Thomas Hardy, the famous writer, described Shaftesbury as ‘one of the queerest and quaintest spots in England’.

It is most definitely quaint and thanks to its hilltop position, it has magnificent views over Thomas Hardy’s Blackmore Vale.

At over 750 feet above sea level, Shaftesbury is one of the highest towns in England.

Within Dorset, near the border with Wiltshire, Shaftesbury has been an attraction for ages with a fascinating history going back to Saxon times.

The Saxons built a hilltop settlement here, because of its dominating position overlooking the surrounding area.

In the 9th century King Alfred turned Shaftsbury into a defended town, following his defeat by the Vikings.

Today, Shaftesbury is a vibrant market town.

Key to the town’s beauty is the picture-perfect Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street lined with tiny cottages.


We explored the town on foot by walking down Gold Hill and enjoyed the magnificent views.

At the base of Gold Hill, you will enter St James, an area with picturesque cottages with tiny doors and thatched roofs.

Turn right into St James Street. Look out for a u-shaped collection of workers’ cottages set back from the road, known as Pump Court.

Eventually turn right again and go up Pine Walk towards Westminster Memorial Hospital.

Here it leads to Park Walk, which enjoys spectacular far-reaching views to the south of Shaftesbury.

Straight ahead lies the prominent feature of Melbury Beacon.

This hill was bought by the National Trust in memory of Thomas Hardy, to protect the landscape in which his novels of the Blackmore Vale are set.

From the carpark at the top of Spread Eagle Hill, a 2-mile walk will lead you up Melbury Beacon.

Once on the Beacon, take in the magnificent 360-degree view of the Blackmore Vale, the Vale of Wardour and Shaftesbury.

Images by Cool Places Britain
Cranborne Chase AONB

Shaftesbury makes an ideal centre for anyone wishing to explore North Dorset and the neighbouring areas such as the Cranborne Chase.

The Cranborne Chase is an area of outstanding natural beauty which straddles the Dorset/Wiltshire border to the east.

The chase was once a royal hunting forest but most of it is grassland today, with the occasional pocket of woodland.

The area has very few settlements and is ideal walking country.

North Dorset Trailway

Explore the Blackmore Vale by following the North Dorset Trailway.

This 14-mile walking, cycling and horse-riding route from Sturminster Newton to Spetisbury, runs along the route of the old Somerset and Dorset Railway line.

This trailway takes you through some charming villages of the Blackmore vale.

In Shaftsbury you can join the White Hart Link.

White Hart Link

The White Hart Link is a 50-mile (80km) walking route which has been created as a circular taking in the five market towns of North Dorset and the villages between.

This route uses existing public rights of way and quiet lanes. It passes through some of the iconic countryside of the Blackmore Vale.

It also includes Hambledon Hill and Hod Hill on its way to Blandford Forum.

Or you can take on a bigger challenge and walk the Hardy Way.

Hardy Way

The Hardy Way explores the Wessex of Thomas Hardy, visiting many Hardy locations beginning at his birthplace near Dorchester.

It takes in the Piddle and Frome valleys, an outstanding stretch of coast between Lulworth Cove and the Encombe Valley, to Corfe Castle and Dorchester, ending in Stinsford churchyard where his heart lies buried.

The Hardy Way leads through woodland, high ridgeways, sleepy villages, a variety of farmland, river valleys and dramatic coastal scenery along Dorset’s famous Jurassic coast.

Cool Places to Explore: Old Wardour Castle | Hod Hill | Win Green | Hambledon Hill | Stourhead | Salisbury Cathedral.

Cool Places to Eat: King John Inn.