The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset drive — Up hill and down dale

Matt Wilkinson travels across the grain of the county

The unusual thatched cottage at Stanbridge

The hills of central Dorset run roughly north to south, rather like the splayed fingers of a hand. Between them run the river valleys, most of them bearing streams that are tributaries of the county’s two major rivers, the Stour and the Frome, and this drive crosses nine named rivers. Landforms are never that neat and tidy, of course, and it also crosses valleys where the streams (rather mysteriously) are not named, as at Milton Abbas and Cheselbourne.

Crossing the county in this way gives one as much insight into its variety as any route could. The Allen runs through the open landscape of the southern fringes of Cranborne Chase, while the Hooke burrows among the beginnings of the West Dorset hills. Likewise, the views from the ridges between the valleys progresses from the pastoral uplands above Blandford to the heights of West Dorset marching to the horizon.

[Milometer readings are given in square brackets. They should be generally reliable but milometers do vary slightly.]

Distance – About 75 miles
Start – The Square in Wimborne (OS ref SU009001)
Maps – OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck) and 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth)
Refreshments – There are pubs or tea rooms on the route at Blandford, Winterborne Stickland, Milton Abbas, Ansty, Cerne Abbas, Maiden Newton, Dorchester, Winterborne Zelston, Almer and Wimborne, and just off the route at Piddletrenthide and Sydling St Nicholas.

Milton Abbey

1. Head north from the Square on the B3078 towards Cranborne. Go through Stanbridge with its curious round thatched house at the entrance to Gaunts House. Turn left to Witchampton [3.9] and just before the village, cross the River Allen [4.6]. At the very start of the village [4.7], turn left into Lower Street, signed to Tarrant Keyneston and Blandford Forum. Continue along this road as, at Windy Corner [7.5], it passes the memorial to those who flew on wartime operations from Tarrant Rushton airfield; these included many of the glider-borne troops who landed in France on D-Day. After the war, the field became a base for Cobham Aviation and many of the early experiments in in-flight refuelling were carried out there.

2. Turn left onto the road through the Tarrant Valley [8.3], cross the River Tarrant at Tarrant Rawston and take the next turning on the right, signed to Blandford Forum [8.9]. Turn right onto the B3082 Wimborne-Blandford road [10.3] and go straight across the next roundabout and down into Blandford. Continue straight through the town, bearing left into West Street at the end of the Market Place [12.3]. Blandford is a town which grew up as a direct result of its position on a river-crossing – its name means ‘ford where there are blennies’ (a type of fish) – and West Street leads to its handsome bridge over the River Stour.

3. Pass the entrance to Bryanston School and shortly afterwards turn right into New Road [12.6]. Follow this road to a junction [15.2], where turn right, signed to Winterborne Stickland, Turnworth, Milton Abbas and Bulbarrow. Reaching Winterborne Stickland, turn left [16.2] before turning right immediately in front of the village sign [16.6] to go over the River Winterborne into Dunbury Lane and past the village school. Follow Dunbury Lane to Milton Abbas, where turn right [19.2] down the main street, signed to Hilton and Milborne St Andrew, with a brown sign to Milton Abbey.

The River Piddle at Piddletrenthide

4. At the bottom of the street fork right [19.7], signed to Hilton, with a brown sign to Milton Abbey. Continue past Milton Abbey and through Hilton to a junction with the distinctive nose of Nettlecombe Tout ahead [22.4]. Turn right, signed to Ansty and Hazelbury Bryan, and shortly afterwards turn left [22.6], signed to Melcombe Bingham and Dorchester. Drive through Ansty and Melcombe Bingham to Cheselbourne, where turn right immediately after the village school [25.4], signed to Doles Ash and Piddletrenthide. This road leads over the hill to the road through the Piddle Valley [29.2], where turn left and then almost immediately right to cross the River Piddle.

5. Continue up the hill to reach a cross-roads [30.7], where go straight across and down into Cerne Abbas. At the bottom of the hill [32.0], turn left and go along the village’s main street, below which the River Cerne runs in a culvert. At the cross-roads with the A352 Dorchester-Sherborne road [32.3], go straight across and over the hill down to a ford over Sydling Water. The road then climbs again to the A37 Dorchester-Yeovil road [35.7]. Turn left, then almost immediately right, signed to Maiden Newton. Follow the road through Maiden Newton to a junction by the mysterious stump of the old village cross on the left [37.6]. Turn right and cross the bridge over the River Frome.

6. Carry on out of the village and up the hill, near the top of which turn left, signed to Toller Porcorum and Powerstock [38.9]. At the beginning of Toller Porcorum, cross the last of our rivers, the River Hooke [39.8]. Continue through the village, with the West Dorset hills coming into view, to a junction [41.1]. Turn left, towards Askerswell and Bridport. Near the top of the hill, with the ramparts of Eggardon Hill on the right, bear left, signed to Compton Valence and Dorchester [42.6]. Continue along this straight, former Roman road to a junction [45.4] where continue more or less straight ahead, signed to Dorchester. Follow the road down to the junction with the A35 Dorchester-Bridport road [48.8].

The ford across Sydling Water

7. Turn left and at the next roundabout [51.1] take the second exit through Prince Charles’s model village of Poundbury into the centre of Dorchester. At Top o’ Town roundabout [52.7], continue straight ahead down High West Street and High East Street to leave the town over Grays Bridge; below the bridge runs the Frome, which by now has gathered to itself the waters of the Cerne, Sydling Water and the Hooke. At the next roundabout [54.8] turn left on the A35, signed to Poole. Just before the junction with the A354 the River Piddle flows under the road on its journey to Poole Harbour, which it enters alongside the Frome.
8. Stay on the A35 to the Bere Regis roundabout [63.9], where turn left onto the A31, signed to Wimborne and Ringwood. Continue to the second roundabout [74.3], where turn left onto the B3078, signed to Wimborne and Cranborne. Cross Julians Bridge over the River Stour, which has already been joined by the Tarrant and the Winterborne; the Allen flows into the Stour a little under a mile downstream. Continue straight ahead along Julians Road and West Street to reach the Square [75.3].

Near journey’s end: Julians Bridge over the River Stour on the outskirts of Wimborne

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