Legging it in Dorset — Netherbury and Oxbridge
Rodney Legg takes us on a circuit of tranquil Netherbury and the lush green landscape beside the River Brit
Published in May ’08
|A typical West Dorset orchard|
This is a landscape of apples and grapes which has been long recognised for its mild climate. Strawberries at Christmas were reported from here in December 1766. Netherbury meets my mind-picture of Mark Twain’s ‘This England’ (though it lacks a castle): ‘…that beauty which is England alone – it has no duplicate. It is made up of very simple details – just grass, and trees, and shrubs, and roads, and hedges, and gardens, and houses, and vines, and churches, and castles, and here and there a ruin – and over it all a mellow dream haze of history. But its beauty is incomparable, and all its own.’
Delicensed a generation ago, the Star Inn defiantly retains its name, in capital letters. It is no exaggeration to say that all in Netherbury belongs to the past as there is no longer a functioning public house, rectory, school or shop. They also insist on finding more history, notably the ‘Netherbury Manuscripts’. This is the grandiose description of tiny fragments of crumpled 13th-century vellum which were shovelled out of a dusty cavity in the north wall of the tower when the church clock was being overhauled in 1964.
Time is ever-present in Netherbury, with Big Ben chimes day and night, and the other church treasure is its Elizabethan pulpit which was carefully restored in 1808 – unlike the building itself, which was trashed in the name of restoration in 1850, leaving no trace at all of a fine series of medieval frescoes.
Alongside the loss of facilities has gone a declining population. Until recent times and the great influx from Surrey in particular, the village dropped to below 300 souls, though the big parish around it had another 600 inhabitants. Population density in 1841 was much greater, when the numbers peaked at 2162.
|The River Brit|
Military memorials abound. That to ‘three gallant Dorset sailors’ commemorates Lieutenant Arthur Hood, Captain Alexander Hood and Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, whose name has passed to us via the Royal Navy’s ill-fated battle-cruiser of Bismarck memory. Eminent Victorians from Netherbury included General Sir Reginald Hart (1848-1931), who won the Victoria Cross in the Afghan War of 1879.
All the paths on this five-mile route are well marked, easy to follow and unobstructed. There are only a few patches of peaty mud – far less than you expect in riverside locations – and user-friendly stiles are carved with children’s vignettes and named for the fauna and flora.
Park and start in Netherbury and begin from the central cross-roads beside Chantry Walk (OS ref ST470995). Set off into the lesser option beside No 1 Chantry Walk, which is signed to the Village Hall and Reading Room. This is New Inn Street which, after passing between the Reading Room and 1853-rebuilt Paradise House, becomes a flight of steps up to St Mary’s Church in 275 yards. Turn right from the parish church, away from the tower, to the gate in 50 yards. Here turn right and then immediately left to follow a path down through the wild garlic to the weir in 160 yards.
In 100 yards come to the entrance to Parnham Farm. Turn right passing the Mill House, to the junction with Drury Lane and Bridge Street in 400 yards. Here proceed straight ahead, up the untarred track, which is signed to Oxbridge. Pass the cottage and the drive to Hatchlands in 275 yards. Next is one of Netherbury’s active orchards. In 550 yards pass paths from above and below to the waterside in the vicinity of River Cottage (of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall fame). The bridleway is straight ahead, through the field gate; keep the cottage and former mill pond to the right. Skirt the lower slopes of the pasture, via cattle-troughs and gateways, to pass above the ponds and Slape Mill. In 800 yards pass through the hamlet of Oxbridge.
On reaching the tarred public road in a further 200 yards, after Meadowbank, turn right towards Waytown. Re-cross the River Brit in 100 yards and proceed uphill for 50 yards. Now turn left across the stile and follow the terraced path above the river. To the left are the willows and thatch of Oxbridge. Ahead is the next hamlet, Camesworth, but keep both the red-brick house and the River Brit across to the left.
|The hamlet of Camesworth|
In 800 yards, opposite the middle house at Camesworth, cross a stile in the fence between two pastures. Here there are options and ours is to turn right, uphill, with our back to the river. Cross the road on the hilltop, beside Elwell Lodge, in ¼ mile. Proceed straight ahead along the double-hedge track – under the trees – on the other side. This bridleway gradually drops down to a cross-roads of paths besides a barn in 550 yards. Here continue straight ahead, over the stile beside the holly bush, and follow the hedgerow down and across the field to the road between Marlis Farm and Whithay in 150 yards. Exit from the pasture through a gate below the electricity cables.
Once again continue straight ahead, up the untarred road ‘Unsuitable for motors’. Salwayash is across on the hill to the left. Pass the drive to Hannams Cottage in 650 yards and also proceed straight ahead at the junction of tracks in a further 350 yards. The main track brings us to the top of the hill at the 100-metre contour in ¼ mile. You can tell it is the highest point around as it has both a telecommunications mast and a wind turbine. The track passes Patley Wood Farm and is tarred for the final part of the descent to a road junction in ¼ mile. Tree-topped Lewesdon Hill forms the skyline ahead, at 893-feet in old money.
|Hedge-laying at Hingsdon|
Proceed straight ahead for 100 yards and then fork right at the next junction (towards Netherbury). Follow Hingsdon Lane to pass the entrances to Hingsdon Farm in 200 yards and continue downhill beyond them. Pass the drive to Amber Cottage in ¼ mile. Then in 275 yards turn left, through a gate, to follow the hedge beside and behind the vineyard. The bridleway brings us to a lane in 550 yards. Turn right, down Orchard Hill and then Tower Hill, to St Mary’s Church in ½ mile. The raised pavement below the tower overlooks the Old Rectory and then the Chantry as it descends to Chantry Street and the centre of the village in 275 yards.