48 hours in Gillingham and Shaftesbury

James Kingston tells a tale of two towns, both rich in history and with plenty to offer the visitor

48 hours in Gillingham and Shaftesbury

James Kingston tells a tale of two towns, both rich in history and with plenty to offer the visitor

Though barely four miles apart, the Saxon towns of Gillingham and Shaftesbury are distinctly different. Gillingham lies in the warm sheltered pasture-lands of the Blackmore Vale, while Shaftesbury, with its famously steep Gold Hill, boasts outstanding views. The second most obvious difference is the local materials used in their respective buildings. Shaftesbury’s ancient houses are mostly of local green sandstone, while Gillingham’s are nearly all good, solid, locally made red brick. So with two very different towns, each with its own special personality, there is plenty to explore over 48 hours.   

  Stroll around Gillingham Starting in The Square, by The Phoenix and Gillingham Imperial Silver Band’s HQ, walk into St Mary’s churchyard. Built more than 900 years ago, St Mary’s was largely rebuilt in the 1830s. Stroll along the High Street, passing over the Town Bridge which John Constable painted on a visit in 1820. Some of Constable’s other works can be seen in Gillingham Museum. Continue along High Street, past the Victorian Methodist Church, and pause a moment to peruse the ‘honesty-box’ bookstall at Crockers ‘traditional ironmongers’. Turn right into Station Road, going past some traditional cottages, then turn right into Buckingham Road. At the end, go over the footbridge into the Chantry Fields riverside walk. Passing behind Waitrose’s corner caf�, cross the footbridge, go through the Red Lion’s car park, past the Old Town Lock-up, which operated from 1760 to 1880, back into The Square.

Stroll around ShaftesburyStart at the top of Gold Hill, outside Shaftesbury Museum, or walk up from the bottom if you’re really fit! Through narrow Park Lane, emerge onto Park Walk for magnificent views over St James to the Stour Valley and Compton Abbas Airfield on the edge of Cranborne Chase. Behind you are the Abbey ruins and Gardens. Turn into Abbey Walk and cross Bimport at the end. Turn left, past 17th-century ‘Ox House’, featured as Old Grove House in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Turn down the brown-signed lane to Castle Hill. From here enjoy the magnificent views into the Blackmore Vale, from Duncliff Hill on the left to Kingsettle Hill on the right escarpment. Walk back along Bimport to The Commons and High Street, where you’ll find the Town Hall and the medieval church of St Peter’s. Back to The Commons, turn into Bell Street where you’ll find the Arts Centre, Tourist Information and rows of typical Shaftesbury cottages.   

Eating out There is a wealth of places to eat at in both Shaftesbury and Gillingham – here are just a few. Behind the Georgian facade of the   beautifully renovated Hotel Grosvenor in Shaftesbury is The Greenhouse Restaurant. Headed up by award-winning Michelin star chef and Dorset boy Mark Treasure, who worked at London’s Caf� Royal and Langan’s Brasserie, it has racked up many rave reviews for its Dorset inspired menu since its opening just a few months ago. Aroma in Bell Street serves Indian cuisine in a traditional cottage restaurant with a contemporary twist. For a light lunch or tasty snack try the Green Rock Caf� in Swans Yard, where you can relax in their delightful courtyard area; meanwhile, King Alfred’s Kitchen in the High Street offers traditional cream teas and cakes in a 16th-century building. If you want to scale the steep cobbled street of Gold Hill, like the little lad and his bike did in the famous ’70s Hovis ad, then reward yourself with a visit to the Salt Cellar Caf� at the top which enjoys spectacular views over Blackmore Vale. In Gillingham’s High Street The Red Lion and The Phoenix both serve locally brewed Hall & Woodhouse beers and offer good pub grub. Further up the High Street Big Fills offers baguettes, sandwiches and cakes, while at the back of Waitrose, you can enjoy alfresco meals and coffee overlooking Chantry Fields.

Three things to take home Pick up a bag of Shaftesbury’s stone-ground flour, milled by Michael Stoate from local wheat at Cann Mill (find more about Michael on page 102). The perfect partner for your homemade bread can be found at Turnbulls Caf� and Delicatessen in Shaftesbury High Street, where Jilly Sitch sells a wide range of Blackmore Vale produce, including local cheese such as ‘Gold Hill’ and ‘Win Green’ named after the highest spot on Cranborne Chase, barely three miles from Shaftesbury. Contact 01747 858575 or turnbulls.co.uk. For a lasting reminder of your visit, Bright Moon Crystals in the Old Town Lock-up in Gillingham’s South Street offers locally made jewellery. Owners Guy Funnell and Amanda Hawkins have individually crafted pieces by local girl Emily Harris and Yvette Cannon from Motcombe, as well as hand-carved gesso orbs by Yvonne Sturgeon from Semley. Amanda’s own beautiful watercolours are reproduced as greetings cards. Contact 01747 835288.

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Though barely four miles apart, the Saxon towns of Gillingham and Shaftesbury are distinctly different. Gillingham lies in the warm sheltered pasture-lands of the Blackmore Vale, while Shaftesbury, with its famously steep Gold Hill, boasts outstanding views. The second most obvious difference is the local materials used in their respective buildings. Shaftesbury’s ancient houses are mostly of local green sandstone, while Gillingham’s are nearly all good, solid, locally made red brick. So with two very different towns, each with its own special personality, there is plenty to explore over 48 hours.

    Stroll around Gillingham Starting in The Square, by The Phoenix and Gillingham Imperial Silver Band’s HQ, walk into St Mary’s churchyard. Built more than 900 years ago, St Mary’s was largely rebuilt in the 1830s. Stroll along the High Street, passing over the Town Bridge which John Constable painted on a visit in 1820. Some of Constable’s other works can be seen in Gillingham Museum. Continue along High Street, past the Victorian Methodist Church, and pause a moment to peruse the ‘honesty-box’ bookstall at Crockers ‘traditional ironmongers’. Turn right into Station Road, going past some traditional cottages, then turn right into Buckingham Road. At the end, go over the footbridge into the Chantry Fields riverside walk. Passing behind Waitrose’s corner caf�, cross the footbridge, go through the Red Lion’s car park, past the Old Town Lock-up, which operated from 1760 to 1880, back into The Square.

Stroll around ShaftesburyStart at the top of Gold Hill, outside Shaftesbury Museum, or walk up from the bottom if you’re really fit! Through narrow Park Lane, emerge onto Park Walk for magnificent views over St James to the Stour Valley and Compton Abbas Airfield on the edge of Cranborne Chase. Behind you are the Abbey ruins and Gardens. Turn into Abbey Walk and cross Bimport at the end. Turn left, past 17th-century ‘Ox House’, featured as Old Grove House in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Turn down the brown-signed lane to Castle Hill. From here enjoy the magnificent views into the Blackmore Vale, from Duncliff Hill on the left to Kingsettle Hill on the right escarpment. Walk back along Bimport to The Commons and High Street, where you’ll find the Town Hall and the medieval church of St Peter’s. Back to The Commons, turn into Bell Street where you’ll find the Arts Centre, Tourist Information and rows of typical Shaftesbury cottages.   

Eating out There is a wealth of places to eat at in both Shaftesbury and Gillingham – here are just a few. Behind the Georgian facade of the   beautifully renovated Hotel Grosvenor in Shaftesbury is The Greenhouse Restaurant. Headed up by award-winning Michelin star chef and Dorset boy Mark Treasure, who worked at London’s Caf� Royal and Langan’s Brasserie, it has racked up many rave reviews for its Dorset inspired menu since its opening just a few months ago. Aroma in Bell Street serves Indian cuisine in a traditional cottage restaurant with a contemporary twist. For a light lunch or tasty snack try the Green Rock Caf� in Swans Yard, where you can relax in their delightful courtyard area; meanwhile, King Alfred’s Kitchen in the High Street offers traditional cream teas and cakes in a 16th-century building. If you want to scale the steep cobbled street of Gold Hill, like the little lad and his bike did in the famous ’70s Hovis ad, then reward yourself with a visit to the Salt Cellar Caf� at the top which enjoys spectacular views over Blackmore Vale. In Gillingham’s High Street The Red Lion and The Phoenix both serve locally brewed Hall & Woodhouse beers and offer good pub grub. Further up the High Street Big Fills offers baguettes, sandwiches and cakes, while at the back of Waitrose, you can enjoy alfresco meals and coffee overlooking Chantry Fields.

Events3-4 July: Gold Hill Fair, with events in St James Park, Park Walk, Gold Hill and the Abbey, and in the High Street on Sunday. Children’s Parade, Music in the Park, Farmers’ Market and stalls, Circus Berzercus, and Music in the Abbey.3-18 July: Gillingham Festival offers a variety of live music, theatre, dance, sports, food and wine, and Open Gardens.17 July: Horseless Gymkhana at Stourton Caundle is a great family day out and includes inter-pub sporting challenge, country crafts, children’s entertainment, gourmet food, car boot sale, dog show and terrier racing. Events kick off at 1pm.18 August: Gillingham and Shaftesbury Agricultural Show, held at the Turnpike Showground, Motcombe (2 miles north of Shaftesbury) includes livestock classes, scurry driving, birds of prey, gun dog displays, ferret and terrier racing, and over 450 trade, craft and food stands. Call 01747 823955or gillshaftshow.co.uk.

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