Around Milton on Stour
Rodney Legg resumes his explorations of the Dorset countryside across five miles of easy flat-lands near Gillingham
Published in May ’07
Folklore is write large in the fields between Gillingham and Milton on Stour. Longbury is said to contain the bodies of defeated Danes but truth has more history as it is a Neolithic long barrow that was raised over the first farmers of these parts in 3500 BC. Slaughtergate, however, in sight across the rugby pitch, is invoked as evidence that there must have been a skirmish when King Alfred marched this way from his marshland refuge at Athelney to victory on the hill at Edington in 878. The prosaic explanation in this case is disappointing. Slaughter, in its Old English root-word, means ‘slough, muddy place’ as in Slough, the town; the quagmire hereabouts was described as ‘the worst in living memory’ during the winter just ended.
Tradition also clings to Old Ivy Cottage in Milton on Stour. Though reset into an early 18th-century building, a panel of moulded plaster above its inglenook fireplace is of Tudor date and supports the claim that the manor of Milton was part of Catharine of Aragon’s dowry on her marriage to Henry VIII. The heraldic design depicts a rose and pomegranate. Other early buildings include the Old House, which has evolved into a large, early 19th-century home. It contains much oak panelling dating from 300 years earlier. A neat Georgian mansion, Pierston Farm, represents the later age of elegance.
Austere-looking Purn’s Mill was rustic Perne’s Mill when John Constable painted it in the moody ‘sad weather’ of August 1823. It was during his second stay here. Just two years later his friend, Archdeacon John Fisher, wrote from Gillingham Vicarage: ‘The news is that Matthew Parham’s (alias Perne’s) Mill is burnt to the ground, and exists only on your canvas. A huge, misshapen, new, bright, brick, modern, improved, patent monster is starting up in its stead.’ Beside the replacement, however, are a dam and sluices that appear to be original, and hold the Shreen Water back in an awesome poplar-fringed mill-pool.
The church of Saints Simon and Jude (him of the Hardy novel and other lost causes), with a lofty spire in the Early English style of Victorian Gothic, dates from 1860. It was provided by the Matthews family, who owned Wyke Brewery. Thomas Matthews paid for the first stage of the work, which was completed by his son, George Blandford Matthews.
This is a relatively short and easy walk in terms of terrain. There are no hills along its five miles. The down-side, literally in places, is that the underlying geology varies between shallow silt and deep clay. Make sure that you wear rubber boots if there has been recent rain.
1. Park and start in Milton on Stour village (OS reference ST800286). Set off northwards from the post office and Forge Garages towards Bourton. Pass the western entrance of Milton Lodge and approach Littlemarsh Cottage in 200 yards. Turn right here, over a stile in the hedgerow, and bear north-eastwards across the pasture to the next stile in 250 yards. Here cross a track and continue diagonally across the next field. Head towards Rope Farm and the escarpment of Salisbury Plain from White Sheet to Mere Down. In 350 yards, at the corner, cross murky Slod Brook. Continue straight ahead for 400 yards to the far corner of the field, midway between the farm to the left and cottages to the right. Cross the road to the lane on the other side. Pass the cottages in 500 yards and then bear right across the field, away from Benjafield Farm, south towards Milton. In the next field, in 100 yards, turn left and follow the hedge. Milton church is now to the right.
2. On reaching Slod Brook in 400 yards, cross a footbridge and then turn left to resume a southerly course across three stiles in 400 yards. These paddocks contain the strips of a former common field. From here follow the path to the right of Shreen Water to Purn’s Mill in 600 yards. Leave the fields through the gate to the right of the mill and turn right up the lane. Pass Purn’s Mill Cottages and Northmoor House to the junction in 300 yards. Here follow the lane around to the right and come to the main road at Colesbrook in 200 yards.
3. Cross the road and continue straight ahead along the tarred footpath on the other side. This heads westwards and then turns south. Keep the huge, blue-painted Neal’s Yard building to the left for 500 yards. On reaching the hedgerow, turn right over the River Stour at a footbridge. Cross this field diagonally to the oak tree near the opposite corner in 400 yards. Exit through the gate and proceed along the short length of double-hedged track to the road in 100 yards. Here, do not join the road but instead turn left into the field. Follow the grass strip and then the hedgerow south toward the twin towers of Wyke Brewery. In 600 yards suburbia is reached, beside Slaughtergate Farm. Turn right opposite Cappell Lane and follow the entire length of Wavering Cappell Lane westward towards Wincanton for 800 yards. Turn immediately right at this double junction, without joining the main road, to walk north along Longbury Hill Lane. This passes the pitches of North Dorset Rugby Football Club. In 250 yards, also pass Longbury, which gives its name to the lane. The grassy mound to your left, a Neolithic long barrow, is a rarity in this part of Dorset.
4. In 600 yards, reach the junction with Field Lane and turn right along it. Follow it around to the left at the next corner in 400 yards and proceed to the following corner in 200 yards. Here leave the road. Go through the gate that is directly ahead. Bear right, north-eastwards, across this arable field, diagonally to the opposite corner in 250 yards. Also bear right in the next field down to the paddock in the far corner, facing the central buildings of Newlands Farm and Milton Farm in 400 yards. Cross the stile, and a second stile in 50 yards, and follow the stream to the road in a further 50 yards to re-enter Milton on Stour. Turn left and pass the Old Dairy. The Old House is next, at the corner, in 200 yards. Turn left at the second corner, in another 200 yards, and pass Stourfield House. Then, at the triangular junction facing Pierston Fields, turn right in 100 yards. Back Lane leads round to the garage and post office in 300 yards.