The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset walk — Ashmore, Compton Abbas and Fontmell Magna

Matt Wilkinson and Matt Bauer walk where Cranborne Chase meets the Blackmore Vale

Ashmore's famous pond
Ashmore’s famous pond

This walk starts in Ashmore, which is Dorset’s highest village at some 700 feet. It is renowned for its pond, which at its best is very pretty but can look rather sorry for itself if a low water-level means muddy margins or if the surface is disfigured by algae. The midsummer festival of Filly Loo takes place here: the derivation of the name is unclear but it is a celebration of dances which has a distinctly pagan feel about it.
The route drops from Fontmell Down into Compton Abbas and from there strikes westwards into the Blackmore Vale; not the least interesting aspect of the walk is the contrast between the uplands and woods of Cranborne Chase at the start and end of the walk, and the lower-lying pastures of the Blackmore Vale in the middle.
The walk goes through Fontmell Magna and passes Springhead, which Rolf and Marabel Gardiner turned into a centre for the arts and a pioneer of organic farming in the 1930s. Today the Springhead Trust continues to promote the ideals and continues the work of the Gardiners. Finally, the route climbs up to the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve on Fontmell Down to regain the uplands of Cranborne Chase.
Two major roads, the A351 and the higher Blandford-Shaftesbury road, lie on the route. They are both fast, busy roads, so cross or use them with care. Be prepared for some demanding climbs and descents.

Distance: About 9½ miles
Start: By the pond in Ashmore. OS ref ST913178.
How to get there: From the A351 (Blandford-Shaftesbury), turn east in Fontmell Magna, cross the higher Blandford-Shaftesbury road and continue into Ashmore. From the A354 (Blandford-Salisbury) turn west at the Handley Hill roundabout and go through Sixpenny Handley and Tollard Royal. About 2 miles after Tollard Royal, turn left then right. At the next T-junction turn left for the pond.
Maps: Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase); OS Landranger 184 (Salisbury & the Plain) and 183 (Yeovil & Frome).
Refreshments: The Crown at Fontmell Magna

Compton Abbas from Fontmell Down
Compton Abbas from Fontmell Down

1. Walk out of Ashmore, leaving the war memorial and Glebe Farm to the right. 100 yards past the de-restriction sign, turn right through the middle of three gates onto an enclosed grassy track. At the end of the track, turn right along the top of the field. On reaching the fence, turn left and follow it steeply downhill on a grassy track. In the bottom of the valley, reach a T-junction, where turn left then immediately right up to a gate on the skyline. Beyond this gate, follow the track as it bends to the right to reach the far side of the field. Here walk straight ahead into the next field and walk up the right-hand edge. In the next corner go straight ahead onto a track through the edge of woodland. This leads to the road opposite Compton Abbas airfield, where turn left. Pass the entrance to the airfield and at the end of the road go straight across the main road and through the gate that leads onto Fontmell Down.
2. Continue ahead on the track that curves round the top of the down, keeping the fence to the right. A few yards after the end of the fence, where a low bank cuts across the track, bear right, slightly downhill. Go through the next gate on the right and turn left to walk along the hillside with the fence on the left. When the path swings up to a gate on the left, continue straight ahead, downhill. Near the bottom of the hill, go through a gate and carry on to emerge into an open field. Turn right to a stile in the bottom corner of the field. Cross it and walk up the left-hand side of the next field. In about 250 yards go through a gate straight ahead into a narrow belt of woodland. Follow this path (wet in places) up to a lane and turn left through Compton Abbas. The lane bends to the right, then as it bends sharply to the left, carry straight on through a gate onto a path. At the top of the path, go through a wooden gate and continue straight ahead through a private garden to the main road.

On Fontmell Down
On Fontmell Down

3. Turn right, then left, signed to Twyford, crossing the road extremely carefully. Continue along this lane for a little under a mile to a T-junction and turn left. In 300 yards, just past the row of bright red brick terraced cottages called Prystock Cottages, turn left over a rather concealed stile. Walk down the left-hand side of the field and about halfway down, strike off diagonally to the right, under power lines, to reach a stile which leads onto a track. Go straight across to another stile and into the next field. Bear right to a double stile and bridge in the right-hand edge and walk up to a gate in the top left-hand corner of the next field. Walk along the top of the next field and turn left through a gate and across a track into an open field. In the next corner, go straight ahead on a track. Follow it for ½ mile to the main road and turn right, walking with great care. In 160 yards (with some relief) turn right into St Andrew’s View. Walking right to the end of the cul de sac and in front of the very last house, turn left down a footpath between two fences. Follow this path down to a bridge, beyond which turn left. Go through a gate and up the left-hand side of an open field. Turn left in front of the churchyard wall to walk down to the road. Turn right to follow the road in front of the parish church and as it bends right, turn left. Fork left by Cross House, pass the Crown and go straight across the main road into Mill Street.
4. Continue for ½ mile until the road bends to the right, where fork left onto an enclosed path between an open field and the drive to Fontmell Hollow House. Cross a stile and continue up the left-hand edge of the field beyond. In the next corner, cross another stile and follow the path steeply up through woodland. The path emerges onto open downland and is easy to follow as it tracks along the hillside, rising slightly. As it meets trees again, turn right to go up a sharp little rise to a wooden gate with a stile to the left. Follow the track on the other side to the main road. Cross and go straight ahead on a forest track. When this swings to the right, continue ahead on a less well-defined track for ¼ mile to a fork, where fork left – keep an eye open for the blue bridleway arrow on a tree. Head steeply downhill and at the bottom of the hill turn right to follow the valley until it meets a road.

Brick and flint in Fontmell Magna
Brick and flint in Fontmell Magna

5. Here turn left. In about 100 yards there is a lay-by on the right. Ignore the first, broad track running off it. Instead take a much narrower path through a gate at the end of the lay-by and head uphill on a path through the edge of the trees. As the path bends right at the top of the hill, bear left through a gate and along the top of the field. At the end of this field carry straight on along the middle of the next field, with the field-edge closing from the right all the time. Reaching it, follow it to the end of the field. Here go through a gate, turn right and walk up to Ashmore and your car.

Collyer's Brook
Collyer’s Brook runs alongside the lane from Fontmell Magna to Springhead

Dorset Directory