Category Archives: News/Blog

Shaftesbury: a long walk among our landmark trees

IN June, 2018, the Shaftesbury Tree Group published a walking map taking in the best examples of old and important trees in the centre of our hilltop town (see link below). Now the group has created a second walk, based on a circular amble around the town’s perimeter. Both maps are brilliantly illustrated by landscape artist Gary Cook, who lives just outside Shaftesbury.

View and read the first map: Shaftesbury: walk landmark trees with glorious views
The story of the second map: Read (and listen to) an interview with Gary Cook, plus Sue Clifford and Angela King from the Tree Group

A LONGER WALK AMONG OUR ANCIENT TREES

This walk may take one and a half to two hours: it depends on how many gates you lean upon and muse. It begins and ends with steep hills and in part follows roads, some without pavements. We circuit the base of the greensand spur on which Shaftesbury’s medieval centre stands, more than 100ft/30m above.

Even at the bottom of the hill there are long views outwards to Melbury Hill, Duncliffe Woods and across the hedged fields to the rim of chalk hills that contain the Blackmore Vale. Glimpses up the slopes reveal steep woodland cover, some planted – the pines and beech, some spontaneous growth – birch, ash, sycamore, field maple and more.

Continue reading

Drink in the Gillingham Walking Festival. Food too

THE festival will be held this year from September 4-8 with a theme of Exploring Local Food & Drink. There are 12 organised walks of varying lengths, from a one-mile potter to a 9.5 mile circular walk from Templecombe to Gillingham.

One walk starts at Melbury Vale winery, followed by a climb up to Shaftesbury, through Motcombe and back to Gillingham – fortunately, the organisers will collect any wine purchases for you! Other walks take in Mere Fish Farm, a beekeeper and a community orchard.

A particularly interesting walk is a visit to a County Farm visit in West Stour, five miles west of Shaftesbury. County Farms are farms owned by Local Authorities and let out to young and first-time farmers, sometimes at below-market rents. They’re a vital ‘first rung on the farming ladder’ for newcomers to a sector.

There are 46 ‘starter’ farms in Dorset – the first was acquired in 1911 in the parish of Marnhull. The estate is managed by Coast and Countryside, who provide advice on agricultural and estate management issues to local councils. The five-mile walk to the farm, home to 350 dairy cattle, from Gillingham is partly along The Stour Way.

On the Friday night (Sep 6), there will also be a Walking Festival Supper Quiz at The Olive Bowl in Gillingham. Tickets cost £10 from Sheila (01747 821269).

  • The Festival comes a week after the final leg of the 50-mile White Hart Link is walked, the 6.5 mile stretch from Fontmell Magna to Shaftesbury. The trail links the five market towns of North Dorset and villages in between via existing footpaths: many stiles and bridges have been restored to make access easier.
  • Kate Ashbrook will be joining the walk: Kate is General Secretary of the Open Spaces Society, and Vice-President and Chair of the Ramblers Association, Patron of the Walkers are Welcome Towns network, and a tireless campaigner for many causes. All are welcome to join the walk, leaving Fontmell Magna Village Hall on Monday August 26 at 10.30am. More details here.

Continue reading

It’s the biggest agricultural show in Dorset

THE annual migration of 24,000 people to the Motcombe Turnpike Showground takes place on Wednesday August 14 this year, such is the pulling power of Dorset’s premier agricultural show.

The Gillingham and Shaftesbury Agricultural Show is the one that the farming community takes the day off for, with highly competitive sections for cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, poultry, rabbits, homecrafts, handicrafts, art and a huge range of classes for younger exhibitors, all need to be entered in advance.

The Education Area, introduced in 2018, is back: it’s called Farm, Food & Fun, which aims to show how milk, meat and grain are produced on local farms and how it eventually reaches the table, with lots of hands-on activities.

“The 2019 Show looks all set to be one of the best events ever, with a record number of trade exhibitors, a great range of attractions for all the family and entries for the competitive classes being received at a record rate,” says show secretary Sam Braddick.

Continue reading

A complete guide to cycling Shaftesbury, Dorset

IF driving down the A303, go past Stonehenge and within 30 minutes you’ll be in Shaftesbury. And if taking your bike by train, jump off at Tisbury or Gillingham: both are within two hours of London.

From Tisbury, it is a beautiful, gently undulating ride past Old Wardour Castle and the sleepy hollow of Donhead St Andrew: you can then cycle south of the A30 in the lee of Win Hill and only emerge onto the main road a mile from Shaftesbury itself. It will take an hour.

The A30 from the east is the only ‘flat’ entrance into Shaftesbury. The town is built on a ridge – and all other roads, including that from Gillingham, rise steeply as you approach your destination. Which is why Shaftesbury and its hinterland is such a perfect base for a cycling holiday.

You can take the flat road east out of town into the Chalke Valley and Cranborne Chase, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AoNB). Or you can head west and south down into The Blackmore Vale, Hardy’s Vale of the Little Dairies. The views are stunning, as they are from Shaftesbury itself.

There are dozens of established routes to explore Dorset’s quiet lanes, plus the North Dorset Trailway (once a railway line) and Okeford mountain bike park with five downhill runs and lift service. Cycling for all ages and grades – and don’t forget Gold Hill….

Continue reading

A 26-mile family cycle ride from Shaftesbury, Dorset

“THERE is a lot of lovely off-road biking around here around the back lanes,” says Will Norgan, owner of Hammoon Cycles in Shaftesbury.

He and his family like to cycle the countryside east of Shaftesbury and accessible via the only flat road into the town. It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which recently received £2.5m of funds to spend on a series of projects – including improved cycle routes.

Here Will shares his favourite route out of Shaftesbury, a 26-mile ride “along beautiful lanes” with plenty of suggested stops. It’s a gently undulating route with some tree cover, easy for family cycling, and mostly on single track or quiet lanes. There is only one short climb going into East Knoyle, and a one-mile busy stretch of road on the return to Shaftesbury.

Continue reading

2019: The 23 best festivals in North Dorset

Music, food, arts, crafts, theatre, cycling and walking, agricultural, steam and oak fairs…. CLICK ON THE MAP FOR LOCATIONS

SHAFTESBURY is the epicentre for dozens of festivals and events that bring the town and surrounding area alive for much of the year. After the end of the snowdrop season in March, things start to warm up at Easter through to October, with music, food, cycling, theatre, crafts and walking festivals among the many reasons to visit and stay in Shaftesbury this summer. All the events listed here are less than a 30-minute drive from town, so pick your event and we’ll see you here.

Continue reading

Take a tour Behind The Scenes at Stourhead

NOT many people know this. Every winter, when Stourhead House is closed to the public, the volunteers run special tours into the back passages of the house while it is being cleaned and the conservators move in to do their work.

The tours are free (although you have to pay the £17.50 admission to the house) and provide a fascinating insight into the colossal work that goes on just to keep the house going and its contents preserved.

Today is the first of 44 days when the Behind Closed Doors tours operate over the five floors of the house, including the servants’ quarters in the attic and the below ground storerooms.

Three tours run on most days through to March 8. Booking is essential by calling 01747 841152 and groups are usually up to 15 for each tour. Shaftesbury Tourism accompanied four members of the British Guild of Travel Writers on a visit last year, and this is what we found….

Continue reading

Shaftesbury in December: Christmas shopping and stargazing

REASON NUMBER ONE
IT’S CHRISTMAS!

The second-highest market town in England, has the biggest Christmas Street Fair in Dorset (on December 16) 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. As a bonus, there is free car parking in Shaftesbury on Saturdays in December!

NOV 30: Gillingham Christmas Parade and Lights Switch-on, 5pm. A Christmas Market will be held, with gift and food/drink stalls, rides and music before the procession starts from the Town Hall to Town Meadow at 6pm. The Mayor will switch on the lights and there will be carols with the Gillingham Community Choir and Gillingham Imperial Silver Band at the tree.

DEC 1: Shaftesbury Farmers’ Market, Town Hall, 9am-1pm
3: Shaftesbury Christmas Spectacular and the turning on of the Christmas Lights. The evening starts at 6pm: there will be carol singing with Shaftesbury Town Band and a countdown to the lights. Father Christmas will be in the grotto in the Town Hall with free presents for every child street. An added attraction this year is a pantomime twist – a giant beanstalk on the Town Hall made up of leaves designed by schoolchildren. There will also be late night shopping until 8.30pm.
7: The Shaftesbury Christmas Art Fair, Town Hall 10am-4pm. At the monthly fair in November, some 345 visitors popped in. Come buy an original piece of art as a brilliant Christmas present.
7: Bell Street Christmas Special, Shaftesbury Arts Centre. Following last year’s success, the Bell Street Christmas Special is back for another year of yuletide fun! Come along for a night of songs, dances and comedy with a side of delicious nibbles. £8, 7.30pm
8-9: Craft Fair, The Mitre Inn. Inaugural small stall event on the pub decking – jewellery, Christmas prints, cards, tea cosies, glass painting, baubles, cushions, felt art, sweets cart, lamps. Plus Sants on Saturday at 2pm, hog roast, mulled wine and cider, 11am-5pm.
9: Christmas Craft Fair, Rivers Meet, Gillingham, with a German bar and food + Oompah band
16: Shaftesbury Christmas Street Fair, 100 craft and food/drink stalls – the biggest Christmas street market in Dorset. 10am-4pm. The Churches Together group will be performing their annual nativity play at 1pm.

Continue reading

The Hovis Loaf is restored to Gold Hill, Shaftesbury

Photos: James Thrift

THE Hovis loaf that has sat atop Gold Hill for 38 years has finally been returned with a fresh look, ready to butter up tourists looking for a photo opportunity on their visit to Shaftesbury’s iconic attraction.

The loaf was created in 1980, seven years after director Ridley Scott put Gold Hill on the map with his Hovis advert – and two years after The Two Ronnies version.

The advert has been voted Britain’s favourite television advert, and has resulted in tens of thousands of visitors to the hilltop town. It was built as a donations box and information point, the idea being that money collected be used for the ongoing upkeep of Gold Hill.

But it has suffered badly from wear and tear, vandalism and attempted break-ins. Health and safety saw the stale loaf moved to a siding outside the Town Hall in case it slid down the hill (unconfirmed reports say ‘joyriders’ once rode it down the hill in the snow.)

It stood there until 15 months ago, with few realising it still welcomed donations. “There was hardly any money put in,” said Anne Giberson, chairman of Shaftesbury Tourism and owner of The Chalet B&B.

The Loaf was taken away for restoration but its sudden disappearance concerned many: “Hardly a week went by without somebody asking after the loaf,” said Elaine Barrett, chair of Gold Hill Museum.

Continue reading

An app to bring history alive on Cranborne Chase

The Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AoNB) has been awarded nearly £140,000 to develop a phone and tablet app expected to greatly increase the number of visitors to the Shaftesbury area.

The grant is from the North Dorset Local Action Group (NDLAG), which allocates funding to rural businesses and community groups to help them create jobs, grow and benefit the wider rural economy.

I’m on the NDLAG, and think this the most exciting of all the tourism-related projects we’ve supported. I spoke to Roger Goulding of the Cranborne Chase AoNB, to learn more about the thinking.
Continue reading