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Legging it in Dorset

Rodney Legg incorporates Dorset's perfect tourist village into a well-wooded walk

Milton Abbas, Dorset’s perfect tourist village, dates from 1775 and its comparative isolation is due to Joseph Damer who employed Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to design a lake and grounds where the medieval town had stood and moved his estate workers around the corner and out of sight. Only a couple of earlier cottages survive, one in the Abbey complex and the other beside the lower approach to the replacement village.

Founded in about AD 933 by King Athelstan, Milton Abbey was established by Cyneweard. The State granted it to Sir John Tregonwell in 1539. Looking up at the south side of the tower you can see where, at the age of five, the fifth John Tregonwell to hold the name (1625-80) was standing on the parapet when he leant over to pluck a rose that was growing from the stonework. He fell 100 feet onto the lawn where he proceeded to pick daisies; he was saved by a buckram-lined pinafore skirt that had billowed like a parachute. He went on to become High Sheriff of Dorset, built the magnificent stone fireplace in the Abbot’s Hall and was grandfather to the founder of Bournemouth.

Another more remarkable survivor is the Almshouse. This stood in Newport Street, Middleton, until being moved brick by brick and rebuilt in its present location, in 1779. The parish church was built by Stephen Carpenter of Blandford and designed by James Wyatt.

Joseph Damer died in 1798 of ‘a gruesome disease’ and is preserved in a state of weary resignation as a superb life-size effigy in Milton Abbey.

1.            Set off downhill from St James’s Church, passing The Studio, and proceeding to the junction after the Old Forge and Old Barn.

Matching cottages in Milton Abbass’s main street

Matching cottages in Milton Abbass’s main street

2.            Turn right towards Hilton between the Fish Pond – actually an eight-acre lake – and the stone roofed Old Rectory (which, correctly, was the Vicarage). Fork left in 125 yards, to the left of the thatched lodge for an optional mile-long diversion (there and back) across the site of the destroyed town to visit Milton Abbey.

3.            Our onward route, along the Hilton Road, passes Milton Abbey School and bends to the left at a cross-roads in half a mile (ignoring the sign for Delcombe Farm). In a further quarter-mile, on the other side of the valley, turn right into Thomas’s Hill Plantation.

St Catherine's Chapel looks down on Milton Abbey, with the unique grass staircase leading towards it

St Catherine's Chapel looks down on Milton Abbey, with the unique grass staircase leading towards it

4.            A bridleway climbs a garlic-smothered hollow way and continues northwards through Horse Park Plantation and Green Hill Plantation. At the end of the beach and ash woods with hazel coppicing enter Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Green Hill nature reserve.

5.            Follow the upper hedgerow straight ahead and pass the main entrance, to exit from the scrub through a field gate in 300 yards. Continue to follow the hedge, which bends leftwards at a sarsen stone boundary marker, towards mast in a mile. Pass the flint and brick of Hill Barn Shelter and then modern Bulbarrow Farm – the highest in Dorset – with the secret valley of Delcombe, without any rights of way, being down to the right.

Bulbarrow view over the Blackmore Vale

Bulbarrow view over the Blackmore Vale

6.            Turn right after Delcombe Woodlands, at the junction beside the Sawmill, in the huts of a war-time Royal Air Force bomber navigation station. Also turn right, east towards Blandford, at the double junctions before the famous Bulbarrow viewpoint at 900 feet above sea level. The view is over the Blackmore Vale and Somerset Levels to the Quantock Hills, Mendip Hills and Salisbury Plain.

7.            Fork left in 600 yards, towards Winterborne Stickland and Turnworth. Turn right in 250 yards at the pasture. Bear left and head down into the wooded combe. Bluebells of The Stubbs and Ochill Wood give way to chalkland flowers in Heath Bottom, beneath Great Hill. In a mile or so we pass the cottages and buildings of Higher Houghton Farm. Proceed along an asphalt road to the cross-roads and house at Whiteways Farm.

The effigy of Joseph Damer in Milton Abbey

The effigy of Joseph Damer in Milton Abbey

8.            Turn right along an unpaved public road for 600 yards. Fork left after the gate, along the hilltop track, across open downland on Houghton South Down. Prehistoric settlement traces are underfoot in a further 600 yards where we bear left to the gate at the top end of the grassland in 300 yards. Winterborne Houghton and Winterborne Stickland are the villages down to the left. Follow the fence-line straight ahead and keep it to your right.

9.            Turn right at the asphalt road for 300 yards. Turn left immediately this side of the corner, through the field gate, opposite High Lodge and the junction. Follow the fence down into the pine-clad valley and enter Milton Park Wood.

10.            Fork left in 300 yards, up another forest road, and then turn right in 80 yards. A lesser track then crosses the forest road. Climb the slope along this section of the Ramblers’ Association 1935-95 Jubilee Trail. Look out for relict chalkland species such as spindle, wayfaring tree and holly.

11.            Turn right along the next forest road and go uphill around the bend in 400 yards. Leave the forest at what becomes an asphalt road at Keeper’s Cottage. Proceed straight ahead at the cross-roads, into Catherine’s Well, to re-enter the village.

12.            Turn left in 100 yards, down into the cul-de-sac, and then right beside the White House fence. Fork left beside Pineridge bungalow and a bridleway. This drops down to the village street. Turn right, passing Dunbury First School and the Hambro Arms to the Post Office and parish church.

Map of walk

Map of walk


Distance: 9 miles

Terrain: Easy walking country which is remarkably free of stiles and other obstacles.

Start: From the main street in Milton Abbas (Ordnance Survey map reference ST 806 018; postcode DT11 0BP)

How to get there: Turn north from the A354, Dorchester-Blandford road, at Winterborne Whitechurch or Milborne St Andrew and drive inland for a couple of miles.

Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).

Refreshments: The Hambro Arms in Milton Abbas.

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