PUBLISHED: 12:23 27 April 2009 | UPDATED: 11:39 28 February 2013
Discover with Edward Griffiths the ancient traditions and 21st-century delights of this charming town
Roadside welcome signs tell visitors that Shaftesbury is a 'Saxon Hilltop Town'. Indeed, the 'bones' of this lovely town are so rock-solid and ancient that the many improvements and developments over the past few years, whilst making Shaftesbury more attractive to visitors and residents alike, haven't changed the town's unique historic appeal at all.
At the turn of the century, people from St James's suburb - almost a separate village below the immense stone-buttressed retaining walls of Shaftesbury Abbey - climbed Gold Hill to the top town's street markets and shops, as their forefathers had done before them. On the way, there always seemed time for a chat with Gold Hill's resident ladies in their long skirts, predominantly white blouses and white aprons. Another route to town was up Stoney Path and Pine Walk, arriving at the west end of Park Walk, a delightful terrace with colourful gardens, which were laid out in 1753.
In the 1930s, shoppers and visitors parked their cars along High Street, outside the Town Hall and up to The Commons. The Town Hall still had its iron railings and archway then, but these were soon given up for the war effort. Shaftesbury's 21st-century town centre is much brighter these days. Around the Town Hall, Thursday markets and Farmers' Markets keep up Shaftesbury's ancient traditions, and people from St James's still climb Gold Hill to the busy shops. On the way, they meet friends and visitors enjoying al fresco dining with fabulous views down Gold Hill.
Some parts of High Street and The Commons have recently been pedestrianised but above and between the attractive shop-fronts, Shaftesbury's historic architecture is still there to be admired. Every July, it's the annual Gold Hill Fair, when Park Walk is filled with colourful stalls, and jazz bands and local groups perform on stage down at St James's.
This year, on Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 May, Shaftesbury is staging its Fifth Local Food Festival, incorporating the Farmers' Market on the Saturday. Organiser Tamara Essex says: "The Festival brings together local farmers and other producers to promote the best in local food. Local bands and schools running games and competitions will provide the entertainment. At the Local Chef Competition in the Guild Hall, visitors can watch the chefs demonstrating their signature dishes."
Shaftesbury Town Museum, at the top of Gold Hill, is packed with items of local interest illustrating Shaftesbury's long history. The Museum is currently working on ambitious plans for a Renovation and Redevelopment Project at its listed building.
Following its application for Heritage Lottery funding, the search is continuing for contributions and partnership funding. The project will widen the understanding of Shaftesbury's heritage through improvements to visitor and volunteer facilities, with exhibitions throughout the museum, access to its archives and library for research and education, and the creation of a workspace for group visits, particularly for educational purposes.
The aim is to launch the new museum in April 2011. For further details about this project, visit www.goldhillmuseum.org.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to Anna McDowell at Shaftesbury Museum for assistance and permission to use the Museum's photographs.
is open until 31 October 10.30am-4.30pm. Adults £1 Children free.
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Make the most of your time in Shaftesbury...
• Visit Swan's Yard, for craft and coffee shops.
• Local Food Festival 2 and 3 May - details from www.shaftesburylocalfoodfestival.co.uk
• 7 June - Town & Country Fayre at Motcombe's Turnpike Showground. Country crafts, terrier racing, heavy horses, vintage cars, craft and trade stalls. www.gillshaftshow.co.uk
• 4 and 5 July - Gold Hill Fair. Grand parade, rousing music of the Wessex Highlanders, circus workshop, music in the park, plus medieval event on Gold Hill on the Sunday. www.shaftesburydorset.com
• 19 August - Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show. www.gillshaftshow.co.uk
• Visit nearby Compton Abbas Airfield, one of the most picturesque airfields in the UK, for glorious panoramic views over Shaftesbury and surrounding countryside. There's a restaurant there too, for refreshments. www.abbasair.com