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Wynford Eagle and the Tollers

Matt Wilkinson and Pat Sheehan LRPS walk through villages named after birds of prey, brothers and pigs

Walking towards the parish church at Wynford Eagle

This route explores one of those semi-deserted parts of Dorset where the occasional village breaks a landscape of extensive skies and big fields punctuated by patches of woodland. Even if the district of West Dorset officially starts further to the east, this area marks the beginning of West Dorset in landscape terms, with switchbacks of narrow valleys lying in the shadow of steep little hills.

Wynford Eagle is in such a valley. The manor house (not to be confused with Wynford House, almost a mile to the west of the village) was re-built by the Sydenham family and is a fine example of early 17th-century architecture. A stone eagle perches on the central gable. After the Conquest the lands hereabouts were granted to Guilbert de Aquila (Latin for ‘eagle’), which explains the village’s name and the manor house’s adornment. The theme is continued in the parish church, where an inscription on an 11th-century tympanum commemorates ‘Mahald de l’egele’, translated as ‘Matilda Eagle’.

Over the hill is Toller Fratrum, or Toller of the Brothers, a reference to the Knights Hospitallers to whom the manor once belonged. The tiny church of St Basil (one of only three in England dedicated to him) is most notable for its font. Dating from Norman times, it is strangely carved with a series of doll-like figures and heads and with a monster which has one head but two bodies. The former manor house, now a farm, is a lovely group of buildings.

Toller Porcorum means ‘Toller of the pigs’. Unlike Toller Fratrum, this refers not to the manor’s ownership but to the fact that the village was known for its herds of pigs; an alternative name in medieval times was Swine Toller. The church has a plain but impressive 14th-century tower and a more modern relic of note is the clearly defined track-bed of the Bridport branch railway from Maiden Newton. Among the surprising old pupils of the village school, which closed in 1980, was Fiona Richmond, who was at the forefront of the sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. She was the daughter of the village’s vicar.

Looking back down the hill to the manor house at Wynford Eagle

Distance: About 5½ miles
Start: On Shatcombe Lane, the road from Eggardon Hill to Wynford Eagle, about 2¼ miles east of Eggardon Hill and 1 mile west of Wynford Eagle. A track runs northward from the road to a large wood; on the south side are barns surrounded by conspicuous woodland. OS ref SY573962.
How to get there: From Maiden Newton, turn south off the A356 at the western end of the village, then almost immediately right to Wynford Eagle. In Wynford Eagle, turn right towards Askerswell and Bridport. From the A35, turn north to Askerswell and follow the road to Eggardon Hill. After the cross-roads at the eastern end of Eggardon Hill, take the next turning on the right.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis). Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth). It is not unknown in this part of Dorset for OS maps to fall from their normal high standard of accuracy.
Refreshments: None on the route. The nearest are in Maiden Newton.

A distant view of Toller Porcorum from the hill between Wynford Eagle and Toller Fratrum

1. Go through the gate to the left of the woodland with the barns in it. Walk down the right-hand edge of the field, keeping a sharp eye out for a hunting gate on the right in 300-350 yards. Go through the gate, turn left and follow the left-hand edge of two fields down to a bridge over a stream and a gate onto a lane. Turn left on the lane and walk into Wynford Eagle. Opposite farm buildings at the bottom of the hill, turn left, signed to Askerswell and Bridport. Pass the manor house on the right and the church of St Lawrence on the left. Continue uphill and opposite York Cottages at the top of the hill, turn right up a chalky track. Near the top of the hill it leads into a field. Follow it across the field and in the next field turn right to follow the right-hand edge. At the end of the field, go straight ahead through a gate and bear slightly right, downhill. As Toller Fratrum comes into view, head towards the church and reach a gap in the fence. Turn left and follow a grassy track downhill through two gates and onto an enclosed path. This leads down to a third gate, beyond which is a track.

2. Unless taking the worthwhile diversion to the right to see the church and former manor house, turn left on this track until it becomes a more enclosed grassy path in just over ½ mile. Shortly afterwards, a set of steps descends from the field on the left onto the path, while on the right are a bridge and a stile. Cross the bridge and stile and bear slightly left to the bottom of the field. In the next field, continue in the same direction, over the brow of the hill, to reach a gate into the next field. Follow the left-hand edge of this field. Cross a stile and in the next field, bear lightly right to follow a track down the centre of the field, veering right at the bottom to cross a stile and bridge near the bottom right-hand corner. Turn right to a metal gate. Don’t go through it, but do go through the gate on the left, then turn immediately right to cross a stile. Walk diagonally across the field beyond, to a stile about 100 yards down from the far top left-hand corner. Walk almost straight down the next field to a bridge and on the other side of the bridge turn right and cross a field to a stile up onto the old railway. Turn right, then in a few yards left to cross a stile. Bear left to a gate on the other side of the field and turn left onto a road.

3. Pass the lane on the right leading up to the parish church of St Peter and St Andrew and bear left and right over an old railway bridge. In another 100 yards or so, turn left over a stile in the hedge and walk up the field beyond to the top right-hand corner. Bear right in the next field to a stile about halfway along the right-hand side. On the other side, bear right, up to the top right-hand corner, and in the next field left to the far left-hand corner. Here, emerge onto a lane and turn left. In about 200 yards, turn left down the drive to Colesmoor Farm. Pass the modern farmhouse on the left and just before entering the farmyard, go through a metal gate on the left and bear right to another metal gate halfway down the right-hand side of the field. Go through this and immediately left through another gate and cross the field beyond diagonally to a gate above some woodland in the bottom corner. Continue in the same direction, diagonally across the field, to a metal gate on the far side. Go through the gate and turn left down a grassy track to another gate.

The former manor house at Toller Fratrum is a worthwhile diversion from the main route of the walk

4. Continue straight ahead across another track and a rather boggy patch then through a gate and a belt of woodland into an open field. Bear right to cross it diagonally to a metal gate near the top on the far side. Follow the right-hand edge of the field beyond, which turns sharply right up to a gate. On the other side of the gate, turn right on a chalky track through another gate. Bear left, away from the track, and cross the field diagonally to a hunting gate in the hedgerow at the very bottom of the field (crossing any temporary sheep fence that might be in place, as it was when we did the walk). Immediately after the hunting gate turn right and follow the right-hand field-edge to a gate. After the gate turn left down into a steep dip and up the other side, with woodland on the left, to a gate at the top corner of the woodland. Bear slightly left, up the shoulder of the hill and veering somewhat away from the woodland, to the top left-hand corner of the field. Here there is a gate, beyond which is your car.

Toller Porcorum

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