There is probably no better sight in England than the cottages of the Golden Hills and the cobblestones and rambling countryside of North Dorset.
Ridley Scott immortalized this idea in a 1973 Hovis ad. Shaftesbury and the Blackmore Valley were also Thomas Hardy’s country, appearing in novels like Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). The ancient stone walls on Golden Hill belong to Shaftesbury Abbey, founded by Alfred the Great in 888 and a heavily trafficked pilgrimage site for England’s Anglo-Saxons.
Walkers were well taken care of in Shaftesbury, climbing to a scenic overlook above Blackmore Valley and into the chalk of Cranbourne Chase, a vast expanse east of the town. Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
This famous cobblestone street winds its way down Shaftesbury High Street and is one of England’s most stunning sights.
On the right is the 14th century Shaftesbury Abbey wall, on the other a stone cottage patio mostly from the 18th century, and the North Dorset countryside unfolds behind.
Golden Hills has always been cherished, but in 1973 it was chosen as the location for Ridley Scott’s Hovis Bread ad, accompanied by Antonín Dvorak. Dvořák)’s Ninth Symphony, which gained national fame.
2. Jinshan Museum
At the top of the slope, the Jinshan Museum is housed in two historic buildings, one for the vicarage and the other for merchants in the market.
In eight galleries, you can trace the history of Shaftesbury and the wider region, browsing the fascinating clutter.
Most intriguing is the Byzantine, a ceremonial item made by local artisans and carried in celebrations celebrating the Shaftesbury water supply.
You can also check out Dorset’s oldest fire engine dating back to 1744, as well as antique examples of local lace, buttons and clothing.
The vicar’s house maintains a “squint” gap from St. Peter’s Church, which is located behind the main street.
The museum also has its own little garden with views of the Blackmore Valley that you can stare at all day.
3. Shaftesbury Abbey Museum and Gardens
Founded by Alfred the Great in 888, Shaftesbury Abbey is the most important Benedictine monastery in Anglo-Saxon England.
The relics of the teenage King St Edward Martyr, murdered in 978, were brought here in 981, turning the monastery into a place of pilgrimage.
By the 11th century, the town had three mints thanks to the monastery, and was where King Canute died in 1035. The Shaftesbury Abbey Museum is based on the excavations of the abbey and tells the story of the abbey’s Anglo-Saxon era, and its progress in the Middle Ages until it was dissolved by Henry VIII.
Decorated in bright colours, the museum is reminiscent of the interior of an abbey church, and in display cases you can savor extraordinary Saxon stonework, medieval floor tiles and a host of other artifacts found during excavations.
The abbey is wrapped in 14th-century grounds, and you can take a meditative walk in the medieval orchard and herb garden.
4. Shaftesbury Heritage Trail
Funded by the Heritage Lottery in the 2000s, the Shaftesbury Heritage Trail easily introduces the town through 12 important buildings and locations with blue plaques.
Each stop has information boards, starting with the Gothic Revival Town Hall (1827) and the 15th-century St. Peter’s Church, leading to the abbey grounds and, of course, the Golden Hill.
At Bell Street’s Old Bull Market, you can see rings of livestock hanging on the walls, and City Hall still holds the charter for this market, which dates back to 1260. The town supports more than 40 species of birds and has views north to King Alfred’s Tower at Longleat Estate.
5. Cranborn Chase
The country’s sixth largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is east of Shaftesbury.
Covering 379 square miles, Cranborne Chase is a chalk plateau belonging to the Chalk Formation in southern England.
Shaftesbury is situated next to a steeper incline, with a row of hills offering stunning views west of the Blackmore Valley.
As we’ll see, Cranborne Chase has many great viewpoints, as well as chalk prairie lined with wildflowers, Iron Age hill forts, medieval churches and lovely villages frozen in time.
Walkers and cyclists can plan epic journeys on this scenic public road, stopping for refreshments in the sunny pub garden.
6. Fontmell Down
The Fontmell Down shop in the eastern tuyere of Cranborne Chase has an ancient chalk prairie that is increasingly rare in England.
Never farmed, Fontmell Down supports 35 species of butterflies and a beautiful array of wildflowers, including nine orchid varieties and an extremely rare early gentian.
Many wildflowers grow on the south-facing slopes of the main mound, which are kept intentionally short, while the longer grass and shrubland on the lower slopes are havens for unusual insects and small mammals.
All the while, you can marvel at the far-reaching views of Blackmore Valley.
7. Melbury Lighthouse
Located above Blackmore Vale and Cranborne Chase, this 263-meter chalk was one of a series of beacons linking London and Plymouth in 1588 to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada.
The Melbury Lighthouse was purchased in memory of Thomas Hardy to protect a rural area in the Blackmore Valley, which is the backdrop for many of his works.
Stroll midsummer at Melbury Beacon, with its beautiful displays of wildflowers and butterflies, while in the north, contemplate the townscape of Shaftesbury set in idyllic countryside.
You can also head west into the Blackmore Valley for a walk through this ancient woodland on the twin peaks of Duncliffe Hill at 210 metres.
This is one of the largest ancient woodlands in the region, covering more than 220 acres and was recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Duncliffwood has been the property of King’s College Cambridge for five centuries and is now managed by the Woodland Trust.
The linden trees growing here are estimated to be 1,000 years old.
Some of the trails can be tricky as the woodland is partly on steep, steep slopes, but in the spring, the exhilarating display of hyacinths will make you forget about the climb.
9. Win Green
The highest point of Cranborne Chase is just 5 miles from Shaftesbury city centre.
At 277 metres, Win Green is defined as Marilyn for its prominence in the landscape and is managed by the National Trust.
Try clear weather for the climb as the panoramas are stunning, stretching all the way to Shaftesbury, northwest to Glastonbury and Quantock Hills, and south to the Isle of Wight more than 30 miles away.
Skylarks are a mainstay of the English countryside and can be heard on the hills all year round, especially in spring and summer, while in warmer seasons chalk hills, adonis blue and dark green fritillary are among the many species of butterflies on Win Green a part of.
10. Old Vaudour Castle
When it was built in the 14th century, the old Vaudour Castle was in the lead, a luxurious residence on a hexagonal floor plan.
William Wynford (1360-1405), one of the most successful masons in medieval England, was employed in its construction.
In the 15th century, the founding Lovells lost their fortunes for supporting the Lancasters in the War of the Roses, and the Arundels, loyal to Charles I, were involved in the English Civil War in the 17th century.
Ever since the siege of Henry III, Lord Arundel, his own residence, the old Vadodau Castle has remained a ruin, albeit a very fortified one.
At the entrance to the main entrance you can still see the Arundel coat of arms, English Heritage offers an audio guide that draws your attention to many features in the stonework, such as the 16th century bust of Christ and the rooms like the Great Hall, Great Drawing Room, Butter, waiter and kitchen.
11. Lamer Tree Garden
A short walk into Cranborne Chase is the Lamer Tree Garden, designed in 1880 by a Victorian archaeologist and ethnologist. Petrievers intends to use the garden as a playground for “public enlightenment and recreation,” open for free (though you’ll have to pay today). Peacocks roam among private gazebos, rhododendrons, mature hardwood trees and manicured lawns, as well as various small monuments such as colonial-style gazebos, Roman temples, Nepali chambers and a monument to Nicholas Poussin ( Nicolas Poussin’s Funeral of Fución on the amphitheater stage in the background.
Picnics are encouraged and you can borrow deck chairs and croquet equipment for free.
The Lamer Tree Festival in mid-July is a folk and world music event known for its family-friendly atmosphere
12. Shaftesbury Arts Centre
In 1957, the old roofed market in downtown Shaftesbury was turned into a gallery and performing arts venue, hosting exhibitions, theatre, live music, stand-up comedy, dance performances and a range of workshops and classes.
The Shaftesbury Arts Centre is run entirely by volunteers and is an important local facility, with something going on most days, from performances by the area’s talented artists and photographers (lasting one to two weeks), pla Mention, after-school drama class to movie screenings Friday nights.
Every July, the Shaftesbury Fringe is a comedy event held in conjunction with the annual Golden Mountain Festival.
13. Melbury Valley Vineyards
Established in 2003, this vineyard about a mile south of Shaftesbury is located on the south-facing slopes of the picturesque Stickel Valley.
Melbury Vale Vineyard grows cool-climate grapes such as Pinot Noir, Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner and Bacchus, producing wines including dry sparkling whites, Grace, fruity sparkling rosés, Decadence and Elegance, a wine with Pale wine notes of honey, elderflower and pear.
Completed in 2013, the on-site winery features many sustainable design elements such as a wildflower meadow roof and rainwater harvesting.
You can call the winery store on Fridays and Saturdays to taste the wines before buying, and you can contact the vineyard in advance for a tour.
14. Jinshan Market
On the first Sunday in July, a cosy celebration takes place on the idyllic abbey grounds as well as on the High Street.
There, you can hang out around the market stalls while youngsters ride donkeys.
One of the more quirky local traditions is the “Van Pull” along the High Street.
Abbey Grounds has live music throughout the day, while the normally closed Trinity Church tower is open to marvel at one of the best views in town.
All proceeds go to local causes.
15. Shaftesbury Market
Thursday is market day in Shaftesbury and the streets are packed with stalls selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, eggs, fresh bread, pastries, honey, preserves and more.
On Thursday mornings, you can also head to Town Hall to visit the Village Market, a more casual local merchant selling homegrown seasonal produce and handcrafts, home-cooked food, flowering bulbs, and the occasional free-range pork and lamb.
For more local groceries bought directly from the producers, there is a farmers market on the first Saturday of each month and a craft market on the High Street on the third Sunday in summer.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Shaftesbury, England
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