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The Dorset walk — Coombe Heath and Highwood

Matt Wilkinson and Mark Bauer in one of the lesser-known areas of South Dorset

Think of South Dorset walks and you think, perhaps, of the coast path and the Purbeck Hills. Yet what one might call the hinterland of South Dorset has its own charm, which this walk may help to reveal.
It is a mixed landscape of arable and pasture, but the route also passes through some beautiful ancient woodland: altogether, a very English landscape. Starting near Coombe Keynes, a particularly pretty hamlet, the walk crosses Coombe Heath Nature Reserve, an area of dry and wet heath and arid grassland, dotted with several tumuli, which is leased to the Dorset Wildlife Trust by the Weld Estate. From there it goes through the tiny settlement of Highwood before returning to the start.
The stretches through woodland, and part of Coombe Heath, dry out slowly so are usually more or less muddy. The rest of the going underfoot is easy and there are no difficult climbs.

Distance: About 4¾ miles
Start: A lay-by just east of Coombe Keynes, on the lane to East Lulworth. OS ref SY845842.
How to get there: Turn east off the B3071 Wool-Lulworth road, about 1¼ miles south of Wool, 2 miles north of Lulworth. The turning is signed to Coombe Keynes. Drive through Coombe Keynes and the lay-by is on the left, about 250 yards after the end of the village, just before a left-hand curve with a track running off to the right.
Maps: OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: None on the route

Cottages at Coombe Keynes
Cottages at Coombe Keynes

1. Continue down the lane for a mile. Pass the estate cottages rather inelegantly named Shaggs on the right and almost opposite the drive to Park Lodge, turn left down a track. Continue up the grassy track with woodland to the right, to reach two wooden gates in quick succession. After the second gate bear right to stay on the track but in less than 100 yards go through a metal gate on the left and turn left onto a track. Follow this track until it swings right into a field, where continue straight ahead on a path.

 Looking north-west from the track opposite Park Lodge
Looking north-west from the track opposite Park Lodge

2. By a red flag marking the edge of the army ranges, the path bends sharply left. Soon afterwards, go through a gate and turn right to follow the barbed wire fence on the right. As the landscape opens out into the heathland of Coombe Heath, join the track to the left, still continuing in the same direction. At a fork, choose the right-hand option to walk parallel with and close to the barbed wire fence on the right. Follow this fence right to the end of the heath, where pass into woodland to reach a gate and a bridge.

Approaching Coombe Heath
Approaching Coombe Heath

3. Beyond the bridge, follow the clearly defined path through the woodland. The barbed wire fence marking the edge of the ranges re-appears on the right; follow it as it causes the path to bend sharply left, then right. Go through a gate and continue straight ahead, still with the ranges fence on the right. The path follows it round a bend to the left. Continue straight ahead on the path, even as the range fence turns away to the right. Bear left in front of a tennis court and in about 50 yards reach a lane.

 On Coombe Heath
On Coombe Heath

4. Turn left. Follow the road as it bends left by Highwood Farm and continue all the way down the lane until it peters out in a clearing. Continue straight ahead into the woodland. Where the track emerges from the woodland, bear slightly right to where the wood on the right bulges out into the field. Reaching this corner, bear left to walk across the narrowest part of the field to enter the next field. Here pick up a track, which eventually emerges onto a lane. Here turn right and walk back to your car.

Nearing Coombe Keynes at the end of the wal
Nearing Coombe Keynes at the end of the walk

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