Cultural Tourism

Shaftesbury and North Dorset

What might visitors expect…..?

Beautiful views, countryside walks, rivers and mills, green fields and rolling downs, Gold Hill, pretty towns and villages, flowing rivers and watermills, artisan crafts, real ale, links to Somerset and Wiltshire.

Historic buildings, landmarks and heritage

One of the most famous heritage landmarks in North Dorset is Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, which is on the ‘must see’ list of many tourists. It has been made famous by advertisements (particularly one for Hovis bread) – it even has its own museum! Pictures of Gold Hill are used all over the world to sell Dorset to tourists; as are pictures of the village of Milton Abbas, with its rows of thatched cottages with roses round the door. A few miles away is Gillingham Bridge which was painted by the artist John Constable, Gillingham’s water meadows, mills and fields are still popular with painters today.


There are two large festivals in North Dorset. The Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival, held every September, is famous for traditional food stalls, entertainment and of course all types of cheese and cheese-making.

The Dorset Steam Fair is held in Tarrant Hinton every year in August, and has come to be known as the place to go if you enjoy learning about the heritage of Dorset. The town of Blandford presents both a Midsummer Dorset Music and Food Festival in June; and a Yuletide Festival in December.

Performing Arts

Although there are no large venues in North Dorset, the Sturminster Newton Exchange hosts a wide programme of theatre, music, comedy, dance and films.

Shaftesbury also has a local Arts Centre. The rural touring arts company Artsreach enables small theatre companies to perform in village halls in North Dorset, for example in Durweston, Marnhull and Child Okeford.

Visual Arts and crafts

There are several small galleries which display local art, including the Slade Centre in Gillingham and the Art Stable in Child Okeford, near Blandford.

Food and drink

Dorset ale is an important part of Dorset’s culture, and visitors enjoy the many rural pubs and inns situated across the county. In Blandford, the Hall & Woodhouse Brewery is a visitor attraction. Founded in 1777 it offers tours of the brewery, detailing the beer-making process, and offering tastings.

Some interesting cultural facts about North Dorset

Older visitors may remember the 1980 TV series ‘To Serve Them All My Days’, which was filmed at Milton Abbey School near Milton Abbas.

Many of the towns in North Dorset lie along an area called the Blackmore Vale. Hardy renamed this area the ‘Valley of the Little Dairies’ in his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

There is an unusual museum in Blandford Forum – the Blandford Fashion Museum in Lime Tree House, home to ‘Mrs. Penny’s collection of historic costumes’. There are ten rooms full of fashions and accessories from 1740 to 1970.