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The Dorset walk — Winterbornes Clenston, Stickland and Houghton

Matt Wilkinson and Mark Bauer explore the upper Winterborne Valley

This is something of a walk for the connoisseur. It lacks dramatic scenery or spectacular vistas, but for those with eyes to see, there is much to enjoy in the hedgerows and woods, especially during autumn’s ‘mellow fruitfulness’. And there are pleasant short-range views across the quiet fields that edge the Winterborne Valley.

The river which gives its name to the valley, as that name implies, runs only in winter. This is true for much of its length, although in places it is rarely seen dry. It also gives its name to the three villages through which this route passes. Winterborne Clenston is famous for its 16th-century barn, built of the banded flint and stone which is so common in the Winterborne Valley; it is in a sorry state of disrepair.
Winterborne Stickland has a fine village sign on its green, depicting aspects of life in the village at the time it was unveiled by Elisabeth Frink in 1988. An historical oddity is that the 1881 census shows a dozen people living in Chorley, Lancashire, who had been born in Winterborne Stickland, but the reason has never been fully explained.

Winterborne Houghton is a mixture of old cottages and substantial new properties, some of which echo the valley’s traditional building materials in banded flint and brick.

Distance: About 9½ miles.
Terrain: The woodland paths can be muddy. There is one short, steep climb in the middle of the walk and a longer one when leaving Winterborne Houghton.
Start: In Catherine’s Well, a residential road (so please park considerately) on the northern edge of Milton Abbas. OS map reference 809022; postcode DT11 0AT.
How to get there: From the south, turn north off the A354 in Winterborne Whitechurch, next to the Milton Arms. Catherine’s Well is the second turning on the left. From the north, follow signs to Milton Abbas from the series of junctions on top of Bulbarrow Hill and take the second on the right after passing the village sign.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Hambro Arms at Milton Abbas and the Crown at Winterborne Stickland are both very close to the route of the walk.

The steps out of Milton Abbas

1. About 150 yards from the turning into Catherine’s Well, there is a cul-de-sac to the left, signed to Hoggen Down. Walk down it, bear right and follow the path which swings to the left and continues downhill to meet a road. Here turn right, then in just over 50 yards cross the road and climb some steps onto a narrow path, which turns left then right before climbing some more steps through woodland. At a T-junction of paths, turn left and reach a gate. Climb the rise to another gate into an open field. Bear slightly left, under some wires, to reach the left-hand side of the field. Turn right to walk down the left-hand edge of this field and the next one, at the bottom of which go straight ahead onto an enclosed track. Turn left at the end onto another track, which quickly becomes a paved lane and leads to a main road.

2. Go straight across and walk up the right-hand edge of the left-hand field ahead. At the end of the field, turn right and walk round a wood on the left to reach a stile. Cross the stile and follow the left-hand field-edge, turning right at the corner to walk along the edge of the wood on the left. At the end of the field, turn left on a track that leads into the wood. Where the track swings to the right in a dip on the far edge of the wood, continue straight ahead on another track which in turn enters woodland. Stay on it down to a cross-tracks, where go straight ahead on a track with woodland on the left and an open field on the right. At the end of the open field, turn right up a path, which climbs steeply up a short rise. At the top, the path swings left to enter the wood. It is quite easy to follow through the wood; at a cross-tracks go straight ahead and likewise ignore a path which crosses the route. The track descends gradually and Winterborne Clenston comes into sight, with its steeepled church visible through the trees on the right. Now a broad track bends down to the main road, opposite a thatched barn and the manor house.

The view that opens out from the downland above Milton Abbas

3. Turn right for about 100 yards, and turn left beyond the historic barn. Cross the River Winterborne and walk up to a gate on a paved drive to some farm buildings. Beyond these buildings, go straight ahead onto a track. Stay on this track past two fields on the left, then it swings to the left and right and continues as an enclosed grassy track. At the end of the first field on the right it emerges into an open field. Follow the right-hand edge under some power lines and, at the first corner, go straight ahead down onto another path. Turn left, and at the first gate follow the left-hand edge of the field beyond all the way to a gate into woodland in the far left-hand corner, with power lines quite close on the left. Follow the path just inside the edge of the woodland and emerge onto a grassy track. Turn right with an open field to the left. At the end of the field continue straight ahead onto a paved drive.

The distinctive village sign at Winterborne Stickland

4. Where it meets a main road, turn left and walk carefully for 250 yards to a sharp bend to the right. Here on the left are two gates. Go through the left-hand one and walk along the right–hand edge of three fields. At the end of the last one, continue straight ahead on a lane, down into Winterborne Stickland. Turn right at the main road and in a few yards fork left. Continue straight ahead, signed to the village hall (don’t turn left) and bear left in front of the parish church. Just after Gurney’s Cob and opposite Cherry Bank, turn right up a narrow path. At the top, turn left along the left-hand edge of an open field. Walk along this and along the middle of the next two fields, more or less parallel with the left-hand edge. At the end of the last field, go straight ahead on a grassy track to some farm buildings, in front of which turn left down a rough drive to a lane.

St Mary’s, Winterborne Stickland

5. Turn right and walk through Winterborne Houghton until the lane ends with the drives to Whiteway Farm on the left and Higher Houghton on the right. Continue straight ahead on a path which climbs steeply between tree-lined banks. At the top of the climb, go through a gate and bear right onto an open area of grass, heading diagonally across to its far corner. Here continue straight ahead on a broad path that can just about be made out among the longer grass. Where it forks, take the left-hand option, slightly uphill. It bears right towards a gate but veers to the left about 100 yards short of it. The trees on either side narrow down, bringing the path to a gate onto a lane.

The path beyond Winterborne Houghton

6. Turn left and in about 150 yards a Forestry Commission drive leads off to the right. Bear slightly right to take the path which runs between the lane and the drive. It continues between open fields on the left and woodland on the right. Follow the fence on the left as the path bends to the left then the right to reach a drive. Here turn right and, in 80 yards, in front of some impressive gate pillars, turn left up a path into an open field. Turn right to follow the right-hand edge. At the end, go through a gap and bear left to reach a gate onto a grassy path that leads down to a road. Turn right, then left on a paved path that leads between a children’s playground and an octagonal gazebo and reaches a rough drive. Turn left and walk down to Catherine’s Well and your car.

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