FOUR Dorset businesses have been praised as the best of the best in a national awards scheme celebrating excellence in the tourism industry.

The winners of the annual Awards for Excellence have been announced by VisitEngland - and the South West has again outperformed all other regions.

Weymouth's Nothe Fort won Gold for Small Visitor Attraction of the Year, The Acorn Inn at Evershot won Silver for Pub of the Year, West Bay Discovery Centre took Bronze for Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism, and All Hallows’ Farmhouse Cookery School near Wimborne won Bronze for Experience of the Year.

James Farquharson, Chairman at Nothe Fort, said: “Excellence is a journey. Our team continuously strives to improve what we do. This award recognises our progress and spurs us on to continue with our museum development programme, which will include creating a more participatory experience, as well as an expensive repair to a leaky roof and a replacement lift to ensure all our visitors have ongoing access to the whole museum.”

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Discovery Centre Trustee John West who attended the prestigious awards finals event in Birmingham with his wife Sarah, said: “It has been an incredible six months for the Discovery Centre with a string of award successes. We had no idea that we would progress from winning at the Dorset Awards through to the regional and then finally national award level.

In their comments about the centre the judges said that it has “one of the best accessibility guides ever read and is an attraction which punches above its weight”.

Mr West added “This year it’s been great to see more visitors of all ages returning and really enjoying what the Centre has to offer. We are run on a charitable basis with mostly volunteer input, so winning these awards is a big boost for everyone involved."

Natalie Legg, General Manager at The Acorn Inn, said: “We have been so overwhelmed since finding out that we were finalists for the Visit England award – we just do what we love to do each day, serving guests amazing food and offering friendly service and to be awarded Silver for best pub in England is unreal.

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“Our staff are so happy and we couldn’t be happier for them to be recognised for their achievements. Especially after the last 2 years of incredible difficulty, it means more than ever.

“Thank you to everyone who supports us from staff, locals, guests, and suppliers, it is so appreciated.”

Lisa Osman, from All Hallows Farmhouse Cookery School said: “All Hallows’ Farmhouse is a cookery school with accommodation located in the Cranborne Chase AONB. We have been welcoming guests from across the UK, Europe and North America since 2015 to cook, learn and stay here in the historic village of Wimborne St. Giles. To be recognised within the Visit England Awards for Excellence and to be congratulated for our commitment to providing an outstanding visitor experience is overwhelming. We are obviously thrilled to reach the final stage in this competition and to receive an award.

“We would like to thank our amazing local suppliers for their help, support and dedication, as we recognise wholeheartedly this is a team effort from everyone.”