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Legging It In Dorset — Compton Valence

Rodney Legg takes us on a seven-mile circuit through grain fields around an idyllic chalkland village

Great open spaces in the high downlands between Dorchester and Bridport are explored on this seven-mile walk. Apart from occasional stretches of grass for silage or a few cattle and sheep, this is largely cereal country. Barley and wheat are the staple crops and there is a big grain store above Compton Valence. The village is set in a peaceful wooded hollow and remains a well-hidden idyll. With a population of around fifty, this has long been one of Dorset’s most sparsely inhabited parishes.

Contemporary residents include Mrs Mary Spencer Moore Danowski, the daughter of sculptor Henry Moore. The old rectory is now known as Compton Valence House. All but that, the church and the village hall were bought in the 1950s from Sir Philip Williams by Wynford Eagle farmer William Noel ‘Tim’ Chick (1905-88). His eldest daughter married Jeremy Russell and continued to farm most of the parish from Manor Farm in Compton Valence. There are generations of Chick predecessors in the churchyard.

The church, dedicated to slain archbishop Thomas Becket, was almost entirely re-built by Christchurch architect Benjamin Ferrey in 1839. Only the 15th-century tower was left intact. The rest is Victorian Gothic, paid for by Robert Williams of Bridehead at Little Bredy, whose family owned the parish. He gave a celebratory dinner on 29 September 1840 ‘of which all the workers and every person in the parish partook.’ Its finishing flourish, the clock, was installed in the tower in 1841 and electrified in 1979. Surviving from the earlier church is a brass, set in the floor beside the font, to Thomas Walden. The Latin inscription tells us he was ‘lately rector’ and had re-built the church. He died in 1437.

Walking conditions are as easy as they come. There is an initial climb, but not too demanding, to rise in half a mile by a couple of hundred feet. Pay attention to your direction – it would be sensible to take a compass – as there are big distances and few landmarks. The most useful of these are the 160-feet towers that carry 400 kilovolt cables of the National Grid towards Devon.

Park and start in Compton Valence, in the vicinity of St Thomas Becket Church and the village hall (OS map reference SY593932, postcode DT2 9ER). Set off from the church gates and cross the road into the tarred drive (S). This goes downhill and passes between ponds in 150 yards. It then climbs to a junction of tracks on the brow of Tout Hill in another 150 yards.

Bear right, uphill through a gate, into a hollow way with banks of hart’s tongue fern and ransoms, the wild garlic. Follow the wooded track for 275 yards, into an arable field, on the summit. Bear left (SSW) and follow the hedgerow to the Roman road in 450 yards. Turn left along the road (SE) and then turn right in 90 yards. Go through the left-hand of the two gates and keep the hedgerow to the right (SW), up and over the rise. Follow the hedge towards the pylon line, into the corner of the field, in 650 yards.

On reaching the electricity cables, turn right along a second bridleway (NW). The track and its hedges lead into a field in 500 yards. From here, continue straight ahead, across to a gate in the roadside hedge in 275 yards. Turn right here (NNE) to a cross-roads in 450 yards. Proceed straight ahead, into Greenford Lane, and follow it (N) to a junction beside Hill Barn in 750 yards. Continue straight ahead, ignoring the sign back into Compton Valence, and pass between old and new farm buildings.

Proceed for 1000 yards and turn right on the hilltop, into a farm road (NE), which passes through gates which are set back from the tarred carriageway. Known as Haydon Track, this passes Haydon Barn in 650 yards and then continues straight ahead as a grassy path. Follow the hedgerow, keeping it on the left, into the corner of the field in 750 yards. Again continue straight ahead. At the end of this field, in 325 yards, go through the gate.

Bear a little leftward in this field, towards the communications mast behind the hedgerow facing you, and then go through the gateway – to the left of the mast – in 375 yards. Follow the track beside the hedge and approach Longlands Farm in 1000 yards. Before reaching the mast, go through a field gate and keep all the buildings to the right.

On reaching the access road, in 150 yards turn right (SW) and pass between Barnfield House and Longlands Farm in 50 yards. Continue straight ahead through the farmyard for 150 yards and then enter a double-hedged bridleway. This heads into the valley, towards the pylon line that runs along the horizon. Proceed downhill for 100 yards and approach South Slip wood.

On coming to the gate across the track, in Compton Bottom, turn right (WNW) through the right-hand field gate. Follow the fence to a field gate in 650 yards. This leads into a wider section of the valley After the next gate, in 450 yards, follow the right-hand fence along a grassy path that then gradually bends to the left (SW).

In 750 yards the bridleway continues its leftward curve (S) through a gate, but stay in the same valley and pass through a yard beside gardens and barn conversions at former Lower Dairy in 650 yards. Re-enter Compton Valence village and turn right (W) to return to the Hollows and the parish church in 100 yards.

Captions

1.    Compton Valence’s church is dedicated to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was martyred in 1170

2.    The pond below Tout Hill

3.    This Roman road went from Dorchester to Exeter

4.    Overlooking Compton Bottom

5.    The Hollows in Compton Valence

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