Secret Stourhead – snowdrop season – wassail ceremonies – Hardy’s birthday – cycle North Dorset – Gold Hill to yourself
JANUARY and February are tough months without a little something to look forward to. A night away, with a good meal, fits the bill (we suggest Shaftesbury) – but it’s nice to have a good experience, something to make you smile until March nuzzles into view. How about a peek behind the scenes in Stourhead House and a walk through the deserted gardens with your dog? All possible, and only in January and February – read on.
Or perhaps you’d like to learn something about, say, galanthophiles (lovers of snowdrops)? You’ve come to the right place – Shaftesbury’s snowdrop season in February is the biggest event of its type in the country. Or you could learn what a wassail is in January, and congratulate yourself with a Dorset cider, or raise to glass to Thomas Hardy, visit his birthplace and read up on the author on the anniversary of his death (Jan 13).
Perhaps you’d like to get active with a 20-mile food and drink cycle ride of North Dorset (we’ve running options too), or simply enjoy Britain’s favourite view from Gold Hill and have it all to yourself…. We’ll see you soon.
REASON NUMBER ONE
THE SHAFTESBURY SNOWDROP FESTIVAL
Late January – mid-March
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.
WE STRONGLY support shopping in Shaftesbury for the Christmas tree and table (Nb: Dec 16 – 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.
Maxine exhibits her leaded glass artwork at the Cygnet Gallery in Shaftesbury – a great source for Christmas presents. She has 10 years’ experience working with glass, and produces all her work from her dedicated studio in Marnhull, including freestanding spectrum glass panels for the garden. Visit the gallery, and shop online for glass crazy birds and decorations, and a range of cards.
The Christmas glass collection includes an angel, candle, holly, robin and tree decorations: a great addition to your Christmas tree. It retails at £35.
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.
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.
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.
CRUMBS! The loaf that has sat atop Gold Hill for decades has disappeared.
The town has been agog since The Hovis Loaf, a slice of Shaftesbury life, vanished overnight. “We had a lot of people asking where it is. One guest said he heard people talking about loaf theft,” said Anne Giberson, chairman of Shaftesbury Tourism and owner of The Chalet B&B.
But Anne revealed the loaf is far from being toast: it’s simply being refreshed and repackaged, having gone a bit stale in recent years after a distinguished history.
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.
Woodcrafts, dairy farming, cheese production, steam engines and the heavy horses all have their own festivals, alongside celebrations of folklore, music, theatre and outdoors pursuits. Shaftesbury sits at the heart of these bucolic outbursts of pleasure, and is the natural place to base yourself for the parties. We’ll see you soon!