Blandford to Shaftesbury

and activities aimed to keep the children happy and occupied. The Museum also highlights the role of Women at War. ADULTS PLEASE BRING PHOTO ID.

Directly north of Blandford, some 13 miles along the winding A350, lies Shaftesbury. The prominent

Gold Hill – Shaftesbury

The area around Blandford and to its north is true rural Dorset, much of it remaining the same as it was in Hardy’s day. This is definitely a place where you can just relax and unwind.

Delightfully situated where the wooded valley of the Stour cuts through the chalk downlands, Blandford is an ancient crossing point of the river. The best way to approach is through Blandford St. Mary, the home of the Hall & Woodhouse Brewery, still run by the same family since its Dorset roots in 1777. The new visitor centre, restaurant and fascinating brewery tours should not be missed.

The town is unique in having been almost totally re-built, following a conflagration in June 1731 which started in a tallow shop on the site of the present King’s Arms pub. Strong northerly winds swept fire through the town burning 400 houses and every fire engine. A handful of buildings remain from before the 1731 fire, notably Ryves Almshouse and the Old House.

From the sudden flare of flaming torches and menacing glint of sunlight on polished shields to the use of ever more sophisticated micro computers and satellite communications, the story of military communications is as dramatic and exciting as the history of war itself. To fight effectively and win battles, commanders have to keep in touch with their men and each other; at all times, and in ways the enemy cannot “overhear”.

The ROYAL SIGNALS MUSEUM is one of Dorset‘s hidden gems with interactive displays are for all ages illustrating the history, science and technology of communications. Rather than tell you how we feel about the Museum we like to let our visitors do the talking…

‘Our 7 year old twins (a boy and a girl) were very excited as we approached Blandford army base. A soldier (with gun) greeted us at the gates.’ ‘We visited in half term and the kids loved mum and dad having a security check and were fascinated seeing real soldiers marching around the ground. The museum is informative but also very hands on lots of puzzles to work out and you can drive a jeep.’ ‘I spent two hours exploring the museum and I came out feeling exhilarated, educated and emotional. I’m definitely coming again!’ ‘If you like military history and want a hidden gem of a museum then this is a must visit destination in Dorset.’

Have you ever wondered how secret agents were trained in WWII? What was life like as a Secret Agent with the SOE in France and what equipment did you have to help you escape… if you were caught? Ever wanted to have a go at sending Morse Code messages? Want to drive a simulator or break codes? Why were pigeons so important to the British Army? What was it like laying cables under fire on the front? What was Enigma - want to find out?

Get behind the wire at Dorset’s top secret Museum for a unique and fascinating Family day out featuring displays on the Secret Agents of the SOE, SAS & Special Forces, and Despatch Riders with many fun trails

24 The Tourist Handbook Wessex 2018-19

ridge on which it stands was first inhabited at least two thousand years ago; traces of earthen walls still survive. With the coming of the Anglo- Saxons, Alfred founded a nunnery in 880 with his daughter, Aethelgeofu as abbess. A town grew up around this abbey, and it became so important that Edward the Martyr was buried there in 981, following his exhumation from Wareham.

Shaftesbury today is a busy little town with a mixture of buildings and styles with the real interest at the top of the town. Victorian excavation was carried out on the abbey site, but it was early 1930s work that made some exciting discoveries, including the bones of Edward, sealed in a leaden box and thought to have been hidden by the nuns prior to their eviction from the abbey.

Next to the ancient church of St. Peter is the former Sun and Moon Inn and a former doss house, now the home of the Shaftesbury Museum. This is at the top of Gold Hill, an extremely steep, cobbled hill plunging down to St. James’s, with some gorgeous higgledy-piggledy houses on one side and the massive retaining walls of the abbey grounds on the other. Up this street, every day, the people of Shaston used to cart their water, for there was none on top of the hill. Professional water carriers received a farthing a bucketful or two pence for a horse-load.

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