The Great Dorset Steam Fair takes place every year at the end of August and beginning of September and is the final instalment in my summer days out with the kids series for 2015, which has been quite a journey and taken us from Sussex to Surrey, Kent, London and Pembrokeshire.
BB didn’t want to miss any of her last week of preschool so Little B and I left Misery Guts and BB at home for this one and headed south with my sister where we spent the night in a Snoozebox hotel.
What: A traditional, nostalgic English fair and heritage show in the heart of the Dorset countryside
Where: Tarrant Hinton, near Blandford Forum, Dorset
How much: Day tickets: Adults: £20, children (six – 15): £8, under six: free (cheaper tickets are available if bought in advance, for the evening & on Sundays)
Camping: from £17 per night. Snoozebox: from £49 per night.
You might think the start of September and the new school year spells the end of summer, but it’s not over until the Great Dorset Steam Fair sings, or toots.
Despite growing up in Dorset I had never been to the fair before and had no idea it is the biggest of its kind in Europe, covering 600 acres of farmland and featuring everything from original steam engines, craft & food tents and a flea market to farming demonstrations, a fairground and vintage vehicles.
You probably need a good three days to ‘do’ the fair properly – we had two and there was still lots left to see.
My favourite field was the craft and food area where there were all sorts on offer from handmade wooden fairy houses (I knew it – they do exist!) to amazing breads and sweets.
You’re never very far from someone making or demonstrating something and there’s constant tooting and bursts of steam from the engines.
People clearly make a week of it: you can camp in the neighbouring fields and buy passes to come and go into the fair as you please.
When I say camp, I’m not talking a two-man tent either: I’m talking about a Snoozebox hotel.
You’ve only got to watch a series of George Clarke’s amazing spaces to know amazing things are being done with storage containers.
Snoozebox has hit on the novel idea of turning them into portable hotels and taking them to festivals and fairs as an alternative to glamping in tents. Needless to say when they asked me whether I’d like to try one out at the steam fair I said yes.
Ever since my nephew was sick in a tent having eaten mussels when he was one I’ve never fancied camping with a baby, but I reasoned this might be a doable compromise.
Doable in the sense you have an en suite with hot running water, it’s rain and windproof, you get a proper bed and heating or air conditioning depending on the weather.
I was right: this is totally doable with a baby.
Think Premier Inn in a box. In one single box you get a double bed, a single bunk, a wet room with loo, sink & shower, a wardrobe-cum-chest of drawers, a TV and Wi-Fi with towels and linen included.
I was told there wasn’t enough floor space for a travel cot so didn’t take one (Little B usually ends up in our bed anyway) but with everyone in bed and if you don’t mind hopping over the cot to get to the loo you could squeeze one in.
From £49 a night (they also do smaller, inflatable Snoozy Units) there’s also unlimited tea & coffee from reception and a continental breakfast in the form of a hot bacon or sausage rolls and fruit.
After a day on our feet it was great to have somewhere clean and comfortable away from the hubbub of the fair to flop with a couple of glasses of wine and watch Bake Off. Although small, there was plenty of room on the bed for us to sit and for Little B to crawl around.
With Little B nestled between me and the wall and my sister on the bunk (where you could easily fit two little people top to toe) I slept like a dream, and I’m not just saying that for the purposes of this review.
The bed was super comfortable and despite being in the middle of a row and back to back with other boxes our room was so quiet. We couldn’t hear any other guests at all.
I’m not sure how they’ve achieved it, but the box was quieter than many hotels I’ve stayed in.
We were truly sorry to leave our little haven the following morning – it was the perfect ending to a summer of family days out. BB and Misery Guts would have loved it and it’s a shame they didn’t come, but there’s always next year.
And there’s still a chance for you to go: the fair runs until Sunday September 6.
My top tips: Take cash – the site has cash points but charges £2.50 for withdrawals. And look for Fudge Kitchen in the food tent – it’s the BEST Fudge I’ve ever tasted. Lastly, if you’re booking a Snoozebox, ask for one away from the generator. It powers all of the storage containers so runs all night and according to one fellow guest is rather noisy.
If you can’t make the fair you can also find Snoozebox at the Goodwood Revival racing show, Offshore Europe exhibition and in Richmond during the Rugby World Cup this autumn – visit their website for more information.