The Dorset walk – Chetnole and Leigh
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold in the heart of the Blackmore Vale
Published in April ’11
The Blackmore Vale, more than almost anywhere else in Dorset, looks at its best in the spring. The new grass is pushing through and the leaves are unfurling in bright greens, in contrast to the darker, dustier shades of later in the summer. This route takes advantage of some typical Vale scenery around the delightfully named River Wriggle.
Chetnole has two claims to fame. First, it was on a farm here that Benjamin Jesty, living nearby at Yetminster, first introduced cowpox serum into scratches that he had made on the arms of his wife and two sons, thereby inoculating them against smallpox. Second, it has Dorset’s best railway station: a small platform and shelter on the single-line ‘Heart of Wessex’ route, it is surrounded by nothing but open fields and the sound of birdsong. Eat your heart out, Adlestrop!
Leigh (pronounced ‘Lye’) is best known for its Miz Maze, whose date is uncertain but which probably played a part in rituals and festivals. It was also known by the villagers as ‘witches’ corner’. The remains are not really visible on the ground, but their bumps and hollows can be felt underfoot. The village has some nice stone houses, and the modern additions are not too intrusive.
Distance: About 6½ miles.
Terrain: Some inevitable Blackmore Vale mud, but generally easy and flat.
Start: In the centre of Chetnole near the Chetnole Inn and St Peter’s parish church. OS map reference ST602084. Postcode DT9 6NU.
How to get there: Turn east off the A37 Dorchester-Yeovil road between the Evershot and Melbury Osmond turnings. Continue past Chetnole station to a T-junction, where turn left and drive up through the village to the start point.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth)
1. Walk down through the village, leaving St Peter’s on the left. In 60 yards, take the first on the right into School Lane. At the end of the lane continue on a path that runs down the right-hand side of The Old Smithy. Continue parallel to the right-hand side of the field beyond to reach a gate just before a railway bridge. Go under the bridge and through the left-hand of the two gates ahead, crossing a small field to a gate on the other side. Walk straight across the field beyond to a stile and a bridge. Beyond the bridge, follow the left-hand field-edge to another bridge about 60 yards to the right of the next corner. Bear slightly left across the next field, to a stile.
2. On the other side of the stile, turn right to follow the right-hand field-edge. In the first corner, go through a gate and turn left to follow a path which winds just inside the edge of a wood. Cross a stile and walk through to an open field, where turn right to keep the wood on the right. Where the wood turns away to the right, bear slightly right down to the bottom right-hand corner. Here go through a gate and in about 30 yards turn right to another gate. Walk along the next open field and go through a gate a little more than halfway along its left-hand side.
3. Almost immediately the path forks; take the right-hand option through woodland. At a cross-paths at the end of the wood, go straight ahead on a much broader enclosed path, which becomes a track. Where it reaches a road, turn right. In about 300 yards, on a slight rise, turn left over a stile and walk across the field to the fence by the railway line. Turn left and follow this fence into the next field. Just before the end of this field, turn right to cross the railway.
4. Bear slightly right to cross the field beyond to a stile. Bear slightly right again, this time to a gate on the far side of the field. Cross the River Wriggle on a footbridge, then bear left up to the top corner of the field. Cross a track and go straight across the next field to an opening visible on the far side. Bear right in the next field to cross to a stile just to the right of the bottom right-hand corner. In the next field walk between two solitary trees to a stile just to the right of the halfway point on the far side. Continue in the same direction in the next field to a stile under the left-hand of two large trees. Follow the left-hand edge of two fields to reach a lane, where turn right.
5. At the T-junction turn left and walk into Leigh. Take the second turning on the right (South Street), just past the village notice-board. Pass Reads Cottages on the left and immediately fork left. Just past Whitehall Cottage on the left, in front of some gates, cross a stile on the right and turn left to follow the left-hand field-edge. By way of a gate and stile pass into the next field and bear slightly right to reach an opening about 50 yards up from the next corner; this is the field that is crowned by the Miz Maze, to the right. Walk down the next field to a clearly visible opening, where bear right to a gate about 100 yards along the right-hand edge of the next field. Go through the gate and go straight across the field beyond to another gate, which gives onto a lane.
6. Turn left and at the T-junction turn right, then in 60 yards turn right into the drive of Rookery Farm. Walk straight ahead through the farm buildings to emerge into an open field. Walk down it to a gateway, then straight up the next field to the right-hand of two gates about 80 yards apart. Continue in the same direction to where the corner of a patch of woodland juts into the field. Continue with the woodland immediately on the left to reach a gate. On the other side of the gate bear left up the field to a gate onto an enclosed track, then turn right.
7. Follow the track for rather over ½ mile until a lane joins from the right. Do a slight right-left dog-leg and continue on the track. Re-cross the Wriggle on a footbridge and go through a gate into a small open field. Turn right to follow the right-hand edge to the next corner, where cross a stile and go down some steps onto a lane. Turn left, then at the T-junction turn right and walk up through Chetnole to its centre and your car.