Known as the ‘gateway to the South West’, Shaftesbury is a hilltop market town rich in Saxon history. Not only is it a charming destination, home to a number of brilliant independent businesses, but we think it’s pretty enough to give any Cotswolds village a run for its money…
Shaftesbury’s famous Gold Hill (pictured above) is undoubtedly one of Dorset’s most iconic landmarks. This steep cobbled street is famous for its ridiculously picturesque appearance and far-reaching views of the surrounding landscape. Often described as one of the most romantic sights in England, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many locations quite as photogenic.
Not far from Gold Hill is Shaftesbury Abbey Museum. Situated in a commanding position overlooking the beautiful Blackmore Vale (below), this award-winning museum and gardens brings to life Shaftesbury Abbey’s vibrant medieval past. The attraction takes visitors on an interactive journey, from the Abbey’s foundation under Alfred the Great in AD 888 to its abrupt dissolution in the reign of King Henry VIII. Only the Abbey foundations remain standing today, but in its time Shaftesbury Abbey was one of the most important and influential religious houses for women. Visitors to the museum can marvel over Saxon carvings and medieval artefacts and have the unique opportunity to sample the aromas of an Anglo-Saxon herb collection in the peaceful walled garden.
If retail therapy is high on your agenda, Shaftesbury has plenty to offer. Your first stop ought to be FOLDE Dorset (below). Three important themes underpin this beautiful shop: Land, Sea and Self. Each member of the FOLDE team has curated some of their favourite items in each of these areas, including original artwork, handcrafted jewellery, and an array of thoughtful giftware. FOLDE also brings together their favourite book titles, covering a range of topics, from foraging to saltwater swimming, mindfulness, and larking.
In the heart of Shaftesbury High Street you’ll find Willow: a women’s fashion boutique and purveyor of natural homewares. This independent Dorset brand is committed to sourcing sustainable and ethical items. They’re advocates of the “slow living” lifestyle, and all of the lovely clothes and homewares on sale are made from natural fibres.
For beautiful children’s clothes (ages 0-5) we love Moon & Black. This family-run boutique shop sources organic clothes, gifts, toys, and nursery items. Whether you’re shopping for your own little ones or buying a gift, we guarantee you’ll find something special inside.
Visit Cotton & Coconut to get your hands on sustainable products that won’t break the bank. They’re an earth-conscious store that are committed to cutting plastic out of our everyday essentials. The shelves are stocked with a myriad of lovely things, like organic skincare, handmade gifts and eco-friendly homewares.
Beautiful blooms and delicious baked goods have made Pamplemousse a big hit with Shaftesbury locals. This little florist and café on Bell Street is renowned for its gorgeous floral arrangements – which can be ordered online or purchased in store – and for its delicious range of artisan cakes, sandwiches and coffees to go.
Head to Ecco Gelato for authentically made Italian-style gelato with a West Country twist. Menus change weekly, but there’s always a huge variety of delicious flavours to choose from, like sea buckthorn, Amarena cherry, or Black Forest chocolate brownie.
At 6 The Commons, you’ll find one of the most charming shops in Dorset: The Botanical Candle Co (above). Steering away from paraffin, their small team of artisans make clean burning, soy wax candles in a range of woody, floral and citrus scents. Shelves are filled with soy wax melts (that look strangely delicious) as well as chunky slabs of handmade soap (also appetising) and ethical chocolate (genuinely edible). The Botanical Candle Co also stocks handmade ceramics, sumptuous bath foams, cosy alpaca socks, and exfoliating hand cleansers. Essentially, they specialise in selling beautiful products that provide moments of relaxation, which is pretty fitting when you consider their peaceful surroundings on a quiet cobbled street in Shaftesbury.
The Shaftesbury Deli is a foodie haven. Step inside and you’ll be met with a huge selection of cheese, charcuterie, oils, bread, olives, and everything in between. The deli sources as much as it can locally and offers a free home delivery service for orders within the town. Plus, you can grab a cup of coffee and some tasty light bites in their friendly tearoom.
At the heart of Shaftesbury, you’ll find The Grosvenor Arms. This former coaching inn has been given a new lease of life as a hotel, with striking Georgian archways and wooden floors. The historic building houses 16 boutique-style en suite bedrooms, ranging from cosy doubles to the spacious Balcony Suite. You can eat all day, every day in its restaurant, where menus are created by Executive Chef Tom Blake, known for his background at the famous River Cottage.
A short drive from Shaftesbury town centre will take you to the village of Fontmell Magna, home of The Fontmell. From the outside, The Fontmell appears to be an unassuming, whitewashed village pub. But a quick look inside reveals luxurious bedrooms and an award-winning restaurant. The pub extends over Collier’s Brook – the village stream – which flows between the bar and the dining room. When the windows are open in the summer months, you can listen to the babbling brook as you relax with good company. The pub’s main appeal, however, has to be its menus. The Fontmell promotes natural wines and farms its own pigs, making for top-quality mains and tasty charcuterie boards. What’s more, their house beer, Sibeth Ale, is brewed especially for them at nearby Keystone Brewery.
Photography credits (top to bottom) Gold Hill by Chris Dorney, FOLDE by Matt Austin Photography, Blackmore Vale by Joe Dunckley, Holy Trinity Church by Chris Dorney, The Botanical Candle Co, The Fontmell.