Gold Hill: 'One of the Most Romantic Sights in England'

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Lowland and Hill Walks
Jun 15

30 people attending

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Distance is 20 km (12.5 miles); total ascent is 318 m; relief is a little hilly with one main short ascent and descent; terrain is dirt, grass and abundant tarmac.

In 1973, having scoured the country, director Ridley Scott finally found his supreme scene of evocative Englishness in Shaftesbury in Dorset. The classic advert depicted a Hovis baker's boy pushing his bike to reach 'Old Ma Peggotty's House', and as the voiceover concluded to the swelling strains of the Largo from Dvořák's New World Symphony, ''twas like taking bread to the top of the world'. Seen in the film of Far From the Madding Crowd and on packets of fudge and jigsaw puzzles ever since, Gold Hill's popularity was sealed. Often seen by coach trippers, we'll see it on a shortish walk from Gillingham Railway Station (two hours from Waterloo) which crosses some prime rolling Dorset countryside.

The sights:

Gillingham: Few buildings worth noticing, epecially after a fire in 1694. Our route will take in even fewer and not use the town centre, but you're welcome to explore at the end of the walk. Apart from the chancel of St Mary's Church, nothing stands from before the C17. St Mary's is large, its chancel C14, and prosperous-looking, as befits an important wool-producing town.

Motcombe: A large, former estate village with brick and stone C18 and C19 cottages and some earlier ones. 

Shaftesbury: Sitting on top of a outlier of the Wiltshire Downs with steep roads leading up from the plain below. The high Street has many Georgian buildings. The abbey has gone, but its precincts remain as a garden with a massive wall looming over Gold Hill. Sadly the town is a pale shadow of its former self when twelve churches and a magnificent abbey dominated the skyline. The Abbey Museum is from 1999. St Peter's Church is C15 and not over-restored. The Town Hall is 1826 but in a Tudor style. St James' Street contains a row of pretty stone cottages. We'll have a small perambulation about the best bits of the town and you'll get an extended lunch break to explore some more or just relax. Whet your appetite by watching this.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury: Simon Jenkins, in England's 100 Best Views writes: 'the street embodies 'Ye Olde England'; a row of apparently tumbledown cottages with steep eaves and walls draped in flowers. Each dwelling has its own personality, yet is part of a communal whole...while such scenes are familiar in France and Italy, England offers few streets to equal Gold Hill's charm...From the top of the hill the line of cottages curves down a cobbled pavement. Though clearly medieval in origin, most have windows and and roofs no earlier than the eighteenth century. Each is a composition in itself, a facade of stone or whitewash and a roof of thatch or tile. There is no clutter of modern vehicles or street furniture.'

'The Bike Ride' Hovis advert: In 1973, Hovis ran a television advertisement, Boy on the Bike/The Bike Ride, written by advertising agency Collett Dickenson Pearce and filmed by their photographer Jack Bankhead under the direction of Ridley Scott, who was soon to direct Alien. The advert featured the Largo slow movement of Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 ('From the New World') arranged for brass and played by the Ashington Colliery Band (establishing the belief that the setting was in the north of England). Filmed on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury in Dorset, Scott's advert has been voted Britain's favourite advert of all time. An original film print was restored by the BFI in 2019. See it here, and see The Two Ronnies' parody here. Like the baker's boy and Ronnie Barker, we'll ascend the hill if you want to. A large bronze loaf in the High Street is a memorial to the advert. 

The route (please see it by clicking on the link):

A bridleway will take us east out of Gillingham to Motcombe, where we'll use Frog Lane to head south to Bittles Green. After a short walk west along a lane, we'll turn south and use footpaths to go to Enmore Green, after a crossing of the B3081 and the A30. We'll then follow a wiggly loop through all the best streets of Shaftesbury and ascend Gold Hill to have an extended lunch break. After lunch, we'll follow the Hardy Way east to Duncliffe Wood. A bridleway will take us west to New Lane, which we'll walk north along to cross the A30 again. Common Lane will take us to Cowslip Farm and then footpaths will return us to Gillingham.


I love having dogs on my walks and this walk is suitable for them as it isn't too long, although there will be considerable lane walking and fields with livestock, but also woods and arable fields. Warm weather could make the walk exhausting for them. A dog off the lead must be obedient.

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(Image credits: St Mary's Churchyard, Motcombe; Photo © Maigheach-gheal (cc-by-sa/2.0); Manor farm house, St James, Shaftesbury, Dorset: Photo © Clive Perrin (cc-by-sa/2.0); St James's Street, Shaftesbury: Photo © Des Blenkinsopp (cc-by-sa/2.0); King Alfred's Kitchen and Nature's Treasures, Shaftesbury: Photo © Robin Webster (cc-by-sa/2.0); Town Hall, Shaftesbury: Photo © Derek Harper (cc-by-sa/2.0); Shaftesbury High Street: Photo © Mr Eugene Birchall (cc-by-sa/2.0); Viewpoint, Park Walk, Shaftesbury: Photo © Robin Drayton (cc-by-sa/2.0); View east from Duncliffe Hill: Photo © David Martin (cc-by-sa/2.0); Pasture, Blackmore Vale, Dorset: Photo © Clive Perrin (cc-by-sa/2.0); Path in Duncliffe Wood: Photo © David Martin (cc-by-sa/2.0). All images are copyrighted but are here credited to their copyright holders and are licensed for reuse under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA/2.0. The other photos were taken by ODL member Alex Young in June 2022 and are used with permission.)