Shaftsbury, a small market town, was founded about 1,000 years ago by King Alfred the Great, the most English of English kings, credited with actually creating England from a group of disparate Anglo Saxon, Celtic and Danish kingdoms. It is one of the oldest, and highest towns in England, with views that stretch across the area of Dorset author Thomas Hardy called Blackmore Vale. Hardy included descriptions of Shaftsbury in his “Wessex” novels, as the fictional town of “Shaston.”
The town is considered a gateway to the southwest and it fits easily into an itinerary that includes Stonehenge, Bath, Bristol and the Jurassic Coast. It’s about 22 miles west of Salisbury on the A30.
Walks: The open, hilly countryside around Shaftsbury is prime hill walking territory. But do keep in mind, these hills, that look gentle and rolling are actually high and long. After a weekend in the area, even dogs can have muscles too sore for climbing steps. Bring a walking stick.
The Gold Hill Museum: This modern museum charts the course of local history from before Alfred the Great to the present day. Located at the top of Gold Hill, it occupies two ancient houses, one of them an old priests house with a peep-hole into the church.
Shaftsbury Abbey Museum and Garden: The modern museum sits in a medieval herb garden and orchard, beside the ruins of a once magnificent Benedictine Abbey founded in 888 by King Alfred the Great. The museum relates the story of the Abbey, an Anglo Saxon nunnery, that flourished for 650 years before being destroyed by Henry VIII.
In 1973, film director Ridley Scott made a television and film advertisement for Hovis, a popular British brand of wholemeal bread. It featured Gold Hill, the steep central street of Shaftsbury in Dorset and its image of a boy on a bike delivering bread to a traditional English village has been an icon of nostalgia ever since.