You may not yet have visited Shaftesbury – but you probably know it well.
Although only a dot in the scenic English county of Dorset, an image of Shaftesbury has spread around the world over the past few decades.
And it’s all because of one local street – the iconic Gold Hill, which is so quintessentially ‘Olde England’ that it has adorned movies, TV, magazines, calendars, postcards and countless chocolate boxes.
In the UK, Gold Hill is almost a household name because it was the main setting for a Hovis Bread television commercial, directed by Ridley Scott in the 1970’s and since voted England’s favourite advertisement of all time.
The steep cobbled street with a medieval wall and unbelievably picturesque views from the top, has been aptly described as “one of the most romantic sights in England”.
Wonderful ‘Number 5’ B&B
Seeing Gold Hill at first hand was, however, only one of the pleasant surprises that awaited us in Shaftesbury.
We also discovered Number 5, an elegant Bed and Breakfast that exceeded our every expectation.
The stunning Dorset countryside, with its intense greenery, narrow roads and thatched-roof cottages, is a delight in itself.
More than half the county is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; a fact that is easily understood as you reach Shaftesbury, perched high over the Blackmore Vale and part of the River Stour basin.
And for anyone with even a passing interest in history, this town has a fascinating story to tell.
Once a Saxon fort
Shaftesbury dates back to a hillside fort established in 880 by King Alfred the Great as part of defences against raiding Vikings.
Alfred and his daughter founded Shaftesbury Abbey in 888.
A wall from the abbey ruins now runs alongside Gold Hill and the story of what is described as ‘Saxon England’s foremost Benedictine nunnery’ is now told in a museum located on the site.
Later, King Canute of England, Denmark and Norway, died in the Abbey in 1035 and local word has it that his heart was buried at the site.
The abbey was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1539, but Shaftesbury went on to become an important market; a stop-over for coaches; and a centre for the production of hand-made buttons – an industry which was eventually decimated by automation.
Number 5’s central position
We arrived at Shaftesbury late in the afternoon and found our Bed & Breakfast as mist started to swirl up from the Vale below.
Number 5 B&B is a beautiful 1820’s building which has been lovingly restored by its owners, Trevor and Kate Toms.
The building is centrally located in Shaftesbury’s Bimport, opposite the Trinity Church where we were able to leave our car in a secure parking area.
We were warmly greeted at Number 5, which is stylishly and tastefully furnished.
Our room had a lovely ensuite bathroom, TV, tea and coffee facilities, complimentary WiFi, yummy chocolates and home-made biscuits.
A short stroll
After enjoying a cuppa, we were off to explore the town, take an obligatory photograph of Gold Hill and check out the site of the former Abbey before dark.
From there, it was a short stroll to a local Indian restaurant for a meal before retiring to the comfy bed at Number 5.
Breakfast the next morning was served in a bright and warm guest dining room and Kate informed us that all the produce came from the local farmers market.
We were quite sorry to leave Number 5 and Shaftesbury; both of which we recommend without hesitation.
Where it is
Shaftesbury is in northern Dorset, at the intersection of the A30 and A350 roads. From London, the 110 miles takes about two-and-a-half hours.
Trains run from London’s Waterloo Station to Salisbury in Wiltshire, a trip of about one-and-a-half hours. It is then a further one hour by bus to Shaftesbury.
Number 5 B&B is located at 5 Bimport, Shaftesbury.
Bound for the coast
After leaving Shaftesbury, we headed down ever-narrowing roads toward England’s southern coastline.
Dorset features prominently in Sue’s family tree so we were keen to see the home of her ancestors, the nearby market town of Sturminster Newton, before heading into Cornwall.
But that is a story for another day.