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Cerne Barn, Charminster, Dorset (Self-Catering)

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“Holidaying in
  Britain can be just
  as rewarding as
  travelling abroad —
  as we found out
  when we stayed
  at the convivial
  Cerne Barn, one
  of the interesting
  and well-equipped
  properties of
  character under the
  Dorset Coastal
  Cottages banner...”

TUCKED AWAY DOWN A LEAFY PRIVATE LANE, Cerne Barn is a charming 18th Century stone-built property that has been carefully restored and converted into a comfortable cottage that offers the perfect holiday accommodation for up to seven people.

There were four of us — two couples — but the spacious, open-plan living areas would have afforded ample room for a few boisterous children or teenagers as well. And if it all gets too much for you, there is a separate, cosy sitting room to get away for some peace and quiet.

Thoughtfully and skilfully converted, Cerne Barn is ideal for a busy holiday spent exploring the area — Corfe Castle is within easy driving distance, the coast is just ten miles South and the bustling town of Dorchester with its antiques shops, inns and bars is just a few minutes away. But the area is also perfect for a quiet, leisurely break during which time you can unwind and recharge your batteries. From the peaceful lane outside the yard there are footpaths across the fields so you can enjoy country walks or morning jogs.

On the edge of the small village of Charminster, at Wolfeton, Cerne Barn has a welcoming 'at home' feel. It is much more imposing in reality than it is in the photographs and is a wonderful surprise at the end of a long journey. You instantly settle in and discover a modern, fully-equipped kitchen to make your self-catering easy and pleasant. Nothing is left to chance. Everywhere is clean and neat — the property is cleaned between lets — and all the rooms are of generous proportions with a pervading tranquil ambience.

Beds are comfortable and we all enjoyed a restful sleep every night of our break. Bed linen is provided, along with towels, so there'll be plenty of room in the car for those sassy teenagers and their ever-increasing fashions. Just throw a few clothes in a case and go. There is plenty of cupboard space — and dogs are also welcome, so you won't even have to leave your four-footed family member behind.

Accommodation downstairs comprises a particularly large Sitting/Dining Room with squashy sofas, hi-fi, television and DVD player; a spacious Kitchen with a small Utility Room (fitted with a dishwasher and a washer/drier), a separate Sitting Room and a shower room with WC.

Upstairs there are two large bedrooms — one with an en suite shower room/WC — both with King-sized beds (five-foot), one of which converts to two singles. There are two smaller bedrooms, one with bunk beds and one with a single bed, and a large bathroom. A cot is also available if you are taking a little one. Keeping the cottage warm and snug throughout is gas central heating and two gas fires.

Outside is a gas barbecue and garden furniture on a patio and there is parking for two cars in the former farmyard in front of the barn — everything is in place for a smooth, stress-free holiday break. Thoughtful touches are books, including a history of the area and an interesting picture diary of the barn conversion, and there is also wheelchair access — although there are no bedrooms downstairs.

The owners are just across the yard if you have problems and will come over to check that everything is in order on the first day, before your holiday begins, and to pass on fascinating facts about the location. They may also let you use their beautiful garden with its stream and ponds if you check with them in advance.

Using the barn as a base, we spent a morning at Corfe exploring the castle, which was unfortunately blown up by Cromwell during the Civil War, and Corfe village shops before having a light lunch at the welcoming Bankes Arms Hotel and setting off for the coast. Incidentally, there is a model village close to the castle, tea rooms and a craft shop.
We'd taken the opportunity to drive down from Kent in one of MotorBar's test cars, which happened to be the latest Mazda2 diesel so we had plenty of fuel to cover quite a few miles on one tank. There was no problem transporting four reasonably-sized adults in comfort for sight-seeing and the practical and compact car was ideal for cruising along the winding lanes enjoying the magnificent Dorset countryside that was on our doorstep.

Lulworth Cove is wildly beautiful; a large horseshoe-shaped bay with little boats bobbing along with the surf. There are gift shops and a couple of places to eat, but mostly it is the ambience that visitors go for. Coming 'home' to Cerne Barn was a treat; somewhere to relax and put our feet up. Bliss.

The following day we headed out to Weymouth, where we happened upon The Crow's Nest, a wonderful bistro in a pleasant square, where you can enjoy a decent cup of coffee and a choice from the varied menu that includes traditional breakfasts, steak and ale pie, rump steak, chicken Caesar salad or a selection of sandwiches and baguettes. Sitting out on the cobbled pavement area in the autumn sun, sheltered by small trees, was a rare opportunity for England.

During the afternoon, Portland Bill and the lighthouse were in our sights, along with a fine view of the Jurassic Coast. Incidentally, you may like to know that you can take a mini-cruise out to Portland Castle or along the Jurassic Coast from Weymouth.

Cooking at Cerne Barn was no trouble at all, but our final evening meal was taken at The Sun Inn, just a few minutes' drive away. The menu is reasonably priced and well chosen; including Thai Curry, Cod and Chips or Steak. Returning to the welcoming warmth of Cerne Barn for hot chocolate and our final night, we knew we would most certainly be back.

Among the best of self-catering holidays in the UK, Dorset Coastal Cottages has set the standards high. You can stay by the week or — as we did — for a short break of three nights (weekend or midweek). As for Cerne Barn, we couldn't fault it — it is available all year round (with peak time restrictions) and the highest compliment must surely be that we could have stayed there forever! — Maggie Woods, MotorBar has a range of pretty and unusual self-catering cottages available for short breaks or by the week. For brochures and bookings telephone 0800 980 4070 (International: +44 (0) 1929 401 120).