Legging it in Dorset – Winterborne Stickland and Clenston
Rodney Legg finds four idyllic villages and hamlets in a downland valley
Published in May ’11
Distance: 7 miles
Terrain: Mostly on grassy or stony paths, with no stiff climbs, and only one arable field to cross.
Start: In the main street at Winterborne Stickland (Ordnance Survey map reference ST 835 046; postcode DT11 0NJ).
How to get there: Turn north from the A354 at Winterborne Whitechurch or south from the A357 between Shillingstone and Sturminster Newton (via Okeford Fitzpaine).
Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
On the toplands of mid-Dorset, this walk is dominated by large-scale agricultural scenery, between occasional blocks of woodland. Downhill, however, you drop into an intimate summertime landscape of verdant valleys with the delightful Winterborne stream, which disappears during droughts. There is much fine banded flint-and-stone architecture, often coupled with roses and thatch.
Winterborne Clenston, which retains the status of a parish, comprises a perfect cluster of old buildings, around a 16th-century manor house, in a suitably tranquil setting. St Nicholas Church at Clenston, designed by Lewis Vulliamy in 1840, features a stone relief trophy-of-arms set above the porch, which seems to have been inspired by the previous year’s Eglinton tournament. In design and setting it is the perfect church of the imagination and, for me, the dead-ringer of a Christmas cake decoration from the 1950s.
Quarleston hamlet is similarly delightful. Gentrified once more, the west wing of Quarleston farmhouse incorporates the walls of a manorial hall dating from 1437.
The main village, Winterborne Stickland, also has its charms, centring around the historic Cross Tree and a grassy triangle, with the village stores and thatched Crown Inn opposite. That’s the pub’s historic name but, around the millennium, it succumbed to the fashion for rebranding and masqueraded for a few years as the Shire Horse. Sanity has been restored.
A medieval preaching cross stood at the junction. This and its accompanying Cross Tree – a venerable lime – has been the centre point for village gossip for centuries. Tucked away behind the hedge, St Mary’s Church has a ‘Tomb Chamber’ attached, which was built as a mausoleum to Thomas Skinner of Dewlish (died 1756) and his wife Barbara (died 1769).
There is another fine spread of thatch and well-kept gardens up the valley in Winterborne Houghton. There St Andrew’s Church, built in 1861, incorporates fittings from an earlier parish church.
As an added element of interest, Mrs Loeta Hall began working part-time in the Post Office at Winterborne Houghton in 1915, and continuously from 1955 until her eventual retirement – at the age of 93 – in 1995.
The parish is the source of the Winterborne – its name indicating a stream that only flows in the rainy season; these clear chalk waters have been farmed for trout and watercress. The spring was squeezed in 1999 to create a roadside Millennium Pond for moorhen and kingfishers.
1. Set off (S) along North Street, passing The Crown and Church View Stores, to the wide second junction at split-options beside the village sign and school in 250 yards. Here the main street becomes Clenston Road.
2. Turn left (E) beside the thatched Old Malthouse. Climb this uphill lane to the junction on the hilltop, to the right of the television booster mast, in 600 yards. Continue straight ahead (ENE) into a bridleway which follows the hedge-line across three large fields to Fairmile in 1000 yards.
3. Turn right (ESE) on reaching the road, downhill for 200 yards, to pass Greenacres, Grenville and The Haven bungalows.
4. Turn right (S) along Lady Caroline’s Drive. This private road is also a public bridleway. Pass the turning to Canada Farm in 250 yards. Continue straight ahead, into the green lane, and continue for 1,000 yards to the far end of the right-hand side of The Plantation. Keep these woodlands to your left.
5. Proceed straight ahead into Little Down field, with a scrubby hedgerow to your right, for 500 yards. Also continue straight ahead in the next field,. Follow the right-hand hedge for 200 yards. Approach the earthwork line of a prehistoric dyke with Little Wood being down the slope to the left.
6. Turn right (W) on to another bridleway. Follow it down into a combe in 800 yards. Here the track turns left (SSE) for 50 yards and then right (SW) to descend into Winterborne Clenston hamlet with its historic manor house and tithe barn, plus a dainty Gothic church with a steeple – across to the left.
7. Turn right (N) up the valley for 1,000 yards, passing Bourne Farm and Skelder House, to Quarleston hamlet. A house to the right has its 1901 date set proudly in flints.
8. Turn left here (W) before reaching former Quarleston Farm. There is a ford for horses with the planks for walkers being 10 yards upstream. Follow the hedge to the top of the field in 175 yards. Continue straight ahead (WSW), uphill for 600 yards, and pass a bridleway gate to the right. In a further 50 yards the path strikes off leftwards (SW) across the arable field. Aim for the left-hand side of the main block of woodland immediately facing you in
9. Enter New Coppice. Ignore left and right-hand options as you continue straight ahead on a stretch of the Jubilee Trail for 200 yards. Then turn right (NW), at a cross-roads of tracks, and avoid following the trail into Charity Wood. Also ignore another bridleway which heads off to the right of the next woodland cross-roads in 250 yards. In a further 175 yards our path emerges from Dunbury Leg wood.
10. In the field we continue straight ahead towards the right-hand side of the buildings at Dunbury in 300 yards. Cross Dunbury Lane and proceed for a further 80 yards towards the main buildings. Then turn sharply right (N), at 90 degrees, to head towards Winterborne Houghton. We pass the Bronze Age burial mound that gives Dunbury its name.
11. The flinty track continues straight ahead and joins the drive from the Old Rectory in 600 yards. Proceed towards Glebe Farm for 100 yards. Then fork left (NW), across a cattle-grid and along a public footpath that passes to the right of St Andrew’s Church in 100 yards. Continue to the village street in 80 yards. Turn left (W) to the post and telephone boxes in 50 yards. The attractive thatched quarter of Winterborne Houghton – further along the street entails a diversion of 500 yards. The Millennium Pond, beside the stream, is in the opposite direction.
12. The route turns uphill (N) from the junction, towards Bulbarrow, for 50 yards. Again turn right (ENE), immediately after Pound Cottage, and its garden. Go up the slope. The Lawn, to the left, is a wedge of rather overgrown common land, which is smothered with snowdrops in February. Cross the stile set in the gate and continue straight ahead across the field, following the fence above the paddocks and the barns. Proceed straight on at the cross-roads of tracks in 400 yards, staying on the other side of the road from the stream and watercress beds of Houghton Spring Farm.
13. Head for the stiles in the fences as you leave the village and follow the valley downstream (E). Keep the hillside to the left and Water Lane across to the right. In 700 yards we approach the paddocks and gardens of Winterborne Stickland. Keep these to the right for 400 yards.
14. Then turn right (S) over a stile into a narrow public path that drops down between the houses and emerges in West Street in 50 yards. Turn left (E) and re-enter the centre of the village in 175 yards, at the Cross Tree with the stump of a mediaeval preaching cross beside it. The parish church is to the left in 50 yards.