courses in 2024, where participants learn all the basics. It’s a wonderful way for someone to be able to say, ‘I did that’.
£120 for a weekend course.
A Dorset cream tea
What could be nicer than a full Dorset cream tea landing on your doorstep? The Dorset Hand-Made Food Company sends beautifully packaged cream teas, including festive variations, all over the country, and you can select a delivery date 30 days in advance. Prices start from £33 for a cream tea for two people.