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Shaftesbury Snowdrops 2016

PUBLISHED: 12:35 05 February 2016 | UPDATED: 12:35 05 February 2016

Daisy admires some of Shaftesbury's snowdrops

Daisy admires some of Shaftesbury's snowdrops

Archant

Drifts of snowdrops represent more than the first signs of spring to Shaftesbury’s residents, it is a Diamond Jubilee legacy that has blossomed into something very special, says Sara Niven

February isn’t generally a month associated with celebration – unless you’re anticipating a flood of Valentine’s cards or were born on the 29th and 2016 means a birthday for the first time in four years. However in the north Dorset town of Shaftesbury it’s a very different matter.

Often associated with the iconic Hovis advert of the grocer’s boy pushing his bike up the cobbles of Gold Hill, the town has recently been making a name for itself with something entirely unrelated – snowdrops. Since 2012, when the idea of planting these small white flowers was first adopted as a way to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Shaftesbury has been going snowdrop crazy. The original goal was to plant 60,000 bulbs. Four years on, more than 200,000 have been planted by volunteers around the town, forming snowdrop trails which can be enjoyed by all, including wheelchair and pushchair accessible routes.

The first Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival in 2013 was a week long affair that coincided with half term. It has now developed into a ten-day event, incorporating everything from snowdrop-themed craft classes, exhibitions and poetry competitions to a Wild Goose Chase for youngsters.

The creativity around this event is endless - the local Knit and Knatter group have put their needles together to knit a giant snowdrop and snowdrop-inspired cakes and cocktails are stirred and shaken around town. Even local coffee shops are considering topping their cappuccinos with special snowdrop stencils.

“Just as the flowers provide pleasure and the promise of spring to come, the Festival creates a sense of excitement and brings townspeople and visitors together in enjoying everything Shaftesbury has to offer,” declares the project’s leader Pam Cruickshank, who came up with the idea of the Shaftesbury Snowdrops five years ago after being inspired by a winter snowdrop walk. “Whether you’re seven or 70, an avid gardener or don’t know one end of a spade from the other, there will be something you can get involved with.”

Such is the pride in this event that Shaftesbury’s Mayor, Richard Tippins has invited numerous dignitaries to this year’s celebration to see how the town has created a full blown festival from one simple idea. His VIP guests will be treated to lunch, a tour and watch the parade of illuminated snowdrop ‘lanterns’. This will wind its way up Gold Hill concluding with dancing and a bonfire. The route will also go via a hospital and care home ensuring that everyone can enjoy the spectacle.

Besides bringing the community together and their obvious aesthetic appeal, the snowdrops provide other benefits. During the 2015 Festival the local Tourist Information Centre reported four times as many visitors as would usually be expected in February and although organisers are keen the event remains community not commercially driven, as Chamber of Commerce chairman, Clive Carter explains, there is a welcome knock on effect for the town’s economy and its many independent shops.

“The Festival and snowdrops have become an additional reason for visitors to come to Shaftesbury during what can be quieter months for any town. Local businesses lay on an especially warm welcome and many shops display maps showing where visitors can find the snowdrops.”

Becoming Britain’s first ‘snowdrop town’ has also put Shaftesbury firmly on the internationally. Galanthophiles (the official name for snowdrop lovers) come from across Europe and beyond for the snowdrop study day and a chance to encounter the latest discoveries from specialist growers. More than 50 different types of snowdrops are displayed in the Shaftesbury Abbey gardens and the town has the beginnings of a collection of rare varieties which over time is set to become the first National Collection held in public trust.

In addition, Shaftesbury will host one of the largest UK sales of rare snowdrops, whilst a talk on Woodland Gardens by award-winning garden writer and author Val Bourne is another Festival highlight.

“There is a great sense of putting something back into the community as well as a chance to meet lots of like-minded people and social aspect,’ explains Christine Stott, a Shaftesbury resident who became involved in the Snowdrop Project with her husband Keith two years ago. “Both of us see the snowdrops as having a huge importance to the heritage, future and infrastructure of our beautiful town.”

Another volunteer, recently retired civil service manager, Matthew Tagney combines various roles in town affairs including managing the Snowdrop Project’s social media.

“Of everything I’m involved in, this has introduced me to the widest range of new people in and around the town,” he says. “I feel I’m part of something very positive for the town’s identity.”

The Snowdrop Project’s Pam Cruickshank credits its rapid success to both a plentiful supply of willing volunteers (more than 1,000 have helped to date) and a swell of support from residents and local organisations. “Shaftesbury has really embraced both the snowdrops and the Festival and I’m astonished how much has been achieved in such a short time,” adds Pam. “Both have become our community’s 21st century legacy.”

One wonders what Her Majesty the Queen would make of a community creating a new tradition for future generations to enjoy out of an idea to mark her Diamond Jubilee? Whilst Her Majesty may not be entering a snowdrop-inspired poem or taking part in the Wild Goose chase any time soon, the project has already received the official seal of Royal Approval with a visit last September from HRH The Countess of Wessex.

They say that from little acorns grow mighty oaks but in the case of Shaftesbury, one small flower has truly blossomed into something much bigger than anyone originally anticipated.

Snowdrop Festival Highlights

The Snowdrop Festival runs from 12–21 February and boasts a whole host of activities from children’s craft and bowling sessions to pastel and photography workshops, wine tasting afternoons and a chance to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the snowdrops (after climbing all 126 steps) from Shaftesbury’s 26 metre Trinity Tower. The final parade on Sunday 21 February is a must. For full details visit shaftesburysnowdrops.org, or Facebook.com/ShaftesburySnowdrops and follow on Twitter @SnowdropWalks.


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