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.
Further reading: A longer walk among our trees, taking in the outskirts of Shaftesbury. (https://www.shaftesburytourism.co.uk/shaftesbury-a-longer-walk-among-our-ancient-trees/3003377).
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.
NORTH Dorset was a huge inspiration to Thomas Hardy. The principal towns, Shaftesbury and Sherborne, both feature heavily in his novels, with Gillingham also playing a supporting role.
In the surrounding countryside, the Blackmore Vale was the backdrop to his most lyrical writing about nature, with the honey stone village of Marnhull home to Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Indeed, Tess, Jude the Obscure and The Woodlanders – his last three novels – were all largely based in North Dorset.
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. Woodcraft, cheese, steam engines and heavy horses all have their own festivals, with celebrations of music, theatre and outdoors pursuits. Shaftesbury sits at the heart of these bucolic outbursts of pleasure, and is the natural place to base yourself to party.
We look forward to welcoming you to Shaftesbury this summer, #TheHighPointofDorset.
MAY 13 SHAFTESBURY FOOD & DRINK FESTIVAL
Watch grown men race up Gold Hill carrying 14” diameter truckles of cheese weighing 55lbs. Women and children race too, and a team relay event to boot.
The Cheese Races are the brainchild of Charlie Turnbull of the ubiquitous cheese deli in town – sadly, this is Turnbull’s last day in business, as Charlie seeks new adventures. So let’s make it cracker of a cheese day! Barnaby Cox won the men’s event for four consecutive years until 2017 – will he claim his crown back? Will the firemen take the team title?
The Cheese Races form part of a wider Food & Drink Festival: there will be 100 stalls the length of the town, featuring the Anonymous Travelling Market on Park Walk, as well as producers from The Dorset Farmers Market and Dorset Food and Drink in the High Street.
SHAFTESBURY residents and visitors have the choice of another fresh-from-the-farm milk supplier, with Madjeston Milk Station opening at Newhouse Farm outside Gillingham.
Madjeston Milk Station
It’s the latest dairy farm in the area to install a vending machine filled daily with milk from the herd and pasteurised on the farm itself. The service opened last month, and is now available 24 hours a day – just turn up, put £1 in the machine and fill your re-usable litre bottle. Or £2 for two litres.
With farmers earning an average 30p a litre from commercial customers, being able to sell directly to customers for £1 is a great benefit. And the customers get creamy unhomogenised milk while supporting farmers who, at Newhouse, have kept it in the family since 1927.
Reports from farms that have installed the machines suggest sales of 60-70 litres a day, the figures doubling at weekends. Let’s say 500 litres a week, so an improved income of £350 a week.
Take out (generous) running costs of £100, and the start-up costs of building a shed for the vending machines, security cameras and so on, and farmers could pay off the cost of a £15,000 vending machine within two years.
Stourhead is just 10 miles from Shaftesbury and the garden remains open year-round (the house remains closed on weekdays after Christmas until March 13, although open at weekends).
The landscaped garden was created more than 250 years ago. In winter, as the leaves have fallen, you can clearly see the design and how Capability Brown’s vision has turned into something spectacular.
The garden temples take pride of place during winter, offering viewpoints and shelters before you continue on the circular walk around the lake. The winter light, a result of the low sun, also creates wonderful shadows throughout the day allowing the garden to be seen in a new perspective. Sight isn’t the only sense that benefits from the winter season; sounds are amplified around the garden due to the lack of leaves.
The garden itself is quieter, with fewer visitors, and so you are more likely to see some of Britain’s native species of birds. And as a bonus, visitors are able to take their dogs on a lead between December-February all day, every day.
You can combine the walk with a Behind-Closed-Doors guided tour of the house, to learn about the conservation work at Stourhead. The tours are being held three times daily on 29 days in January and February, 2018. They are free, but normal admission charges apply to the venue.