CHRISTMAS MARKETS + CHRISTMAS LIGHTS + LATE NIGHT SHOPPING + STREET FAIRS + CAROL CONCERTS + MINCE PIES GALORE + DARK SKY STARGAZING + METEOR SHOWERS + FOOD AND DRINK CYCLING TOUR + NEW YEAR WALKS AT STOURHEAD (+ BEHIND THE SCENES TOUR OF THE HOUSE) + 90TH ANNIVERSARY OF HARDY’S DEATH + WASSAILING AND CIDER CELEBRATIONS + THE BIGGEST EVER SNOWDROP FESTIVAL + WALK A REVITALISED GOLD HILL WITHOUT THE CROWDS
REASON NUMBER ONE
The second-highest market town in England has the biggest Christmas Street Fair in Dorset (on December 17) and is the epicentre of so many seasonal events. And sister town Gillingham – just down the hill and on the mainline train line between London and Exeter – is also laying on seasonal treats. Base yourself in Shaftesbury for a night or three, soak in the atmosphere and sing your heart out at a carol service, followed by a mince pie and mulled wine, naturally.
1:Gillingham Christmas Parade and Lights Switch-on, 2-8.30pm. A Christmas Market will be held all day, with gift and food/drink stalls, rides and music before the procession starts from the Town Hall to Town Meadow at 6.30pm, including the ‘Santa Express.’ The Mayor will switch on the lights and there will be carols at the tree. 2: Shaftesbury Farmers’ Market, Town Hall, 9am-1pm 2: Victoriana Gillingham, 10am-4pm. Street fair, live music, old fairground organ, Hidden Pizza, choirs on Town Meadow. 4:Shaftesbury Christmas Spectacular and the turning on of the Christmas Lights. From 6pm. Massed choirs of 200 will sing before and after the ceremony. Father Christmas will be in the grotto in the Town Hall with street food, fairground rides and traction engines on the High Street. There will also be late night shopping until 9pm – with customers given a 10% discount voucher for use in 2018.
LORENZO Ferrari has been working Gold Hill for 25 years. Not continuously, you understand. But if anything needs doing on the hill, it’s a fair bet that Dorset County Council will call for Lorenzo.
He works for the DCC but is only called on to repair listed structures, mainly bridges. And Gold Hill has been in need of some love and attention for some time. “It’s gotten so weedy, people have been calling it Green Hill,” says one local shopowner.
The hill, which is 750 years old, is invaluable to Shaftesbury as a tourism magnet. Hundreds take pictures at the top of the hill every day in summer: it ranks second-only to Durdle Door as the most photographed site in Dorset on Instagram. (Have you noticed there are no cables or TV aerials on the hill? They are banned).
The visitors bring income to the town, supporting local businesses and by extension supporting local jobs. But Gold Hill hasn’t been cleaned up for seven years, and it showed. Then Shaftesbury got lucky.
THERE ARE two types of tourists that come to Shaftesbury, says David Perry. The first category he knows as those who jump off a coach for a rest stop and will buy one bottle of Dorset beer or cider as a souvenir. Then there are those who will come by car, buy a bottle of Dorset gin, or a case of good quality wine to be put in the boot or taken to the holiday cottage.
All are valued visitors and David welcomes them to his home town. He has had a long and varied career in the wine trade in different places but eventually returned to Shaftesbury in 2008 (he had been a pupil at the old Shaftesbury Grammar School in the 1970s). He missed his two passions, he says: Dorset and wine.
He took over Shaftesbury Wines, which began life two decades ago, and now runs the High Street shop with his daughter, Alice. He has a strong desire to combine the best of wines and spirits worldwide with a strong stable of Dorset produce, be it wine, sparkling, cider, ale or spirits.
So when it came to compiling this feature about the best drinks in Dorset, with a particular emphasis on North Dorset, I knew just the man to speak to…
The White Hart Link is the new long-distance route which links the five towns of North Dorset: Gillingham, Stalbridge, Sturminster Newton, Blandford and Shaftesbury.
It’s so named as the Blackmore Vale was once known as the Vale of the White Hart, a “creature whose rarity and beauty have attracted, in legend, a wealth of mystical and royal associations,” says a report in The Guardian.
It was also described by Thomas Hardy in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. “The Vale was known in former times as the Forest of White Hart, from a curious legend of King Henry III’s reign, in which the killing by a certain Thomas de la Lynd of a beautiful white hart which the king had run down and spared, was made the occasion of a heavy fine.”
SHAFTESBURY has a very good collection of hotels, cottages and B&Bs. But as the town sits on a hilltop, there isn’t a great deal of room to innovate with glamping options. Happily, there is a great deal of space in the vales and woodlands surrounding Shaftesbury, with no shortage of innovation in recent years. New options for 2017 include a converted double decker bus, shepherd huts with hot pools and luxury safari tents.
There are now a dozen glamping sites within a few miles of Shaftesbury, many with spectacular views and settings – in oak woodlands, kitchen gardens, equestrian centres and working farms. They all add to the wealth of accommodation choices in North Dorset, alongside a number of AirBnB options. Come and stay in north Dorset for a short break, or a full family holiday: we’re halfway between London and Cornwall, just off the A303, and within easy reach of Dorset’s world famous Jurassic Coast.
CRUMBS! The loaf that has sat atop Gold Hill for decades has disappeared.
The town has been agog since The Hovis Loaf, a slice of Shaftesbury life, vanished overnight. “We had a lot of people asking where it is. One guest said he heard people talking about loaf theft,” said Anne Giberson, chairman of Shaftesbury Tourism and owner of The Chalet B&B.
But Anne revealed the loaf is far from being toast: it’s simply being refreshed and repackaged, having gone a bit stale in recent years after a distinguished history.
The gliders that landed at Pegasus Bridge on D-Day took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton, while the Americans took over RAF Warmwell for their fighter planes. Henstridge was a Fleet Air Arm training airfield: Seafires, Spitfires and Masters flew from 1943 until 1945.
Today, only one of the five runways remains. But the airport is busy, with the Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance based here – as are the Yakovlevs, an aerobatics team often seen (and heard) training over the Blackmore Vale.
Visitors still whistle the tune as they take photos from the top of the hill. The advert has been voted Britain’s favourite of all time. And Ridley did well too – he went on to film Aliens and Blade Runner, among others.
NORTH Dorset comes alive in the summer with a series of superb and well-established shows and festivals that reflect the region’s rich culture and agricultural history.
Woodcrafts, dairy farming, cheese production, steam engines and the heavy horses all have their own festivals, alongside celebrations of folklore, music, theatre and outdoors pursuits. Shaftesbury sits at the heart of these bucolic outbursts of pleasure, and is the natural place to base yourself for the parties. We’ll see you soon!