Shaftesbury has probably the best known view in Dorset away from the coastline. The irony is that although it is known to millions, many think it’s in Lancashire!
The view in question, is that of Gold Hill, a picturesque, cobbled street which has the gloriously green Blackmore Vale as a backdrop.
Back in the 1970’s “Hovis” used Gold Hill as the the location for a popular television advert in which a young delivery boy pushes his bread-laden bike to the top of the hill to make his last delivery of the day. The image, and the voiceover which accompanied it, became a classic of its time and in the days before satellite or digital TV was seen by many millions. The advert, and the view on which it was based, became something of an icon for all things nostalgic, wholesome and, unjustly, Northern!
Gold Hill is beautiful, especially on a clear day, and quintessentially Dorset. Its cottages and cobbles arc gently around and down the natural contours of the hill on which Shaftesbury sits.
This ancient market town, perhaps by virtue of its elevated position, has a unique, and at times, almost continental feel to it. It is a settlement whose development and expansion has been determined by its geography, with small streets and houses crammed into the available space. But like many historic towns that have grown overtime, the most interesting parts are at its centre, with the outer layers of the town rather ordinary.
Those who know their Thomas Hardy, will recognise this central core of Shaftesbury as the “Shaston” of Hardy’s Wessex, which features in “Jude the Obscure” among other works.
Wandering the streets and alleys of “modern” Shaftesbury it is easy to imagine Hardy and his characters treading the same steps. In places, little will have changed.
Shaftesbury is an interesting and pretty place to explore, but outside of Gold Hill, the Abbey and Park Walk (a wide promenade with great views across Blackmore Vale) visitors may be hard-pressed to find activities beyond local retail therapy to hold their interest.
You could view that as a disadvantage, but you might be better viewing it as a sign that this is a good place to drop into for coffee or lunch. Shaftesbury is one of those places that can be fitted neatly into a wider tour of the more northerly delights of Dorset.
If you’re passing that way anyway, take the chance to drop in, see the view and take some refreshment in one of the many cafés, pubs or restaurants.
Alternatively, plan to go there for lunch and take the view as an added bonus. If that’s your motivation, the best way to combine both activities might be the “Salt Cellar”. This fantastically situated Café sits at the very top of Gold Hill. In fine weather you may be lucky enough to get one of the tables out on the cobbles and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and the view of Gold Hill and the Blackmore Vale beyond.
If not, the view from inside, especially tables near the door, is nearly as good.
The food, for a place with such a special location, is both surprisingly good and surprisingly good value. The menu covers a broad spectrum from morning coffee to afternoon cream tea, with some interesting, tasty and filling salads and lunches in between! And it won’t break the bank.
That may, of course, be an indication of supply and demand. Shaftesbury, lovely though it is, is a little off the beaten track for many a visitor to Dorset. It’s not on the coast, and it’s the coast that most visitor gravitate towards. All but the most studious and earnest will probably find that, lovely though it is, Shaftesbury will hold their interest for anything from a few hours to half a day maximum, but it is unlikely, of itself, to be the core focus of a complete visit to Dorset. That said, it is definitely a place worth including on any Dorset “Grand Tour”, whether undertaken on foot, cycle or by motor.
Other places in the area worth considering as part of a wider North Dorset tour include Sherborne, and Sturminster Newton (especially the Old Mill).
Is it too sweeping to suggest that Shaftesbury is Gold Hill or that Gold Hill is Shaftesbury? Clearly either suggestion would be wrong. There is much more. But, perhaps not helped by its famous TV persona, which was of such impact at the time that it is still a factor today, it may be difficult to appreciate the rest of what Shaftesbury has to offer if it is Gold Hill that you have come to see.
And many go there for that reason alone. But once you have found it, seen it, admired it and walked up and down it, you have pretty much “done” Gold Hill. You won’t have “done” Shaftesbury, but the temptation may be to assume that you have.
Whether or not you decide to run with that assumption is entirely up to you and the time you have available to explore Dorset’s finer details, of which there are many. Gold Hill is certainly one of them and, thanks to TV advertising, still amongst the most famous.
Gold Hill is beautiful, especially on a clear day, and quintessentially Dorset. Its cottages and cobbles arc gently around and down the natural contours of the hill on which Shaftesbury sits..."