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The Dorset Walk — Hilton, the Dorsetshire Gap and Rawlsbury Camp

Matt Wilkinson and Pat Sheehan LRPS skirt the southern edge of the Blackmore Vale

All Saints Church, Hilton

This is a splendid route in some of Dorset’s best walking country. Although not as trumpeted as Purbeck or West Dorset, the downs along the southern edge of the Blackmore Vale offer a landscape of impressive hills, open views and majestic woods. The last make this a good walk to do as the leaves are beginning to turn and before the rains of winter have created too much glutinous Dorset mud underfoot.

The route starts by descending from the heights of Bulbarrow to Hilton. Arthur Mee refers to the village as ‘gladdening the traveller’s heart’ and more even than most Dorset villages, it gives the impression of dozing through the centuries in its hollow in the hills. The parish church of All Saints has some fine gargoyles, including one of a bagpiper.

Melcombe Bingham is part of the confusion caused by place names in this area. A mile away is Bingham’s Melcombe; at one time they were one place and Bingham’s Melcombe was just the name of the manor house next to the church. Melcombe Bingham is also known as Melcombe Horsey or Lower Ansty, since it runs into the village of Ansty to the north. Properly speaking, Melcombe Horsey is the name of the deserted village to the west of the present settlement. Confusion worse confounded!

Looking back over Hilton towards Hilton Hill

The route passes through the almost mystical junction of four tracks known as the Dorsetshire Gap, where there is still a book in an old biscuit tin for visitors to sign their names and record their impressions. For most of the rest of the way the radio masts on top of Bulbarrow are in sight as the route climb up to Rawlsbury Camp. Arguably the best of Dorset’s small hill-forts because of its views, it was built in the Iron Age but was no match for the military sophistication of the Romans.

Distance: about 9 miles
Start: The parking area on what is usually known as Bulbarrow Hill but is actually Woolland Hill. OS ref. ST783059.
How to get there: The parking area lies just to the north-east of the junction on top of Bulbarrow, where four roads meet: from the north-east the road from Ibberton and Sturminster Newton; from the north-west the road from Hazelbury Bryan and Sherborne; from the south-west the road from Ansty and Dorchester; and from the south-east the road from Milton Abbas and Blandford.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth)
Refreshments: None on the route, but the Fox at Ansty is a short diversion. The Crown at Ibberton and the Hambro Arms at Milton Abbas are also quite close to the start/finish.

1. Turn left out of the parking area and at the junction continue straight ahead, signed to Ansty. In 750 yards, almost opposite a wireless mast on the right, turn left down the paved drive to Bulbarrow Farm. Pass the farm on the right and continue straight on a rough track to a ruined barn on the right and two gates ahead. Go through the left-hand gate and follow the right-hand edge of the field beyond. Start along the right-hand edge of the next field but in about 150 yards cross a stile on the right and bear left to go immediately through a gate. Bear half-right to head over the brow of the hill, where a gap in the hedgerow ahead becomes visible. Cross the stile in this gap and turn left to follow the left-hand field-edge. In the first corner, go through a gate and turn right on a rough track which descends increasingly steeply to reach a paved lane leading down to the road through Hilton. Go straight across this road and up the path into the churchyard of All Saints Church.

Joining the lane which leads to Ansty

2. Follow the path up the left-hand side of the church, turn right to go round the west end and left away from the church to reach a paved lane. Here go straight ahead up the right-hand side of a field to reach a gate into woodland. One path leads to the right, following the edge of the wood, while another goes half-right, steeply uphill. Follow the latter and at the top of the wood go over a stile and straight across the field beyond to another stile onto a road. Go straight across the road and down to the bottom right-hand corner of the field on the other side. Here cross a stile, walk down a slope and across a rough track to a wooden barrier on a grassy path which leads along the edge of woodland on the left. Follow this path for 1/3 mile until, with woodland on both left and right, a distinct grassy track leads down left to a metal gate. Just before the gate, turn right over a double stile and bear left to walk diagonally across the field beyond. In the bottom corner, bear right into the next field briefly, then left to a wooden gate, beyond which is a lane.

3. Turn right on the lane for about 200 yards, then turn left down a rough track (or continue straight ahead to reach the Fox at Ansty). Ignore the wooden gate immediately on the left but go through the next opening on the left and bear left to go straight down the field beyond to the bottom right-hand corner. Here cross a bridge and stile and turn right on a path which leads to a stile in the corner of the field. Ignore this stile, instead turning left to go up the right-hand field-edge. The next field is more open; continue up its right-hand edge to a gate, beyond which follow the right-hand field-edge again. When this turns sharply right, bear left to walk across the field towards a conspicuous thatched house with a wall alongside the field. Reaching the wall, turn left to follow it to a gate on the right. Go through this and walk down to the road through Melcombe Bingham.

4. Turn left for 350 yards to a cross-roads, where turn right on a paved drive signed ‘Privat [sic] road to Higher Melcombe’. In 2/3 mile there is a complicated track-junction just before some buildings. On the right are three metal gates: go through the middle one and stick to the left-hand edge of the field beyond. At the end of the field, go through a gate and turn immediately right through another gate to follow the left-hand field-edge uphill. At the end of the field go through a gate onto an enclosed path which continues uphill, forking right near the top to lead to the Dorsetshire Gap.

The view towards Rawlsbury Camp and Bulbarrow from near the Dorsetshire Gap

5. Turn right to a gate, beyond which go straight ahead, then bear slightly left to reach the ridge of the field, with views over the Blackmore Vale to the left. On the far side of the field, go through a gate and down to the far left-hand corner of the next field. Here go through a gate and straight on into the buildings of Melcombe Park Farm. Walk down the right-hand side of the farmyard and out onto a paved drive. Turn left and follow the drive until it turns sharply right by the corner of a wood. Here go straight ahead, along the edge of the wood. This can be a particularly muddy stretch, so with some relief emerge from the woodland through a gate and continue straight ahead down the left-hand side of the field beyond. In 350 yards turn right, straight across the field to a gate on the other side. Bear slightly left, heading for a gap about halfway down the left-hand field-edge. Here cross a stile and bear right to cross the field to a gate in the far corner. On the other side of the gate, walk straight ahead on a paved drive past the rather ramshackle buildings of Crockers Farm on the left.

6. Reaching a road, go straight across onto a rough track. Follow this track as it bears left down to a ford. Turn right and walk up the stream (decent footwear needed here, even in summer) until it turns right and the track continues straight ahead to a gate. Walk up the field beyond to the top right-hand corner, where go through a gate and head diagonally across the next field to the top left-hand corner. Continue up to the top of the field after that, then keep on uphill to the ramparts of Rawlsbury Camp. Turn right to track round the main outer rampart, as there is no right of way over the ramparts and across the middle of the camp. Go through a gate and the rough wooden column marking the highest point of the camp appears on the left. Here you can climb up to it and admire the views. Then continue on the track along the rampart as it now bears right to lead to a road. Turn right on the road and ignore turnings to the left and the right. After the turning to the right, continue for ½ mile to a junction. Here turn left and left again to reach the parking area.

Looking south-west on the climb up to Rawlsbury Camp, towards the Dorsetshire Gap and Nettlecombe Tout

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