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The Dorset Walk – Netherbury, Stoke Abbott and the Brit Valley Way

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold walk through a typical West Dorset landscape

This route is a chance to savour the unique appeal of West Dorset’s landscape. It combines wide views with small valleys and enclosed paths: in some of those ancient hollow ways, with their primeval-looking ferns and the leafy branches arching above, one gets a greater sense of the timelessness of landscape than almost anywhere else. It begins in Netherbury, which was once an important centre of the flax-growing industry, boasting 2000 inhabitants in the middle of the 19th century; today, the population is about half that number. Evidence of Netherbury’s significance is that it had a grammar school as far back as 1565, a full century before a similar school was founded at nearby Beaminster. The two schools merged and were the oldest establishments absorbed into the present-day Beaminster School.

The church at Netherbury: the start of our walk

The church at Netherbury: the start of our walk

The walk heads north-west to Stoke Abbott, where the churchyard is home to a huge yew tree from which bows were made; the archers would practice shooting at targets set up across the small valley behind the church. Stoke Water House, now flats, was once the Beaminster Union Workhouse, and the church has a tablet to Caroline Lucy Andrews, who died in 1920 after 22 years as ‘the most excellent Matron of Beaminster Union House’. Stoke Abbott’s claim to macabre fame is that it was the scene, in 1858, of the last murder in Dorset for which the perpetrator was hanged in public.
The last part of the walk makes use of the Brit Valley Way, an 11-mile route that follows one of Dorset’s prettiest rivers from its source in the hills above Beaminster down to West Bay. It passes handsome Slape Manor, originally built in the 17th century as an ecclesiastical court house, and River Cottage, where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall first became a TV star.

1 Just below the church, immediately next to the war memorial, a footpath runs along the edge of the churchyard. Follow this, then continue straight ahead with a fence on the left. At the end of the fence, continue in the same direction along the right-hand edge of an open field. Towards the end of the field, bear right onto a rough track. Bear right again to cross the river, then left. Continue uphill on the track and, as it reaches a belt of trees on the right, bear left. In about 100 yards, go through a gate on the left and strike out across the open field. Once over the brow of the field, head for the bottom left-hand corner, just up from which is a gate. On the other side of the gate, follow a path to a bridge but don’t cross it. Instead, continue along the same bank of the stream to reach another bridge. Cross it and a stile, then bear left to head up the field towards a lone tree on the skyline. Pass the tree and, at the top of the field, turn left to a gate, beyond which is a grassy track.

The walk takes us through typical West Dorset scenery after leaving Stoke Abbott

The walk takes us through typical West Dorset scenery after leaving Stoke Abbott

2 Follow this track until it becomes a drive and then reaches a lane, where turn left and walk into Stoke Abbott. Follow the lane round to the left in the centre of the village and about 50 yards after the turning to Broadwindsor on the right, turn left up a lane, past a house with the date-stone, ‘SH&E 1762’. Bear right and go through a gate into the churchyard. Follow the left-hand edge of the churchyard down to a stile, after which turn right. Head down the field to a gate about 40 yards to the left of the bottom right-hand corner. Turn left to follow the fence up to a stile visible across the little valley. Beyond the stile, follow a sunken path up to another stile. Continue ahead to meet a T-junction with a broader path in a few yards, where turn right. In about 1/3 mile, follow the path as it swings sharply left. It becomes a rough
track and reaches a T-junction with another track, where turn left.

3 In ¼ mile turn right and walk on a grassy track down the right-hand edge of the field. In the next field, stay on the track as it swings left then right, and bear off to the left as it swings right again to approach the buildings of Luccombe Farm. Pass through a gate in the far right-hand corner of the orchard, then turn left to a stile close to the bottom right-hand corner of the field. Take a steep path down to a bridge, cross it, then bear left to follow the path up the other side of the little valley, shortly bearing right to a stile. Over the stile, bear left and follow a path which curves to the left, uphill, before levelling out and bending slightly right. Turn right through the first gate on the right and walk up the left-hand field-edge to a lane.

The massive trunk of the yew tree at Stoke Abbott church

The massive trunk of the yew tree at Stoke Abbott church

4 Turn right, then take the first lane on the left. Follow the lane round to the right at the next junction and at the junction after that continue straight ahead as the lane bends to the right. Walk straight through the buildings of Patley Wood Farm and continue on an enclosed track. Where the track swings left at the top of the hill, continue straight ahead on an enclosed path. At a T-junction with a track in front of a metal gate, turn left and continue downhill to a lane. Go straight across, down a little valley and up the other side. In the top right-hand corner, cross two stiles onto a muddy path. Turn right, then immediately left. Continue ahead, with an orchard initially on the left and then on both sides, to reach a lane.

Just beyond the halfway mark on this seven-mile walk

Just beyond the halfway mark on this seven-mile walk

5 Go straight across, through the right-hand of the two gates immediately ahead. Follow the left-hand edge of two fields and just before the bottom of the second one, cross a stile on the left, walk down to the riverbank and turn left. The path soon diverts to the left round a wood but generally follows the river upstream until it reaches a stile onto a lane. Here turn right and cross the river, following the road round sharp left and right bends in Oxbridge. About 30 yards later, turn left up a paved track. Turn left towards a house called ‘Nonsuch’ and just in front of it, turn right down a path which descends and eventually runs alongside the river – confusingly but briefly, downstream. Cross the first bridge and follow a gravel path that leads up past ‘Flax Cottage’ into rather a handsome development of new houseson the edge of Waytown. Bear right, then right again on a path across a green. Cross another bridge and turn left. Halfway along the field, bear left to cross a stile, then continue on a well-defined path through woodland.

The scene from one of the crossings over the River Brit

The scene from one of the crossings over the River Brit

6 At the end of the wood, go through a gate and bear right to walk up the field, with an artificial lake on the left and the river on the right. Slape Manor can be seen through the trees to the half-left and its outbuildings are straight ahead. At the end of the field, go through a gate and in a few yards turn right round a laurel hedge, cross a bridge and bear left to pass River Cottage. Continue on this path with the river to the left, sometimes close by, sometimes a field away. The path becomes a track and runs down to a road. Here turn left and walk up through Netherbury to return to your car.

0170 Map - AprilDistance: About 7 miles.
Terrain: Most of the walk seems to be going up or down hill, but there are no really testing climbs.
The hollow ways can be muddy.
Start: Park carefully on the eastern side of the road through Netherbury, preferably towards the top of the hill, near the church. OS ref SY470995. Postcode
DT6 5NB.
How to get there: From Bridport, take the A3066 Beaminster road and turn left just under a mile
north of Melplash. From Beaminster, take the A3066 south and turn right along the southern edge of Parnham Park.
Maps: OS Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis and Bridport); OS Landranger 193 (Taunton & Lyme Regis).
Refreshments: The New Inn, Stoke Abbott.

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