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The Dorset Walk — Thornford, Leweston and Lillington

Matt Wilkinson and Mark Bauer explore to the south-west of Sherborne

The start of the walk in Thornford

The start of the walk in Thornford

On the north-west edge of the Blackmore Vale is a landscape of low hills and gentle valleys. It is at once more varied and more peaceful than most of the rest of the Vale and, as long as the ground is not too wet underfoot, makes delightful walking country.

The route starts in Thornford, which is not Dorset’s most beautiful village but is large and lively enough to sustain its own school, shop and pub. Its landmark is a stolid clock tower erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It can be reached by rail via the Weymouth-Bath Heart of Wessex line, but the station is some way to the west of the village.

Isolated farms are the only habitations until the second half of the route, which passes Leweston School. A Catholic foundation formerly known as St Antony’s, it is primarily a girls’ school and celebrates its sixtieth anniversary on its present site this academic year.

Shortly afterwards, Lillington lies in its peaceful little valley. This really is forgotten Dorset and the village has been called ‘Lillington the Obscure’. It has its own landmark on the hill to the south-east, though: an unusual octagonal water tower, 70 feet tall with a copper roof. It dates from the 1930s.

The bridge on the path between Thornford and Knighton Hill

The bridge on the path between Thornford and Knighton Hill

Distance: About 6¾ miles
Terrain: The enclosed paths are muddy after wet weather, especially the woodland path leading down from Lillington Hill. Mostly gentle gradients.
Start: In the centre of Thornford, near the clock tower, village shop and Kings Arms. OS map reference 603131; postcode DT9 6QQ.
How to get there: On the A352 just south of Sherborne, opposite the turning onto the B3145, an unclassified road runs south and leads to Thornford. Continue straight into the village to reach its centre.
Maps: OS Explorer 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Kings Arms at Thornford

1. With the front of the Kings Arms and the face of the clock tower behind, walk straight ahead, passing the village shop on the right. Pass an old chapel with a blue door on the left and in 80 yards turn left into Horsepool Lane. This quickly becomes a track which bends to the left through a gate, but continue straight ahead on an even rougher track. In front of a gate into an open field, turn left down a footpath. Cross a bridge and continue to follow the path. Soon after a right-left dog-leg, the path swings sharply to the right, round the end of an open field on the right.

2. In about 100 yards, go through a kissing gate on the left. Cross the open field beyond, up to its farthest right-hand corner. Here go through a gate and follow the right-hand edge of the field beyond, with a belt of trees to the right. Continue into the next field, where turn left to cross the top of the field. In the next corner, go left through a gate and immediately turn right. In the first corner of this field, go through a kissing gate and straight on to an enclosed path. The path emerges onto the paved drive of Manor Farm, where turn left. Follow the drive down to a lane, where turn left.

A walking companion on the edge of the woods near Whitfield Farm

A walking companion on the edge of the woods near Whitfield Farm

3. Continue straight ahead, past a ‘no through road’ sign and through the buildings of Higher Knighton Farm. The lane eventually bends to the right and descends more steeply, heading for the buildings of Whitfield Farm. Before reaching them, just after the end of a patch of woodland on the left, turn left through a gate and bear right to head for a gate in the far right-hand corner of the field. Turn left in the field beyond and follow the left-hand field-edge down to a track, where turn left.

4. Follow the track along the edge of a wood on the right, bending right round the end of the wood to reach a gate. Head for the far right-hand corner of the next field, where there are two gates. Go through the left-hand one onto an enclosed path. Ignore two gates on the left and continue to the gate straight ahead. Beyond it, walk down a long, very narrow field, to a gate in the far right-hand corner. Turn left to an opening near the first corner. This gives onto a paved track which leads to Higher Stockbridge Farm. Leave the farm buildings on the left, turning right to reach a road.

5. Here turn left. In about 200 yards enter the field on the left, then bear right, heading for a stile in the right-hand field-edge, about 100 yards up from the corner. On the other side of the field beyond, turn right to follow the right-hand field-edge. Turn left at the corner and continue up the right-hand edge of this field and the next one. Turn left to track along the top of the second field for about 300 yards to a conspicuous opening on the right.

The view across the open field before entering the woods before Leweston School

The view across the open field before entering the woods before Leweston School

6. Turn right here through a belt of trees, cross a bridge and turn left then right to walk up between an orchard on the right and the grounds of Leweston School on the left. Follow the fence on the left until it reaches the school drive. Walk straight across, through a gate and down a track for a few yards before striking off left to cross an open field to the right-hand corner of a patch of woodland on the far side. Here go through a gate and walk up to a track with a wall on the far side.

7. Turn right and follow the track until it runs along the left-hand edge of an open field, then descends to Lillington. Bear right and left to keep the churchyard wall on the left. The track becomes a paved lane which shortly leads to a T-junction. Here turn left. As the road swings to the left by Brookmans, turn right up a drive, then almost immediately left through a gate. Follow the hedge on the right until it leads onto an enclosed path. At the top of the hill, turn for a good view of the village with the water tower beyond before descending onto a sunken path and turning left. Follow the path round to the right, through a left-right dog-leg and up to a lane.

8. Go straight across the lane, through the gate and up the right-hand edge of the field beyond. At the top, go straight across a track to follow the left-hand edge of the next field. This is the top of Lillington Hill; beyond the gate at the end of the field, the ground falls away sharply. Follow a narrow but well-defined path straight ahead, down through the low woodland. Reach a kissing gate at the end of the woodland and head straight down the field, heading for an opening in the far side, just to the left of the only conspicuous tree in that hedgerow. Pass through the opening into the next field and follow its right-hand edge.

9. In the next field, turn left for about 80 yards, then strike off right, down the field, heading for the bottom left-hand corner. Go through a gate and continue straight ahead on a track which runs all the way to the road running through Thornford. Turn left and walk down through the village to your car.

The Lillington water tower from the village

The Lillington water tower from the village

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