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Legging it in Dorset — Halstock and Sutton Bingham

Halstock and Sutton Bingham - Rodney Legg skirts Sutton Bingham Reservoir, which straddles the Somerset border and supplies Yeovil’s water

Legging it in Dorset

Halstock and Sutton Bingham

Rodney Legg skirts Sutton Bingham Reservoir, which straddles the Somerset border and supplies Yeovil’s water

The public house sign in the centre of Halstock used to show a Saxon lady carrying her head. ‘Ye Quiet Woman’, as she was in the time of landlord William Worley, is said to be Juthware – now called Judith – who was decapitated by her brother in Judith Field on a hill north of the village. Her martyrdom features in the Sherborne Missal, that remarkable illuminated manuscript, and the beheading of royal wife Anne Boleyn inspired the similarly named Silent Woman at Coldharbour near Wareham. Halstock’s hostelry, sadly, was delicensed in the 1990s.

The most intriguing gravestone is to John Pitt, who became famous for living in three centuries. ‘Native of this parish’, he was born on 26 January 1799 and died on 20 January 1901, at 101 years and 361 days. His longevity became legendary but was credited to Bradford Abbas, where he moved, though his death took place in Sherborne Union Workhouse. His body was re-united with Halstock at a spot just inside the gate to St Mary’s Church.

St Mary's Church at Halstock
St Mary’s Church at Halstock

The parish church has a 15th-century tower but the interior was re-built in 1846. That might now be a claim to fame, as the plans were drawn up by Augustin Pugin (1812-52), who re-built the Houses of Parliament, but most of his suggestions were ignored. Bethel House, a chapel dating from 1834, is a reminder that Halstock had one of the earliest lunatic asylums, from before 1722.

Common Lane crosses the site of an extensive Roman villa. Road-workers found a mosaic floor in 1817 but visitors broke it up for souvenirs and the Earl of Ilchester had the site sealed. It was re-excavated from 1967 by Ron Lucas until his death in 1991. A golf course now covers half of the rooms and the rest are under pasture.

This eight-mile walk concentrates on the cattle country south of Sutton Bingham Reservoir, which was constructed in 1955 and collects Dorset’s water for Somerset’s taps. It covers 162 acres and has no public access beyond a picnic area, though a path from there leads south to the adjacent cul-de-sac with an archetypal single-cell Norman church – off the route of the walk but worth driving round to. This contains a fine chancel arch and walls half-covered with the pastel-paint of medieval murals.

The pastoral landscape is damp and lush, particularly after a wet summer, so wear suitable footwear and carry and use secateurs. These are rolling hills, though without any stiff climbs. The setting is rustic and not all the paths are well-marked.

The farms we pass on the way carry names resonant with Anglo-American political enlightenment. Wealthy academic landowner Thomas Hollis (1720-74) endowed Harvard’s famous library (Harvard Farm), popularised the philosophy of John Locke (Locke Farm), admired satirist Andrew Marvell (Marvell Farm) and urged the acceptance of breakaway transatlantic home rule (Liberty Farm). He might even have foreseen the Simpsons (Springfield Farm). Hollis lived in the next parish, at Urless Farm, Corscombe, where he was buried in an unmarked grave. Legend has it that his horse was shot and that they lie together.

Park and start in Halstock, in the leafy lane that is Church Street (OS ref ST537083 in postcode BA22 9SG). Set off southwards and turn left into Leigh Lane, after passing the Village Hall, in 100 yards. Follow this road south-east, passing Meredith Close – named for a Victorian rector – and turn right into Common Lane in 450 yards. Proceed straight ahead on reaching the gates into the golf-club car park in 300 metres. Hereon follow a double-hedged green lane. This crosses the site of the Roman villa in 200 yards (before the second corner) and continues south-west to a junction of unpaved public roads in just under a mile.

Here turn right, west, for 300 yards. Then turn right, into the second field, and head north, straight ahead through a succession of gates and stiles. Follow the right-hand side of Bracket’s Coppice for 650 yards, keeping the trees to the left, and then follow the hedgerow across pastures to Buttercup Cottage and Daisy Farm for another 650 yards. Turn right, east along the lane, to Overland Farm and Neville Farm in 600 yards. Then turn left immediately after the buildings, through double gates, and head north-east. Cross the field diagonally to the gate on the other side in 250 yards. From here continue straight ahead, diagonally across an arable field, for 300 yards to a stile in the hedgerow 75 yards to the left of the far corner.

Also continue straight ahead, diagonally, over the next field to a gateway on the other side – with a pylon behind it – in 200 yards. Bear left in this pasture, again diagonally, down to the gate between the poplars and the pylon in 100 yards. Turn left, but ignore the drive to Park Farm, and then bear right along the road to Halstock Mill in 100 yards. After passing the front of the three-storey building, turn right across a footbridge. Then cross a stile in 50 yards. Keep the stream to the right and head east towards Locke Farm.

The cottage by Legg's Bridge Halstock
The cottage by Legg’s Bridge

On reaching the farm track in 450 yards turn left, away from the buildings and the power line and into a pasture in 150 yards. Proceed northwards to the top hedgerow in 200 yards. Here turn sharply right, staying inside the same field, and head downhill towards the closest pylon. Exit from the field in 300 yards, over a stile facing thatched Legg’s Bridge Cottage to the left of the pylon. Turn right and walk down to the road junction in 25 yards. Here turn left, following the brook downstream from Legg’s Bridge. Follow the lane east to the corner in 250 yards and then north-east to Netherstoke, in 650 yards.

 Sutton Bingham Reservoir
Sutton Bingham Reservoir

Turn left at the junction, north along the Yeovil Road, but only for 250 yards. Immediately before reaching Barrett’s House Farm turn right through a gate, eastwards to cross a causeway over the reservoir inlet in 300 yards. In the field beyond proceed for 200 yards and then turn right into the field beneath Harvard Farm. Cross this field diagonally, south-eastwards, to the gate in 400 yards. From here head directly uphill, eastwards, to approach Harvard Farm in 200 yards. Turn right on joining its drive, south-eastwards, and follow it to the road in 800 yards. Pass an OS trig point (117 metres elevation). Marvell Farm is across to the right.

Sutton Bingham Reservoir
Murals by a window in the Norman church by Sutton Bingham Reservoir

Turn right at the road and follow it south, to pass Liberty Farm – over to the left – and between Springfield Farm and Abbots Hill Farm in 850 yards. In a further 100 yards come to the wide entrance into Gerald Hallett Ltd. Turn right here, immediately opposite this entrance, through a narrow gap to a stile in the hedge. Bear left towards the electricity poles, westwards, and go through the gate in the next hedge in 200 yards. Continue downhill, straight ahead, to the next gate in another 200 yards. Then cross two stiles beneath the power lines in 150 yards. In 75 yards there is another stile, where turn right to follow the right-hand side of an orchard. Turn right through a gate in this hedgerow, beneath an oak tree, in 400 yards.

Now head north-west, leftward, across the corner of this field for 100 yards. Continue straight ahead across the next pasture, downhill, to a gate and stile in the bottom hedgerow in 400 yards. Immediately ahead is Bull Bridge. Cross it and walk the length of Watery Lane to Quiet Woman House and the Triangle in 450 yards. Here turn right, northwards, along the Yeovil Road. Turn left at a gateway, after St Juthware Close and Hollis Close, in 300 yards. Head west-north-west across this field for 250 yards. Cross a stile in the middle of the far hedge and then continue straight ahead, downhill to a stile and footbridge in 200 yards. These are to the right of the bungalow roof which is midway between the Village Hall (left) and the former Rectory, now Juthware Hall (right). Follow the right-hand fence to a gate into St Mary’s churchyard and a stile into Church Street in 75 yards.

The view south over Dorset from near Harvard Farm at Halstock
The view south over Dorset from near Harvard Farm

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