Things to see and do in Shaftesbury
PUBLISHED: 11:14 06 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:14 06 June 2017
Sara Niven reveals some hidden treasures in this historic hilltop town with sweeping views of the Blackmore Vale
Shaftesbury really comes into its own in summer, and as the second highest market town in England (Buxton being the first), you can enjoy some fabulous vistas over the picturesque Blackmore Vale. Known as ‘Shaston’ in Thomas Hardy’s novels, there are lots of reasons to make you linger longer in this north Dorset town.
Top of the list is a visit to the steep cobbled street of Gold Hill. Recently voted one of the UK’s prettiest streets it is a real Dorset gem. If you prefer just to admire the sweeping views, then approach Gold Hill from the top, where you can soak up the panorama from The Salt Cellar restaurant and café.
Out and About
Those with a love of art will enjoy browsing the main gallery at Shaftesbury Arts Centre on Bell Street. Andrea Jenkins, whose work is inspired by the sea, and wood fired pots created by Jonathan Garratt feature in a two week exhibition starting on 7 June. Nearby in Swans Yard is The Cygnet, a fabulous gallery that sells work from a broad range of local artists (thecygnet.org.uk).
In the summer the town is hit by festival fever. Gold Hill Fair (2 July), organised by Shaftesbury Rotary Club, has been running since the mid 80’s. Originally a one day event, solely based on the Hill, it now includes Park Walk and St James Park and incorporates a street parade on the Sunday. It also features the legendary Cheese Race up Gold Hill!
Timed to coincide with this annual event is the Shaftesbury Fringe. Running 30 June – 2 July it features a packed weekend of entertainment from comedy and cabaret to children’s shows. This year’s line-up of 80 performers across 30 different venues includes Africa Entsha, a pop/acoustic a capella group, stopping off in Shaftesbury during their world tour. If it all gets a little much, join in one of the free open air meditation sessions in the Abbey Gardens. Full listings at shaftesburyfringe.co.uk.
A Sense of History
Shaftesbury Abbey is at the heart of the town’s heritage. Established in 888 by King Alfred the Great, it was one of England’s most influential Benedictine nunneries until 1539 when it was destroyed during the Dissolution. The excavated foundations of this Saxon abbey lie within a peaceful walled garden which has over 100 herbs, similar to the ones the nuns would have once cultivated.
The Abbey Museum has displays of medieval stonework, an interactive virtual tour and activity packs for children. Events taking place here in June include a Herb Walk & Talk with medical herbalist, Julie Wood (17 June, 2.30pm & 3.30pm) and open air Shakespeare on 23 June when the Festival Players perform The Merry Wives of Windsor in the Abbey Gardens (gates open 6pm for picnics, performance starts at 7.30pm). More details at shaftesburyabbey.org.uk.
Nearby, Gold Hill Museum provides a fascinating insight into rural and town history including displays on the once thriving local industries of lace and glove making and Dorset buttons (goldhillmuseum.org.uk).
A Taste of Shaftesbury
The newly refurbished Grosvenor Arms, right in the heart of town, provides an upmarket but relaxed place for a glass of wine, wood fired pizza or dinner. The jungle-themed cocktail and music bar Angola 76 on Mustons Lane is a popular hot spot, with regular live music and open mic nights.
Order breakfast or afternoon tea at The Ugly Duckling in Swans Yard where you can sit outside before browsing the lovely shops in the courtyard. For a pub lunch with sensational views head to The Mitre on the High Street to tuck into a menu that ranges from sourdough and smashed avocado to beer battered fish and chips. Also on the High Street, King Alfred’s Kitchen is worth checking out for its great coffee and Dorset apple cake.
On warm and sunny days enjoy a picnic on Park Walk, overlooking the Blackmore Vale or find a spot in Castle Gardens, where you can see Glastonbury Tor on a clear day. Do it in style and order a picnic from the renowned local deli, cheesemongers and bistro Turnbull’s Deli, prices start at £50 for four to enjoy a range of sweet and savoury goodies with plates and cutlery included.
Fancy a picnic in a vineyard? Melbury Vale Vineyard lies just outside the town at Foots Hill, Cann. It is open daily during the first week in June for tastings and tours to mark English Wine Week. The first 2,000 vines of this sustainably run vineyard were planted back in 2008 and this month they launch their first sparkling wine. Founders Clare and Joseph are happy to let visitors picnic in their orchard areas. Find out more at mvwinery.co.uk.
For information on accommodation, events and attractions in and around Shaftesbury visit shaftesburytourism.co.uk.