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In my best impression of Radio 4's frustratingly cryptic and intellectual show 'Round Britain Quiz' I challenge you to find the connection between the director of 'Blade Runner', Czech composer Antonín Dvorák, a Thomas Hardy Novel, and the nation's favourite branded wholemeal loaf.
It's not difficult to know - especially since you'll have seen the name in the listing - that the answer must be Gold Hill. The connection is Shaftesbury's most famous attraction - quite possibly its ONLY attraction - the location of the iconic 1973 'Boy on Bike' advert which made Gold Hill more famous as 'Hovis Hill'. If Wikipedia is to be believed, it's the nation's favourite advert. The director was Ridley Scott and the haunting music was Dvorák's Symphony No. 9. Gold Hill's more than a one hit wonder, though, having featured in the 1967 film of Thomas Hardy's 'Far from the Madding Crowd' and - if the Shaftesbury website is to be believed - was also the location of an advert for an album by the Salvation Army Band. Is there no end to the excitement? Well by local standards, this is a pretty fine pedigree. It's a shame that thanks to the accents in the advert, most people assume that the hill is in Lancashire.
~A quick visit~
Back in April my parents treated me to a flying lesson at Compton Abbas airfield and on the way back to Salisbury, we decided to take the scenic route and drop into the small Dorset town of Shaftesbury. I've been a few times before but I'm rather fond of Gold Hill and was happy to go back for another look. I'm ashamed to say I'd seen it several times but I don't recall ever going down and up the actual hill. I say 'down and up' rather than 'up and down' because the town sits at the top of the hill and once you've gone down, there's not much alternative to turning round and going up again. As attractions go, this one is a bit lame.
We parked up in the car park, taking advantage of my mother's disabled parking badge. My advice, if you have to pay, is don't buy a ticket for too long. You really won't need long to see all that Shaftesbury has to offer. Not surprisingly, given that I've just revealed my mother's disabled status, we left the old folks to look at an antiques and collectors' fair in the hall at the top of the hill whilst we went for a wander. For others who don't want to tackle the slope, there's a handy pub at the top of the hill as well as a couple of arty shops selling things you don't really need.
You don't have to walk Gold Hill to enjoy the place and if you're feeling lazy or aren't too stable on your feet, you might want to think twice about it. If you want to recreate the Hovis advert and go flying down the hill on a bicycle, check your life insurance first - it's amazing that the kid didn't kill himself in the process of making the advert. From the top of the hill you can enjoy views out across the countryside and take in the quaint houses on the steep slope but if you can, you really should walk down the hill and back up again. It won't take long as the hill's not as long as the old advert would have you believe but it is very steep. Even if you're determined to take as long as possible, to look at all the shops, take lots of photos and sit down for a while on a conveniently placed bench, you'll probably struggle to make a visit to Gold Hill stretch to more than about 15 to 20 minutes.
Family folklore says that my step-father's brother-in-law, Uncle Stewart, once re-laid all the cobbles on Gold Hill. He was a builder with a gang of men so he wouldn't have personally laid every cobble, but I have no reason to think it's a lie. It must have been a heck of a job. I assume you cobble it from the bottom to the top because if you tried to do it in the other way round, you'd risk the cobbles rolling down the hill with the force of gravity. As a builder, he'd have had to watch his lunch box and Thermos flask didn't roll away as well.
I took a lot of photos. The gentle curve of the hill is very photogenic and the houses, their rooftops all higgledy-piggledy, are pretty and it's hard not to think it would be an interesting place to live. Mind you if you had to park your car at the top or bottom of the hill and carry all your shopping up or down, I think the novelty would wear thin quite quickly. A rather unlovely metal rail marks the edge of the roadway and could be handy when the hill is icy or if you just need a bit of help to pull yourself up. Benches are provided to regain your breath or just sit and enjoy the view.
I won't lie or exaggerate and suggest that Gold Hill is a 'must see' attraction - it's more of an 'if you're passing, stop and have a look' attraction. It's pretty, it's quite fun to wander down and up, and it's a nice place to take a few photographs, but unless you have a passion for 1970s advertising or an obsession with bread, it's not a place I'd suggest to drive out of your way to go and see. Shaftesbury is not a big town but it's pleasant and has a lot of small independent shops, a thriving range of charity shops, a half-decent auctioneers and a variety of places to eat or drink.