The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset Walk — Pamphill, Badbury Rings and Shapwick

Matt Wilkinson and Pat Sheehan LRPS explore the former Bankes estate

St Stephen’s at Pamphill

Distance: 11 miles
Start: The National Trust car park at the northern end of Pamphill Green. OS ref. ST990008.
How to get there: Follow the signpost to Pamphill School from the minor road which runs from Sturminster Marshall to Wimborne via White Mill and Cowgrove. Or turn south off the B3082 Wimborne-Blandford road, about ½ mile west of Queen Elizabeth’s School on the edge of Wimborne.
Maps: OS Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase); OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck)
Refreshments: Tearoom and restaurant at Pamphill Farm Shop. The Anchor at Shapwick.

They used to say that you could drive from Oxford to London and remain always in sight of land owned by St John’s College. Similarly, although this walk is quite a lot longer than usual, almost every step of it is on the Kingston Lacy Estate. It brings home to one how large the Bankes family’s landholdings were – and that’s without Corfe Castle and Studland – and how lucky the National Trust was to acquire them on Ralph Bankes’s death.

The rest of us were lucky, too. Say what you like about the National Trust and their custodianship of historic houses or coastal beauty spots, they do agricultural land and estate villages very well. Half-close your eyes as you walk the more remote parts of the Kingston Lacy estate and you have a feeling of being in a timeless landscape little changed over the centuries.

Although quite long, the walk is easy to follow, on good going underfoot and with no fierce gradients.

Pamphill is the estate village par excellence, with tied cottages scattered through a sylvan landscape around the church of St Stephen. A good example of Arts and Crafts Gothic, it was built in 1907 as a memorial to Walter Ralph Bankes, Ralph’s father. From there the walk climbs up to King Down and Badbury Rings, the Iron Age hill-fort where the Roman road from Salisbury to Exeter crossed the road that ran north from Poole to the Bristol Channel.

Badbury Rings, with the Kingston Lacy herd of Red Devons

The maritime name of the pub at Shapwick – the Anchor – is ironic because the best-known story concerning the village is of the fishmonger who accidentally dropped a crab there. The villagers were convinced that it was a monster, a view confirmed by the oldest inhabitant when he was brought out in a wheelbarrow to view the crustacean.

The final landmark on the walk is White Mill. The mill itself is 18th-century but alongside it stands one of the handsomest bridges in Dorset and possibly the oldest, having been built originally in 1175. It is the only crossing-point on the Stour between Spetisbury and Wimborne.

1. Walk up the green to the T-junction with St Stephen’s straight ahead. Unless you are going to inspect the church, turn right and walk to a main road. Cross with care, straight across to another lane signed to Hound Hill. In about 100 yards, just before a T-junction, turn left down a path alongside a wooden fence. At the bottom of the path continue straight ahead on a narrow lane. Follow this lane for almost a mile to a cross-tracks and go straight on to follow a wide track for almost a further ¾ mile, to where a paved lane enters from the right. Here turn left onto another track and follow it for almost ¾ mile to the first distinct cross-tracks, just past a large area of hard standing. Turn right on a track for a little over ¾ mile to reach a cottage on the left, in the far corner of some woodland.

2. In the bottom of the dip beyond, turn left to follow the right-hand edge of a field uphill. On the far side of a belt of woodland at the top of the hill, turn right over a stile and walk up to the top of the outer rampart of Badbury Rings. Walk round the north-western quadrant of the circular earthwork, descending to cross a deep track to reach a kissing gate, beyond which is a track which leads left into the National Trust car park. Follow the track through the car park to reach the main road and turn right along the famous beech avenue for ¾ mile.

3. Near the top of a rise, cross the road carefully and go down a track between two pairs of black and white posts. At the far end of the track bear left, walk down to Shapwick’s High Street and turn right. Go all the way through the village and across the cross-roads by the Anchor Inn and war memorial. Bear right, then turn left through the car park of St Bartholomew’s Church to a stile. Follow the right-hand field-edge down to the River Stour and turn left. Follow the river on your right for about 1¼ miles to a stile just under some electric wires. Here follow the left-hand field edge to an opening into the field on the left and cross the bridge ahead. Walk across two fields, heading for the tower of the parish church of Sturminster Marshall, until the main stream of the Stour is once again to the right. Follow it all the way until the path rises to meet the road just before White Mill. Turn right and walk down past the mill.

4. Just before the road swings right, turn left over a stile and once again follow the river as closely as possible on the right. Where the river swings to the right and the field-edge to the left, follow the latter to a stile, cross it and follow the path to the left and another stile into an open field. Walk straight across the field to a metal gate. Turn right on the lane beyond. In 200 yards, turn up the first grassy track on the left. At the T-junction at the top of the track turn right and walk to a paved lane (Abbott Street). Continue straight ahead for ¾ mile to reach Pamphill Green and turn right to return to your car.

‘…you have a feeling of being in a timeless landscape little changed over the centuries’
White Mill
A Pamphill cottage

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