The long, slow return to a form of tourism normality has begun, with Stonehenge open and Old Wardour Castle to follow shortly.
Stonehenge opened on July 4, with timed tickets needed to be booked in advance. Deer now nibble the grass around the stones, and a family of hares are nesting in the ring, says a report in The Guardian, in which EH chief executive Kate Mavor says people should expect a markedly different experience, much of which will become the “new normal” for visits to historic sites.
Visitors are being directed via one-way systems, outdoor catering stalls have replaced cafes and trestle tables sell momentos in the open air. Guests also need to pre-book tickets with a specific time slot.
The narrow corridors and close quarters of Wardour Castle, a 14th castle very close to Shaftesbury, present more challenges and its re-opening is taking a little longer. It will open on August 3, with limited numbers.
Elsewhere, National Trust has yet to announce any opening plans for Stourhead house and Alfred’s Tower, although the car park, shop and gardens are open. You will need to book in advance to visit. All of NT’s houses remain closed for now.
THE TOP FIVE FULL ENGLISH SPOTS IN SHAFTESBURY (as voted for by members of the Shaftesbury, Dorset Facebook group).
Last Saturday morning, at 8.30am, Paula Whitworth posed a question on the Shaftesbury Facebook group: “Best place to go for a full English breakfast?” Some 80+ comments and dozens of likes later, members of the 6,700-strong group had voted. And the results were:
January-March: Go behind closed doors at Stourhead
January: The 92nd anniversary of Thomas Hardy’s death this month (and June 2020 marks the 180th anniversary of his birth)
January: Celebrate cider with a wassail in January!
February: Dark sky stargazing on Cranborne Chase
Bonus event: Have Gold Hill to yourself!!
REASON NUMBER ONE
THE SHAFTESBURY SNOWDROP SEASON Late January – mid-March
Are you perhaps a galanthophile (a lover of snowdrops)? You’ve come to the right place – Shaftesbury’s snowdrop season is the biggest event of its type in the country.
Shaftesbury Snowdrops is a project that aspired to create Britain’s first ‘Snowdrop Town’ – and it has succeeded. The project began in 2012, since when more than 200,000 snowdrops have been planted. A further 20,000 were bought to sell on, at cost, to help build links with neighbouring festivals. The unique community-owned Shaftesbury heritage collection has also grown during the past year to more than 100 varieties.
The study day at Shaftesbury Arts Centre (alongside the Gallery’s snowdrop art exhibition and a pop-up shop) will be held on February 8 and comprises lectures, lunch, Q&A with an expert panel and horticultural talks. Tickets cost between £35-£40: you can book here.
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….
“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.
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.
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.