Shaftesbury in December: Christmas shopping and stargazing


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.


Sherborne, Dorset

Shaftesbury is surrounded by gorgeous rolling countryside, phenomenal walking routes and compelling places to visit like Tisbury, Sherborne, Sturminster Newton and Larmer Tree Gardens – all within 10 miles, and all with excellent pre-Christmas events.

NOV 30-DEC 1: The Dorset Brocante at Larmer Tree, Tollard Royal. A Christmas-inspired market of 40 vintage, artisan, decorative interior exhibitors and workshops. Local foodie stalls will offer light lunches and refreshments within the gardens, which will also be open to explore. 10am-5pm, £5 (children free, no dogs).

DEC 1: Sturminster Newton Christmas Producers’ Market, 10am-4pm. Food and craft stalls, carols and a grotto. Christmas Lights turned on at 5pm. Also on the day, classic cars and motor bikes, lantern making for children and an evening choral society performance, £10. Free parking all day!
DEC 1-2: Sherborne’s Annual Crafts for Christmas, Memorial Hall, Digby Rd. 10am-4pm. Unique and unusual Crafts & Gifts for Christmas or the home. Free entry.
2: Festive Shopping Day, Sherborne. Street entertainment, stalls and Christmas Tree Festival, 10am-4pm. There are also carol services in Sherborne at 1.30, 2.30 and 3.30pm. Advent Carol Service, 5pm.
8: Tiz the Season, Tisbury High Street, 11am-4pm, 40 stalls, carol singing at 3.30pm with Tisbury Community Choir, mulled wine, Santa grotto (12-3pm).
10: Christmas Concert: Sherborne Abbey’s Gift to the Town: 7.30pm Seasonal music & readings from Sherborne Abbey Choir, Sherborne Town Band, The Gryphon School & Sherborne Young Singers. Free entry.

Handmade for Christmas, The Workhouse Chapel, Sturminster Newton. 10-30am-4pm daily. More than 60 craft stalls from the West Country throughout December.
Christmas at Kingston Lacy – Christmas lights in the house and illuminated gardens, make your own bauble, Santa. Open daily in December.


A bid will be submitted in early spring 2019 to create Dorset’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, an area that restricts light pollution and promotes astronomy. The bid is being led by the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which lies to the southwest of Shaftesbury on the doorstep of the town.

There are several recommended places to stargaze within the the AONB but the nearest to Shaftesbury – and one of the most spectacular – is Fontmell Down Nature Reserve on Spread Eagle Hill, two miles away. By day, there are stunning views out to the Blackmore Vale: the landscape was bought to preserve the essence of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.

Cranborne is pressing hard to obtain International Dark Sky Reserve status (you can follow its progress at While several national parks in the UK have the mantle (Exmoor, Brecon Beacons, South Downs, Snowdonia), it would be the first AONB in the country to earn the accolade.

At 263m, the summit of the hill is one of the highest points in Dorset. An Armada beacon sited here in 1588 formed part of the chain of signal beacons stretching between London and Plymouth. What better place to witness the other navigational tools used by sea farers worldwide – the mystical constellations. This site offers superb panoramic views which, apart from Win Green, are unparalleled in the AONB.

DEC 13: Spend an evening with astronomer Bob Wizon, the Cranborne AoNB team and Wessex Astronomical Society – talks on what to see, progress of Dark Sky Status and some stargazing to boot, telescopes provided. Nerw Remembrance Hall, Charlton, 7pm. Details here. To give you an idea of what to expect, read this excellent report of the last Stargazing evening in Cranborne in November.


4: Talk: pole stars of other planets, Wessex Astronomical Society, Allendale Community Centre, Hanham Road, Wimborne.
13: Cranborne Chase AoNB stargazing with Bob Wizon of the Wessex Astronomical Society – details above.
13: The Geminids meteor shower will be among the best of the year, with up to 100 meteors per hour.
14: A talk in the Learning Centre at Durlston Country Park, then telescopes available for observation of Saturn, Mars, galaxies, star clusters and the Autumn Constellation: Wessex Astronomical Society, from 7.30pm, £3.
21: Winter Solstice: the shortest day of the year, from which sunrise points start climbing north meaning longer days.