Shaftesbury is in North Dorset and borders Somerset and Wiltshire. The Saxons built a hill top settlement here because it is 750ft above sea level and has commanding views over the surrounding area. In the 9th century King Alfred turned it into a defended town after his defeat of the Vikings. He established an Abbey, which was destroyed in 16th century during the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII. The Abbey held the shrine of St Edward and the town became a popular destination for pilgrims during the medieval period.
Today the town is popular with tourists, drawn by the beauty of the surrounding countryside and the spectacular views from Park Walk of the Blackmore Vale. Leading down from the high street is Gold Hill, made famous by the Hovis advert, where a small boy rode down the cobbled hill on a bicycle after delivering bread. Well, I’ve not seen anyone daft enough to ride down it, although a friend told me today of someone he knew who went down it in a shopping trolley. Fortunately a level of intoxication enabled him to avoid the initial after effects of not quite making it to the bottom. It is also a magnet for those with sledges when it snows. I’ve seen this in both 2009 and 2010. The wall of a house on the apex of the bend acts as a natural break for those who’ve yet to learn to steer their craft as it hurtles to its final resting place amongst the cars at the bottom. Believe me it’s steep, although I’m happy to say that I can still make it up in one go when I go up town for the paper.
The surrounding countryside is a biker’s dream.
One of my favourite runs is to take the B3081, off the A30, through Tollard Royal, Sixpenny Handley, Cranbourne and Fordingbridge to the New Forest. The route takes you up Zig Zag, one of the bendiest roads in the UK. A BBC news article described the hair pin turns as having the same G-force at 30mph as a rollercoaster. Care is certainly needed as I’ve more than once encountered motorcyclists coming down the hill on the same side of the road as those going up it.
If I’m stuck for time, another great route, lasting about an hour, is to head off towards Blandford on the Upper Blandford Road and which presents some great views of the Fontmell Downs. On this occasion my daughter and I went out for a quick spin via this route.
The road ends in Blandford at a mini roundabout. At the end of the road we turned right and headed via the Lower Blandford Road (A350) back towards Shaftesbury. The A350 has a few good pubs on the way back and also a section of 90 degree bends to watch out for, but I sometimes turn left at Stourpaine towards the pretty village of Child Okeford, situated on the river Stour. This route takes you past Hod Hill and Hambeldon Hill, two old earthworks. Hambeldon Hill has a Neolithic history. The site was said to have been abandoned in 300BC for the nearby Hod Hill. Hod Hill was fortified in the Iron Age by a Celtic chief; whose name can only prove to historians that by the time they were of parenting age, the Celts use of their language was unencumbered by the constraints of having too many teeth left in their heads. In AD43 it was taken over by the Romans who effortlessly built a fort there using the two most successful tools that they adopted worldwide to establish their great achievements, namely the Gladius Short Sword and the local peasants. Both hills are worth a climb for the views, but are a bit of a struggle if you’re wearing leather jeans and motorbike boots. There are a couple of pubs in Child Okeford and this time Francesca and I stopped at the Baker Arms.
One small nugget of trivial knowledge is that Harry Corbett, of Sooty and Sweep fame, used to live here. The chap who told me this didn’t mention Sue and, on reflection, although I failed to ask him, I’ve concluded that she must have lived elsewhere or the dog would have been better behaved. After sitting in the sun with a couple of Ginger Beers, we headed back to Shaftesbury through East Orchard and Cann. This route takes us back through St James Street, where the town’s old pump yard is. Before pipes were laid up to the town, there was money to be made hauling barrels of water up from nearby Enmore Green to be sold in the market square. It probably also accounts for the disproportionately high number of pubs in the town.
Shaftesbury is a very pleasant place to live and provides excellent lanes to ride along. The only curious thing about it, probably because of its lofty position, is that no matter how clear the skies are during the day, come evening time the clouds seem to come from all over to breed and roost for the night before surreptitiously slinking off again in the morning to ruin someone’s day.