Food, Views And A Unique Tradition – Why You Should Visit Shaftesbury Food Festival

Final preparations are underway for the Shaftesbury Food and Drink Festival on Sunday, 12th May. James Thrift is one of the event’s organisers and he’s promising a full range of fun activities, starting at 10am.

“We have the demonstration kitchen in the middle of the High Street and stalls all the way up and down through the town. The Anonymous Travelling Market will be on Park Walk. There will be stuff going on in the Abbey all day. And there’s the little thing of the cheese racing up Gold Hill. We don’t want to make it too easy for people,” James joked.

James Thrift

The food demonstrations commence at 10am in front of Shaftesbury Town Hall. Renowned and much-loved Shaftesbury chef and hotelier, David Griffin-Shepherd, from the town’s Fleur de Lys Hotel and Restaurant will lead the sessions.

The six-hour culinary skills presentation will also feature advice from Steve Bant from the Guild of Fine Foods, Mark Hartstone from La Fosse Restaurant in Cranborne and the Head Chef from Rick Stein’s  restaurant, Pete Murt. “The best bit, at the end, is you can actually go up and try the food,” said James. And he says that the public is encouraged to ask questions of the experts.

Cooking demonstration

If you would rather eat food that someone else has prepared, than cook your own, Park Walk will be filled with a world of food options and local and regional producers. Don’t have a big breakfast at home before you come to town!

The gardens of Shaftesbury’s 9th century Abbey will be open too. The town’s popular ukulele band will perform there between 12.30pm and 2pm, the Community Choir will sing during the day and junior folk dance group Steps In Time will perform traditional dances in the Abbey at 10.30am.

At 2.30pm, another historic and unique Shaftesbury tradition will be re-enacted following its successful reinstatement last year. Shaftesbury sits high on a promontory of greensand and the town has no running water of its own. The Byzant Ceremony, first described in 1527, retraces the steps of townspeople who made ‘payment’ for access to the clean spring water sourced below the hill. Shaftesbury had to reimburse Enmore Green for sharing its water supply.

The Byzant Ceremony

Some of the musicians that perform with Steps In Time will be joining in with the Byzant, playing traditional pieces to add to the atmosphere of the procession from the town centre to Enmore Green. And many of the walkers will be wearing Medieval and Elizabethan clothing.

If you want to follow the route, meet outside HSBC at 2.15pm. You can see and hear our report of 2018’s ceremony here.

Visitors and locals will also be able to take in spectacular views of the town, Cranborne Chase and Blackmore Vale by climbing the 120 steps to the top of the tower of the former Trinity Church. The landmark, accessed from Bimport, will be open between 11am and 3pm. Admission is £3.

View from Trinity Tower

Many people will head to Gold Hill at some point during Sunday afternoon for the Cheese Race. Teams and individuals will compete as they attempt to charge up the iconic cobbles carrying ‘cheeses’ in the fastest possible time. Organisers will have their stopwatches ready to see whether any entrant can beat Jasper Macdermot’s incredible 2018 record. He carried the cheese up the hill in just 15 seconds!

There are categories for children aged under 10, kids under 16, men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s teams, women’s teams, mixed teams and mixed veterans. The men have to climb the steep hill holding the 23kg weight and women carry 16kg.

“The children’s cheeses are made of polystyrene,” advised James. “We used to use ones made of cheese, but it got a bit of a problem keeping them from year to year. So these ones are actually made to the same size and weight of a truckle of cheese, but it’s not actually cheese inside it.”

Gold Hill Cheese Race

The heats start at 12pm. “We rattle through them pretty quickly, so if you want to see the finals, be at the hill at three o’clock,” James advised. Competitors, who register at The Town Hall, are advised to wear strong footwear. Trainers are said to be ideal.

James will be commentating during the races. “The MC has always been Charlie Turnbull, whose mad idea it was to start this thing. We did try and persuade him to come back, put his bowler hat on and have another go but unfortunately this year he can’t make it. So it’ll be me rallying the troops to spur people on up the hill,’ he said.

While the cheese is really hard to carry, one lucky Shaftesbury shopper will be presented with a huge hamper that they may find hard to lift. Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce member Karen Hardwick has assembled an incredible prize for the window display competition, a selection of goodies from the town’s independent businesses.

You can still enter the shop window competition on Sunday before 1pm by picking up a form at Cranbornes and identifying which nations are represented in the window of each participating shop. Businesses along the High Street have been assigned different countries. The person who identifies all of the windows will win the hamper at 2pm. If there are many correct answers, the winning entry will be drawn.

With so much going on, festival-goers will be able to wander in a car-free environment. Shaftesbury High Street will be closed to traffic from 7am to 6pm on Sunday.