Shaftesbury will be promoted as a destination during the Gillingham Walking Festival for the first time this year.
The fifth annual series of guided walks takes place between 1st and 8th September. Sheila Messer is the Chair of Gillingham’s Walkers Are Welcome, the group that arranges the event. Sheila said they are widening the walking area. “It is extending a little bit,” she said.
Sheila’s felt that this year’s programme offered the perfect opportunity to include walks in and around our hilltop town. “We chose rivers and hills as this year’s theme. If you want hills you need to go out from Gillingham,” said Sheila.
She added that she is hoping to capitalise on the increased interest in rambling in Shaftesbury. “Walking seems to be waking up a bit in Shaftesbury,” Sheila said. “There is a tree trail now and the Healthy Walks group seem to be full of ideas and enthusiasm, which is absolutely great.”
Sheila said she was surprised to discover that there were not regular walks organised in Shaftesbury when she made enquiries last year. But she says she is pleased that the success of the Walking For Health group has changed that. Their volunteers offer multiple short and medium length walks each week, at various times of day. And they are very popular.
“Last year I was contacted by the Tourist Information Centre in Shaftesbury. They said a ramblers’ group who wanted to come to Shaftesbury for a walk had approached them. They had certain parameters in what they wanted to do. The TIC referred them to me. I thought it was crazy. Somebody should know more about walking in the Shaftesbury area than I do, even though it is not that far. So hopefully, increasingly, there are now people in Shaftesbury who can offer that kind of information,” Sheila said.
Sheila thinks it made sense to add Shaftesbury to the walking festival programme because the two towns are so close to each other. “In many ways I think of them as complimentary towns. They offer very different things. They have very different identities but should be able to work together,” she added.
Walkers will be encouraged to catch a bus from Gillingham railway station to Shaftesbury at 9.40am on Thursday, 6th September. “The walk will begin from Shaftesbury Town Hall just after the bus is due to get up there,” explained Sheila. “They’ll start off at around 10.15am and, as the route is about 8 miles, they will need to take a picnic. The walkers will go up to Kingsettle Woods, down into Motcombe and then across the Royal Forest to the east of Gillingham. They will come back into Gillingham more or less along the River Lodden.”
This year’s programme also includes a four-mile ‘circular stroll’ around Motcombe, using part of the newly established White Hart Link walking route. That walk departs Motcombe Meadows car park at 2.30pm on Sunday, 2nd September.
The next day, Monday 3rd September, there’s a walk to East Stour from Stour Row. That ramble will take in one of the largest ancient woodlands in North Dorset, which lies two miles to west of Shaftesbury. “We’ll take the minibus from Gillingham and then walk back over Duncliffe,” said Sheila.
You can get more information on the festival website here.