The Dorset walk — Beaminster, Netherbury and Stoke Abbott
Matt Wilkinson and Mark Bauer in deepest West Dorset
Published in June ’09
It seems to me that Beaminster people are always smiling; whenever I go there, I seem to be surrounded by happy faces. I’m sure that in fact they can be as miserable as the rest of us, but it is not a bad impression to present to the world and is the reason why Beaminster is one of my favourite Dorset towns.
Perhaps the people are happy because of the wonderful hilly countryside which surrounds them and through which this walk passes. It visits two of Beaminster’s satellite villages and three of West Dorset’s best churches, all with the same dedication. It starts in the shadow of St Mary’s, Beaminster, with its fine ornamented tower. Passing Parnham House, originally a Strode house and later home to John Makepeace’s furniture school, it reaches Netherbury. It was once as important as Beaminster and its church is also dedicated to St Mary.
The third St Mary’s is at Stoke Abbott, which for many people’s money is the prettiest village in West Dorset. The church has a particularly fine font. From Stoke Abbott the route goes up and over Gerrards Hill to return to Beaminster. This is one of several stiffish climbs and descents on the walk, and the going underfoot is rough in places.
Distance: About 5 miles
Start: Near the junction of Church Street and St Mary Well Street in Beaminster. OS ref. ST479013.
How to get there: Church Street runs south from the south-west corner of Beaminster Square. St Mary Well Street is the first turning on the left.
Maps: OS Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis & Bridport); OS Landranger 193 (Taunton & Lyme Regis).
Refreshments: Plenty in Beaminster; the New Inn at Stoke Abbott.
1. Walk along St Mary Well Street, away from Church Street. At the very end of the street, continue on a rough track which ends at a kissing-gate into a field. Walk along the left-hand edge of the field. In the next field carry on straight ahead to the far corner, where go through a gate onto a path with a hedge on the right and a fence on the left, beyond which are glimpses of Parnham House.
2. Where the path reaches a track, turn left for about 200 yards, then right onto another track which immediately crosses a stream and bends to the left. In 75 yards take the left fork up into an open field. Follow the left-hand edge and in the next corner go through a gate onto an enclosed path that passes St Mary’s. Follow the path round to pass the main churchyard gate and steps and reach a lane opposite the Old Rectory.
3. Turn right. Go up the hill and round to the left. Ignore a track on the right but immediately afterwards, just in front of the garden fence of Tower Hill Cottage, go through a gate and bear left to walk along the left-hand field-edge. Watch out for a stile on the left in a little under 300 yards. Cross it and follow the enclosed path beyond, with the distinctive wooded hump of Lewesdon Hill almost dead ahead. In the open field at the end of the enclosed path, follow the right-hand edge steeply downhill. Go through the gate at the bottom and follow the path beyond round to the left to reach a footbridge. Continue in the same direction on the other side of the bridge.
4. The path winds through the trees but is fairly easy to follow; if in doubt, keep the sound of water as close as possible on the right and do not be tempted to go up the slope on the left. Just after crossing an even smaller stream, the path does begin to rise to the left, to reach a stile. Cross the stile and go up into the open field. Turn right and head for a gate visible in the top right-hand corner of the field. Go through the gate onto an enclosed path, which can be overgrown in high summer but is not impassable. Follow the path, going through a gate, crossing a track between two fields and carrying on straight ahead. Reach another track between two fields and carry straight on for a few yards.
5. Here the path forks; take the right-hand fork, downhill, and continue downhill on a sunken path. Where it ends, cross a stile and head down the right-hand side of the field. Turn left on a track for a few yards, then right through a gate into an open field. Head for a stile just before the top left-hand corner, leading into the churchyard of St Mary’s. Bear right towards the church and turn right onto a path just in front of it. Turn left onto a drive and walk down to the T-junction. Turn right and walk through Stoke Abbott, going round a sharp bend to the right and passing the New Inn. Opposite Woodlands Cottage, a paved track leads up to the left. Follow this until about 50 yards after it passes through an impressive pair of gate pillars.
6. Here go up the bank to the left, on a path signed ‘Chart Knolle ¼ mile’. The path winds through the undergrowth, staying more or less level, with the paved track occasionally visible below and to the right and some splendid views beyond. At the end of the path, go through two gates in quick succession, cross a grassy path, pass under a tree and reach another grassy path.
7. Turn right and almost immediately go through the smaller, left-hand of two gates and bear right to follow the path along the top of a very steep combe. About 25 yards before the end of the field, go over a stile in the fence on the right, cross another stile into a small open field and walk up to the top left-hand corner. Follow the left-hand edge of the larger field beyond, and on the other side of that field continue in the same direction to pass to the left of the clump of trees and trig point on the top of Gerrard’s Hill.
8. Continue straight ahead and start to descend the other side of the hill. Cross a stile, a track and another stile and bear right towards the bottom right-hand corner of the field beyond. Halfway down, strike off left to cross a stile by a rather scrubby oak tree. Bear slightly right to head for a bridge just visible on the edge of the trees below. On the other side, bear slightly right to follow the path through grass and trees. Go through a gate and walk up a narrow field to the top right-hand corner. Cross a double stile into an open field and continue in the same direction.
9. Turn right round a stone barn with a rusty corrugated iron roof and walk down the side of the building. At the end of the barn, cross a stile and walk diagonally across the next field to the bottom corner. Cross another stile and walk down the path to a lane. Turn right and at the T-junction left. In about 25 yards turn right into a field. Walk along it and at the end, cross a drive and continue in the same direction on a rough track, which becomes a path. Where it emerges onto a lane, continue straight ahead and follow the lane. Pass St Mary’s on the right and a few yards further on is the junction of Church Street and St Mary Well Street.