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The Dorset walk — Shipton Gorge and Shipton Hill

Matt Wilkinson and Pat Sheehan LRPS in a quiet corner of West Dorset

The Old School, Shipton Gorge

The area of Shipton Gorge is less well-known than other parts of West Dorset. This is understandable, since it lacks the spectacular quality of the hills around Powerstock or the Marshwood Vale, or of the great sea cliffs of Golden Cap or Thorncombe Beacon. On the other hand, it is a pleasant, quiet landscape of attractive vistas, with the last part of the route dominated by the upturned-boat shape of Shipton Hill, which welcomes westbound travellers on the A35 into the heart of West Dorset.

The modern developments to the north-west of the village of Shipton Gorge are frankly horrible, but the older area, around the church, has considerable charm and there has been some sensitive recent building here. The church itself was re-built in 1862 by John Hicks, for whom Thomas Hardy worked, and contains an unusual seven-sided font from the 13th century. Pagan beliefs survived until recently, though: as late as 1901, a bullock’s heart stuck through with thorns and pins – a traditional charm against witches – was found up a chimney in the village when it was being swept.

St Martin’s, the parish church of Shipton Gorge

The going underfoot can be muddy, especially on the enclosed or woodland paths. The gradients are gentle apart from the climb up Shipton Hill, but the views from the top make that worthwhile – southwards to the sea and, to the north, the grand sweep of the West Dorset hills from Eggardon round to Lambert’s Castle and down to Golden Cap.

Distance: About 4½ miles
Start: Park considerately on the lane which runs up to the parish church of St Martin in Shipton Gorge. OS ref SY498915.
How to get there: Turn south off the A35 about 1½ miles east of Bridport, signed ‘Shipton Gorge 1′. Bear left soon after the start of the village and at the next junction the lane up to the church is almost straight ahead.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth)
Refreshments: None on the route, but plenty close by in Bridport, Loders, Askerswell and Burton Bradstock

A view of Shipton Hill on the horizon from st Catherine’s Cross, near the start of the walk

1. Carry on up to the church and enter the churchyard. Walk straight across it and leave by a small gate on the far side. Turn right and, at the end of the churchyard wall, bear right to walk straight down a field towards a stile in the middle of the hedge at the far end. Bear slightly right across the next field and cross a stile over a metal gate. Bear slightly right to another stile, then bear right to a steep bank and stile in the hedgerow on the right in the next field. Turn left on the lane beyond, and turn left just before the top of the hill into the driveway of Bucklers Bid. At the end of the driveway, go straight through a metal gate and follow the right-hand field-edge to the next corner, where turn right through a metal gate. Go down the field to another gate and in the next field walk to the right of the tree in front of you and pick up a path which leads between two trees and to a metal gate, beyond which is an enclosed path. Follow this rather muddy path down to a lane and turn left.

2. Walk along the lane for ½ mile to a T-junction and go straight on to a rough track. In ¼ mile, as the track bends right and left, carry straight on through a wooden gate ahead and follow the right-hand edge of two fields. At the far end of the second field, turn left to walk round a copse and through a wooden gate in the corner. Take the path beyond to reach an open field. Follow the right-hand edge of this field down to a gate. Bear slightly right to follow the path beyond parallel to the left-hand edge of the wood. In front of a wooden gate into an open field, turn right on a path just inside the edge of the wood. Where it emerges, turn left to a metal gate, on the other side of which carry straight on to another gate. Here bear slightly left on a well-defined path across the middle of the field. On the far side, cross a track and continue straight ahead to a bridge into some woodland. Follow the path through the woodland to a gate and head straight up the field beyond, to a gate in the far right-hand corner. On the other side of the gate, follow the right-hand field-edge up to another gate and a track leading into St Luke’s Farm.

From the top of Shipton Hill, the view north to the strip lynchets at Uploders

3. At the far side of the farmyard, turn left onto a lane. In ¼ mile the lane swings left, but turn right to cross a stile, then immediately left onto a path which approaches Shipton Hill and climbs steeply up its eastern end. At the top, continue straight ahead along the ridge of the hill, passing a trig point and admiring the views. Walk straight off the far end and down a path which winds through the gorse. Emerging, turn right and head for a metal gate. Go through it and bear slightly left to go over the brow of the hill, then head for a stile into a belt of trees in the bottom right-hand corner. On the far side of the trees, cross another stile and bear right to a stile about 150 yards down the right-hand edge of the field. Bear left to head straight down to the bottom corner of the field and go through a gate onto an enclosed path. Follow this down to a lane and turn left then, at a crossroads, turn right. Take this road to reach the lane up to St Martin’s on the left in a little under ¼ mile.

Looking south from Shipton Hill to Shipton Gorge, Burton Bradstock, Lyme Bay and Golden Cap

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