This article was updated on July 2
The long, slow return to a form of tourism normality has begun, with plans to re-open attractions such as Stonehenge and Wardour Castle shortly.
Both are operated by English Heritage, which opened the first of its 400 properties on June 13. Stonehenge will open 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 will be directed via one-way systems, outdoor catering stalls will replace cafes and trestle tables will sell momentos in the open air. Guests will 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 in early August, with limited numbers.
Elsewhere, National Trust has yet to announce any plans for Stourhead although the NT began a rolling programme of re-opening gardens and parklands on June 3. All of its houses remain closed for now.
The garden, park, car park and toilets at Kingston Lacy, a 17th century country mansion, are open but timed slots must be booked in advance. The first tranche of tickets sold quickly but new slots are released every Friday. Book here.
The opening of attractions in Shaftesbury itself are also being actively considered, although it appears likely Gold Hill Museum will remain closed through the summer. As with Shaftesbury Abbey, the museum depends on mainly elderly volunteers, and maintaining safe distances is an issue. As is balancing the costs of re-opening but having a hugely reduced income – which is why the Abbey is only open at weekends, from 10am-4pm.
Many shops in Shaftesbury re-opened on June 15, with the High Street having been temporarily closed to traffic. Just south of the town, tours of Melbury Vale vineyard are hoped to re-commence in mid-July.
Most importantly, hotels, cottages, glamping/camping sites and other accommodation providers in the town and surround opened from July 4 – find out who is open and what has changed here.
One of Shaftesbury’s greatest attractions has remained open throughout: the glorious undulating countryside surrounding the town, which has given the town the hashtag #thehighpointofdorset.
Melbury Hill, the peak of Melbury and Fontmell Downs, is a strenous walk from the town or a five-minute drive to the National Trust carpark on Spread Eagle Hill (now open) and walk across the chalk downlands from there. The views are stunning, and you’ll find the best displays of glow worms here in July. Win Green, Hod and Hambledon Hills are also magnificent viewpoints, with the terrain lending itself to walking and cycling.
Just off Spread Eagle Hill is the grass airstrip and outstanding cafe at Compton Abbass airfield, with view 30 miles off to King Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead. The airfield too is gradually opening up to flight operations – and the cafe has re-opened, from 10am-4pm on Tuesday-Sunday.
NB: The Shaftesbury Tourist Information Centre in Bell Street is open six days a week (not Sunday) from 10am to 2pm.