Today’s question: What do sandwiches, symphonies and a Strava segment all have in common?
There is a hill in my home county of Dorset that I defy anyone (over the age of 30 40) to visit without being dominated by a single thought. Bread
Gold Hill in Shaftesbury is a destination with arguably some of the best views in the south of England. An achingly picturesque cobbled street, bordered by old, crooked stone houses, winding its way impossibly upwards to give unrivalled, uninterrupted views of rolling green hills and woodland.
Surrounded by 14th architecture and adjacent to the ancient, buttressed and bowing walls surrounding Shaftesbury Abbey (built by King Alfred the great), the area just oozes history and chocolate-box charm. The immense fame (and popularity) of this bucolic setting however is down to its incongruous appearance in a Ridley Scott production.
No, not Blade Runner or Alien but pre-Sci-fi/Sigourney, this most renowned director turned his hand to the world of TV commercials and, in 1973, unwitting made an advertisement that has consistently been voted the Nation’s all-time favourite. An advertisement for bread.
Its official title is ‘The Boy on the Bike’ but ask anyone in Britain and they will tell you it’s the Hovis advert.
It’s a simple scene. A young boy (supposedly in the North of England – cue artistic licence) pushes a heavy bike uphill, front basket laden which bread which he is delivering for the local rosy-cheeked baker. He toils away accompanied by the stirring strains of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony arranged for an evocative brass-band rendition. For some reason this short commercial captured the British public’s imagination and hearts, often repeated and parodied, but undoubtedly iconic.
The fame of Gold (Hovis) Hill has made it the tourist destination of choice for tens of thousands who grimly tackle its famously steep cobbles whilst humming Dvorak under their laboured breaths. The prize is a stunning panorama and a four foot high fibreglass model loaf near its zenith.
As you might expect too, where’s there’s a steep hill there’s often a keen cyclist or several trying gamely to climb up it. Not to be outdone, Gold Hill is actually listed in Britain’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs and has earned its place. With an average of 21%, rising to 25% in places, it may be short at around 0.15km in length but the gradient and the slippery, uneven cobbled surface make it a punchy challenge. Of course, a steep hill also means a Strava segment if you’re so inclined (hill pun there) and, if you visit on a sunny weekend, you’ll be fighting for space on your QOM/KOM attempt with a large number of road and mountain bikers as well as runners and coachloads of photo-happy tourists. I don’t know who lives in the pretty stone houses lining the street but they certainly get a lot of traffic past their door!
Finally, for those of an insane disposition it’s also possible to use this hill for Everesting, where, with just 277 uninterrupted ascents, you can achieve the required altitude gain of 8848 metres, the equivalent of topping out Everest and scoring a place in that exclusive club.
For us lesser mortals, it’s just quite nice just to enjoy the view once you’ve huffed your way upwards and, having ridden it a mere 3 times now, that feels sufficient. The climb is steep certainly but short, people smile as you puff your way to the top, all the while accompanied by the New World Symphony’s stirring notes (at least in my head). Fortunately it’s always been quiet during these forays making it a thoroughly pleasant, if heart-racing experience.
Resting in the sunshine up top with friends, as we cheer each other on, there’s nothing better than pausing by the incongruous giant model loaf to admire the spectacular view, gulp in lungfulls or air and pose for photos.
All that’s left then is for life to emulate art, freewheeling back down the cobbles to the imaginary sound of a brass band and my own, well-earned sandwich.
Thanks to Daylight for the route and the photos.
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