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….
WE STRONGLY support shopping in Shaftesbury for the Christmas tree and table (Nb: Dec 15 – Shaftesbury Christmas Street Fair, 100 craft and food/drink stalls, 10am-4pm.)
But if you can’t get into town, or perhaps have moved away and would like a seasonal reminder of the auld home, then shopping online is the way to browse for North Dorset gifts and treats.
Many of the area’s retailers have now an online presence, and many more will follow – perfect for North Dorset ‘expats,’ and for those living here who’d like to send a gift to friends and family further afield.
All the retailers mentioned here have an online shop, so fill your boots with orders for this Christmas and support your excellent Shaftesbury and surrounding area retailers. Happy Christmas!
If you are a producer selling North Dorset-related Christmas gifts or food and drink, and have an online shop – do let us know! Leave a comment with a brief description of your product and the website.
This gluten-free and vegan plant-based food company in East Orchard, Shaftesbury, was created in 2018 by Jasmin Giles, who is passionate about promoting healthy eating, and the positive affects this can have on our bodies, the environment and our general well being. The range of ‘no-bake’ bars and ‘bliss balls’ are made using nuts, seeds, dried fruits and nutrient dense ingredients. It’s health-conscious eating, and G&G works with a yoga retreat and nutritionist locally. Jasmin also runs a catering business as well as selling her treats online.
The four bars (Raw Snickers, Orange & Almond, Berry Bounty and Salted Maca Millionaire) can be bought online (eight bars for £16.50).
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.
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 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.
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 →
NORTH DORSET is made for running. It’s rural and lumpy, which means quiet country lanes, lots of off-road running, glorious views and challenging terrain.
Shaftesbury is the gateway to three marathons: Cranborne Chase, the Rushmoor Estate (including Larmer Tree Gardens) and the North Dorset marathon, which wends through 10 villages and outstanding countryside. Dorset’s White Star Running operates several more events besides, from 24-hour events to running with kids and dogs. It’s serious, and fun.
There are also now two parkruns within 10 miles of the town, the latest on an airfield where four Tiger Moths and a Russian-owned acrobatic team are based – bring your binoculars when heading out for a 5km Saturday morning run.
There is so much choice to run fast or potter slowly. And where there be hills and running, there be lots of magnificent established walking trails. The Wessex Ridgeway and North Dorset Trailway (a former rail line) are close by, while the 50-mile White Hart Link is a trail linking the five North Dorset towns, including Shaftesbury. It’s now taking shape and being trailmarked. Some sections are complete, and the route will be complete in 2021.
Shaftesbury itself has a superb tree walk, and nearby Gillingham – on the main rail line from London to Exeter – has established walks around the old hunting forest of King John. Find out more below and bring your walking and running shoes to Shaftesbury! We look forward to welcoming you.
GOLD HILL is back! Nearly a year after clean-up work began on Shaftesbury’s iconic landmark, the final countdown began to reclaim The Hill from nature and leave it looking better than it has for a long time.
Volunteers Doug Giberson and Richard de Camin, along with Shaftesbury Town Council employee Mike Wakely, arrived early this morning armed with scrubbers, scrapers, sandpaper and elbow grease to rub down 23 oak posts that serve as handrail supports up the hill, followed by two coats of wood preservative.
A handrail has been on the hill since cars arrived, to stop them crashing into the retaining wall. There’s a photo in the excellent Gold Hill Museum from circa 1900 (right), and several others over the years – with differing numbers of posts.
One from the 1950s has none. But they were back when the Hovis advert was filmed in 1973, and have been there since. One informed source says the current oak posts have been there only 10 years. But we digress. The point is that the work on the handrail is the last act in 10 months of work funded by Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme, which has helped revitalise Gold Hill.
IT’S all very well having a nice meal, or enjoying a cold craft beer. But wouldn’t you also like to know more about how they are made – or make them yourself?
North Dorset is hotching with artisan food producers, with bread, cheese, cider, wine and charcuterie all produced within five miles of Shaftesbury. And not just staple foodstuffs: beef jerky, smoked trout and yerba mate drinks from nearby too.
Many are small producers and don’t have the resources to open their doors. But increasingly the option to get involved, to have ‘an experience,’ is on the table in North Dorset. Breadmaking, charcuterie courses, farmgate milk and open vineyards are all on the menu….Check the locations on our map, right.
AN EASY and LEVEL-ish walk around the hill top through trees and views. Most, except cobbles and steep parts (in italics) which can be avoided, is suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. Much of the walk is away from cars and you will meet dog walkers. You could easily walk it in 30 minutes.
1 START AT THE GUILD HALL at the bend in the High Street.
2 Taking care on the cobbles, you can go around the Guild Hall to gaze down Gold Hill, the view framed by receding cottages and the high, buttressed greensand wall. Then go along Park Lane, or direct from the High Street west into PARK WALK, a broad promenade with wide views over the Blackmore Vale to the south and Melbury Hill to the south-east. Nuns walked here from the 9th to the 16th century, around the Abbey founded by King Alfred for his daughter Aethelgifu. The under-town (sub-urb) of St James lies beneath the slopes.
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.