Thursday, 22 October 2015


Gold Hill

We decided to stop off in Shaftesbury while on the way to Poole. A once great town, founded by King Alfred, with an abbey, a castle, 12 medieval churches and no less than four market crosses, it is now principally known for Gold Hill and the views from its hilltop site 215m above sea level. I found this walk on the ever-reliable AA website (although it could have done with a map).

We started at the Tourist Office on Bell St and walked down the road to turn left into Mustons Lane opposite this unusual pair of cottages with stone first storeys and brick second.

On the left is the former handsome Congregational church of 1751, now a pizza restaurant.

At the end a right leads up High St to St Peter's church and the Town Hall.

This is the only remaining medieval church, although like most it has been subject to alterations through the ages. Inside is disconcerting at first with a modern boarded floor and individual modern chairs rather than pews. The effect is more like a village hall, but there are a lot of chairs so no doubt it is thriving.

The Town Hall dates from 1826 in a sort of tudor style and was built on the site of the former Guildhall. Pevsner is quite disparaging ("not at all grand, or even dignified"), but we found it charming. Alleys on either side of it lead to the top of the much photographed Gold Hill, used by Ridley Scott as the site for his famous Hovis advertisement. The initial view is dominated by the massive former abbey walls and spoiled by two parked vans, necessitating the rather compressed photo at the head of this post.

It is remarkably picturesque even so. But much smaller than expected and not as hard on the knees as the walk description would have you believe. At the bottom a left turn leads after half a mile or so to a grassy area known as the Wilderness and path through this leads to fields and excellent, if hazy views southwards to

The route now follows the narrow French Mill Lane, which becomes progressively sunken.

At a junction a right turn into Gascoigne's Lane begins a mainly uphill trudge back towards the town. There are pleasant views to the west and it makes fro more of a walk than simply having a quick look round the town centre. And we spotted this classic, and increasingly rare, flat-roofed 1930s house with an extraordinary, but wonderful, modern extension.

A little track at the top leads round to St James's St, with pleasing two-storey cottages and houses on both sides. It felt like you were entering a separate charming small village. There were too many parked cars however for a worthwhile photo.

Suddenly on the right you come to Pump Yard, a delightful little group of what were once weavers' cottages. It was an enclosed space until 1862 when the front section was pulled down.

A right turn and a steep climb brought us to the view point at Park Walk. The cloud was quite heavy, but the sun suddenly emerged off to the west, illuminating the tree in the foreground and silhouetting St James's church off to the right.

Looking more to the left provided this view of the briefly sunlit Melbury Hill.

We now headed across to visit another fine viewpoint at Castle Hill, from which you can apparently see Glastonbury Tor if conditions are right. Not today unfortunately. We passed Ox House in the strangely named Bimport. The house is 17th century and featured in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure as Old Grove Place.

Now past the abbey ruins and garden. The abbey was, like the others, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, but this one was almost totally destroyed. Finally, we followed Park Walk back into the town centre and turned left into The Commons, passing the imposing Grosvenor Hotel of 1826 with its Tuscan columns, to return to Bell St.

Conditions: mild but cloudy.

Distance: 3 miles.

Rating: four stars. Interesting and varied. It would no doubt be even better on a clear day.

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