Shaftesbury and North Dorset

Landscape, Towns and Villages

Much of north Dorset is rural, an important centre for dairy farming.  The rolling countryside of Cranborne Chase covers much of the area with chalk downlands, ancient woodlands and steep valleys.  There are great views, particularly at the hill fort sites of Hambledon Hill and Hod Hill. The Iron Age hill fort at Badbury Rings is also a notable landmark.

Aside from enjoying the scenic views the area is good for cycling, fishing and walking.  The Stour Valley Way is one acclaimed walking route, and the very popular North Dorset Trailway another – this is a route between Sturminster Newton and Blandford Forum.

There are many towns and villages to visit, with beautiful churches, mills, historic pubs serving local food and famous landmarks. The bigger towns provide markets and more to see and do, and include the following.

Blandford Forum is a picturesque market town, known for its Georgian architecture.  The town was virtually destroyed by fire in 1731 but its rebuilt town centre is largely intact today.  Blandford Camp, a military base, is two miles way and is the base of the Royal Corps of Signals, the communications wing of the British Army.  It is also the site of the Royal Signals Museum; which tells the story of the British Army’s battlefield communications with interactive displays.  Another interesting place is the Blandford Fashion Museum at Lime Tree House, which has displays of fashions from 1740 to 1970.

Sturminster Newton is an attractive, small market town on the river Stour. The town was recorded in the Doomsday Book and has held fairs and markets since at least the time of Henry III in 1219. Besides shops and other amenities, one of the most interesting attractions here are the ancient flour mills – the Sturminster Newton Mill is in full working order, powered by a 100 year old turbine.   Milling and grinding takes place every second weekend and visitors can buy flour made on the premises.

Gillingham is now a modern town but has an ancient and unique Dorset history linked to the kings of England. The town is a perfect base for walkers with miles of public footpaths through the rural landscape. Visitors can go to the Museum for an insight into the town’s history through to modern times. The famous artist John Constable was inspired to draw and paint the local mills and other features – his painting of Gillingham Bridge is on display at the Tate Gallery London.

The town of Stalbridge near the Somerset border has a 30 foot tall market cross in its centre!  It was the home of Douglas Adams who wrote much of “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” here.

The historic village of Milton Abbas features on many picture postcards of Dorset.  The village was built by the first Earl of Dorchester, the owner of Milton Abbey  in the late 18th century.  He wanted  to replace the town of Middleton which was apparently disturbing his vision of rural peace!  The thirty-six almost identical thatched cottages were built from cob and intended to house two families each. Today the houses are white-washed and the house-names give clues to some of the original inhabitants of the village.  The original abbey and House is now Milton Abbey School.