Shaftesbury, Dorset

High Point Holidays is based in the historic Saxon hill-top town of Shaftesbury in north Dorset. This picturesque town is home to some of the finest scenery not just in Dorset, but in the whole of England. Streets such as Gold Hill, capture a quintessential English scene which is timeless and makes this relatively quiet corner of Dorset a special place to visit and walk. Our independent walking holiday which meanders across the heart of Wessex starts at the historic cathedral city of Salisbury in Wiltshire and finishes its journey at Shaftesbury in Dorset. This walking holiday - Wonders of Wessex Walk - can be viewed by following the link. The only way to really discover and appreciate the amazing beauty and historical interest of Shaftesbury is to walk around the town. Our walking holiday includes a detailed tour around the town of Shaftesbury.

Shaftesbury is a small market town in north Dorset, close to the border with Wiltshire. It is situated at 219m above sea level making it one of the highest towns in England. Its hill top location above the Blackmore Vale gives it some of the finest views in Dorset from walks along the edge of its escarpments which surround the town on three sides. The hills surrounding Shaftesbury are chalk downs which offer great ridge-top walking and form an essential element of our self guided walking holiday in England on the Wiltshire/Dorset border.

Alfred the Great founded a fortified settlement on the hill-top at Shaftesbury in 880 as a defence against the Danish. Alfred and his daughter Ethelgiva founded Shaftesbury Abbey in 888, which gave a boost to the growing importance of the town. Three royal mints were founded and the abbey became the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. King Canute died in Shaftesbury in 1035. The abbey continued to be the focus of Shaftesbury through the middle ages. However, in 1539, the last Abbess of Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Zouche, signed a deed of surrender, the abbey was demolished, and its lands sold. The remains which are accessed from Park Walk, one of the finest view points in the town, are open to the public.

The town of Shaftesbury has a number of other interesting and historic features. Park Walk, mentioned above, has far reaching views over St James and across the Blackmore Vale, with its patchwork of green fields leading towards the chalk hills which enircle the skyline to the south. St James, at the bottom of the escarpment has a number of historic buildings including the picturesque pump yard where pretty cottages encircle an old water pump. Similar wells existed in the hamlets that sit at the base of the hill below Shaftesbury. The water was carried to the top of the hill, probably by donkeys, and was sold in the streets. Further details about the remarkable history of this Dorset town is included in our detailed walking notes provided on all our independent walking holidays.

Many of the lanes near to the High Street have some pretty buildings with greensand stone cottages and traditional thatched roofs. Streets such as Bimport, Angel Lane, Bell Street and of course Gold Hill have a number of delighful historic properties. Gold Hill is without doubt one of the prettiest streets in the whole of the UK. Used as a cover photo for many books about rural Dorset and England, Gold Hill is a steep cobbled street leading from the High Street down to St James. Its right hand side is lined by huge stone fortifications, which are the remains of the medieval walls separating the abbey from the rest of the town. Its left hand side is lined with historic properties which curve with the street creating a scene of great beauty. The background is provided by green rolling hills.

In Thomas Hardy's novel 'Jude the Obscure', a schoolmistress leaves her schoolmaster husband at the Ox House in Bimport in Shaftesbury, or Shaston as Hardy calls it. In fact Hardy uses a common abbreviated name for Shaftesbury that has been used for centuries, rather than his usual made-up name. Hardy wrote as if he knew Shaftesbury very well; he describes it as 'the resting place and headquarters of the proprietors of wandering vans, shows, shooting galleries, and other itinerate concerns, whose business lay largely at fairs and markets', which ties in with local accounts of the time. In his novel he describes the town as having 'a unique position on the summit of a steep and imposing scarp, rising on the north, south, and west sides of the borough out of the deep alluvial Vale of Blackmoor, the view from Castle Green over three counties of verdant pasture...being as sudden a surprise to the unexpectant traveller's eyes as the medicinal air is to his lungs.' High Point Holidays have a walking holiday that features some of the landscapes in which Hardy's novels are set: In the Footsteps of Thomas Hardy: Heart of Hardy's Dorset

Walking in Dorset and Wiltshire - Walking in England

Other places of interest on the Wonders of Wessex Walking Holiday: Salisbury - Larmer Tree Gardens - Tollard Royal - Old Sarum - Old Wardour Castle - Gold Hill - Wilton House - Ashmore - Cranborne Chase - Wessex - Woodford Valley - Stonehenge

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