The Dorset ride
Giles Belbin takes to two wheels and discovers the delights and hills of the Cerne and Piddle Valleys
Published in April ’11
This circular route starts in the picturesque village of Sydling St Nicholas. The name can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon charter where, in 934, it was recorded as Sydeling. The village has a number of attractive buildings, including a fifteenth century church, and boasts an old-fashioned petrol pump in the main street.
From Sydling the route heads to the village of Cerne Abbas, home to the famous giant and named in 2008 as Britain’s most desirable village, before heading up and over a limestone ridge that rises high above the Cerne Valley. The route then visits Buckland Newton before following the B3143 as it cuts through the Piddle Valley. Henley, Alton Pancras and Piddletrenthide all offer interesting diversions before heading back to Cerne Abbas and Sydling.
As well as taking the cyclist through handsome villages, the ride offers extensive views over glorious Dorset countryside, on which the eyes can truly feast as legs and lungs recover. Those views do come at a price though with the route featuring several very steep climbs, particularly out of Sydling St Nicholas and Cerne Abbas, where all available gears are needed. You have been warned!
1. From the starting point in Sydling St Nicholas, with the village hall over your left shoulder, and the lane leading to the church opposite, turn right and head into the village, soon passing the Greyhound Inn on your right. Ignore the first turning on your right signed Cerne Abbas and instead carry straight on, signed to Up Sydling and Yeovil, until you reach a T-junction [0.6]. Turn right, signed Cerne Abbas, crossing a small ford where the Sydling Water meets the road (adrenalin seekers on bikes with heavily treaded tyres can splash through – with care as the cobblestones will be slippery – those in doubt or on racing bikes are advised to dismount and use the foot bridge). Continue straight ahead up the long and steep hill. At the top, opposite Higher City Farm, there is a convenient stopping point and an opportunity to catch one’s breath whilst enjoying far-reaching views over the valley below.
With breath caught, continue on, watchful of a sharp, potholed descent toward the village of Cerne Abbas. At the junction at the bottom of the hill head straight across, signed Village Centre and Buckland Newton [2.8]. Continue past rows of quaint thatched cottages into the centre of Cerne Abbas.
2. In the centre of the village, for an optional but interesting detour, turn left by the New Inn to visit both Cerne Abbey, founded in 937AD, and the Garden of St Mary’s Church, a tranquil space that invites quiet reflection. Return to the road running through the centre of the village and, with the New Inn on your left, continue out of the village. Ignore the turning to the right and continue straight on, signed Buckland Newton 3 miles. Carry on up another long and steep climb, up to a junction where the hill meets the busy but unclassified Old Sherborne Road. Turn left, confusingly signed again as Buckland Newton 3 miles (as if that long steep hill doesn’t exist) and continue with care along the busiest stretch of the ride [4.3].
Proceed along the Old Sherborne Road, with views over the Cerne Valley to Hardy Monument in the distance. Pass the Giants Head Campsite and continue on, eventually taking a right turn signed Buckland Newton – care is needed with this turning, it comes on a brow of a hill and immediately after a tight bend, it is advisable to dismount and take your time, listening as well as looking carefully for traffic before crossing safely [6.2].
3. Ahead and to the left the Blackmore Vale reaches out below you as this quiet road descends sharply towards the village of Buckland Newton. At an island in the road turn right, signed Buckland Newton. Ignoring a couple of turnings to the left, continue straight on, past the attractive Grade I listed parish church, as the road loops round and into the village. Pass the Gaggle of Geese pub on your right, home to the famous charity goose auctions, and continue straight on, ignoring turnings to the right, until you come to a junction. Turn right, passing school playing fields on your left before reaching a T-junction and the B3143. Turn right, signed Alton Pancras.
The route now follows the B3143 as it winds its way along the Piddle Valley, passing through the villages of Alton Pancras with its distinctive manor house [9.5] and Piddletrenthide [11.1], where an optional detour down Church Lane will lead you past some delightful thatched cottages to an impressive church, complete with gargoyles.
Continue on the B3143, pass the Poachers Inn and the Piddle Valley C of E School on the right and carry straight on out of the village. Ignore all turnings to the right and to the left as the road winds its way towards Piddlehinton.
4. Into the village of Piddlehinton, pass the Thimble Inn on your left, where the River Piddle passes through the beer garden, before taking a right hand turn at the war memorial and water pump, signed Cerne Abbas. A long but steady hill then takes you out of the Piddle Valley, passing farms off to both the right and left, as the route steers back towards the Old Sherborne Road .
At the junction turn right, signed Cerne Abbas, again taking care on this busy section of road, with views off to the right over the wonderfully named Kingrove Bottom. Continue on, eventually reaching some farm building on your left. Ignore the turning to the right signed Piddletrenthide but take the left hand turning immediately after, signed Cerne Abbas [18.5].
5. Taking care to avoid the farm track immediately off to the left, follow the vertiginous and shaded road down into Cerne Abbas. At the T-junction at the bottom of the hill turn left, back into the centre of the village. Pass the Giant Inn on your left and then turn right down Duck Street, signed Giant Viewpoint. Pass the village school on your left and continue to the junction by the Giant Viewpoint car park, where a stop to admire the Giant is surely mandatory .
At the junction turn left onto the A352, signed Dorchester, continue for about a third of a mile before turning right, signed Sydling St Nicholas, retracing your previous pedal strokes up and over the very tough, steep hill and eventually back down to the Sydling Water ford. This time pass to the left of the ford, signed Sydling St Nicholas and Dorchester to arrive at a T-junction. Turn left to return to the starting point [23.5].
Distance: About 23.5 miles
Start/Finish: The village hall in Sydling St Nicholas, although around five miles and two steep climbs could be cut from the ride by starting and finishing in Cerne Abbas instead.
Maps: OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth)
Refreshments: Pubs in Sydling St Nicholas, Cerne Abbas, Buckland Newton, Piddletrenthinde and Piddlehinton; tea-rooms in Cerne Abbas.
[Milometer readings are given in square brackets based on my own milometer’s readings and are provided for guidance only as milometers can vary.]