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Plumber Manor
Sturminster Newton, Dorset

by Sarah Shuckburgh

Old-fashioned hospitality and country pursuits in a family-owned manor in rural Dorset.

Plumber Manor (pronounce the B - this isn’t to do with plumbing) has been home to the same family since it was built by Charles Brune the early 17th century. The hotel’s genial and talkative proprietor, Richard Prideaux-Brune, inherited the house at the age of 22, and has run it as a hotel since 1973. He is often asked by guests if the manor was once his family seat, and he replies that it still is - he and his wife Alison brought their children up here, and they still live here. It certainly has the comfortable feel of a family house - a huge sagging sofa shows the wear and tear of many children‘s somersaults, and family portraits hang in the three dining rooms and around the large first-floor gallery. Richard Prideaux-Brune gave us a guided tour of his ancestors, including a great-grandmother who was one of her generation’s great beauties, and some of the grander Prideaux cousins, from Padstow, Cornwall. One painting, of his own children, featured the huge sofa before it collapsed.

First Impressions:
The setting is idyllic and utterly rural. The Jacobean manor house is built of Dorset stone, and is surrounded by lawns and tall trees. The Devilish Stream runs through the garden, and beyond lie miles of peaceful rolling countryside. This is Blackmoor Vale, described by Thomas Hardy in Tess of the D’Urbervilles as the Vale of the Little Dairies, a lush and beautiful landscape where Tess finds (short-term) happiness. Little has changed here for centuries - a nearby bridge over the Stour river bears a 15th century sign warning that anyone injuring the bridge will be transported for life.

There are six bedrooms leading off the first-floor gallery in the manor house, and a further ten in cleverly converted stone stables across the lawn. The bedrooms are large, warm and comfortable. On the first day, we failed to find our tea-making equipment, successfully hidden inside a cupboard. When we did find the tray, we were disappointed by the sachets of long-life UHT milk, but delighted by the delicious home-made biscuits.

Reasons to stay here:
1. Hunting, shooting, fishing, riding and golf - available on request.
2. Free stabling for guests’ horses.
2. Dogs - there are two resident labradors, and visiting dogs are welcome in the ten stable-yard rooms.
3. Local places of interest include Milton Abbas, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Cerne Abbas, Athelhampton and Stourhead house and gardens.
4. Visit places described in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles - the Vale of the Little Dairies, Tess’s cottage, the Dew Drop Inn, and Stourcastle (Sturminster Newton, where Hardy wrote Return of the Native).
5. Unspoilt Dorset countryside and coastline.

Not suitable for:
1. People looking for designer chic - this is more like a family home.
2. Spring half-term breaks - the hotel is closed throughout February.
3. Dog-haters - when we stayed here, most of the stable-yard guests seemed to have brought their dogs, including us.

“Eating in, eating out”
The chef is Brian Prideaux-Brune, younger brother of the proprietor. Plumber Manor first opened as a ’restaurant with rooms’ and diners come here for traditional English dishes made from fresh Dorset ingredients. The dessert trolley is spectacular.

Plumber Manor
Sturminster Newton
Dorset DT10 2AF
Tel: 01258 472507
Fax: 01258 473370
16 rooms
Prices: doubles £110-£170

First published by Travel Intelligence Ltd

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