Legging it in Dorset – Sutton Poyntz and Bincombe
Rodney Legg explores Weymouth's hilly hinterland
Published in August ’11
Weymouth’s backdrop between Bincombe and Sutton Poyntz is immortalised in a ‘senseless jingle’ as the place where the Grand Old Duke of York marched his 10,000 men to the top of the hill and marched them down again. Frederick, Duke of York was the second and favourite son of George III, who appears on the next hill, carved from the chalk in 1808 in an equestrian figure shown riding away from the seaside.
Frederick was appointed Field-Marshal in 1795 and elevated to Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1798, a position he held through much of the Napoleonic Wars. During a period of heightened invasion fears his father entrusted him with ensuring that the home forces trained in Dorset during the last seven years of his summer visits to Weymouth. The Duke has his 124-feet high statue in Horse Guards Parade, looking into the Mall.
Reviews and manoeuvres took place in Dorset as tensions climaxed in July and August 1805. A great encampment of white canvas tents spread across Bincombe Down. Two young Hanoverian legionaries of His Majesty’s Regiment of York Hussars, Mathew Tina and Christopher Bless, are buried in Bincombe churchyard. Their deaths were no accident, the Dorchester and Sherborne Journal recorded, for on Tuesday 30 June 1801: ‘…two of the York Hussars were shot on Bincombe Down, near Weymouth, pursuant to the sentence of a Court Martial, for desertion and cutting a boat out of the harbour with intent to go into France, but by mistake they landed at Guernsey and were secured. All the regiments both in camp and barracks were drawn up, viz. the Greys, the Rifle Corps, and the Stafford, Berks, and North Devon Militia. They came on the ground in a mourning coach, attended by two Priests; after marching along the front of the line they returned to the centre. where they spent about 20 minutes in prayer, and were then shot at by a guard of 24 men. They dropped instantly and expired without a groan. They appeared sensible of their awful situation and very penitent. The men then wheeled in sections, and marched by the bodies in slow time.’
There is plenty of visual history en route in this walk. A Neolithic long barrow in Came Wood lies under the trees near the romantic Culliford Tree which features in local folklore as the ‘Music Barrow’ and was a hundred court gathering place in Anglo-Saxon times. These ubiquitous Bronze Age round barrows, concentrated along the Ridgeway, led the 18th-century antiquary William Stukeley to describe it, ‘for sight of barrows, I believe not to be equalled in the world’.
There is an early Iron Age hill fort at Chalbury where a single rampart of exposed limestone encircles the rounded hilltop. Holy Trinity Church at Bincombe retains 12th-century walls and early windows. Industrial archaeology comes into its own at Sutton Poyntz. The mediaeval corn mill has its dam in adjoining Springhead and on the landward side of the picturesque limestone and thatch hamlet stands the Victorian pumping station that supplies piped water to Weymouth from the chalk aquifer.
1 Set off back to the junction, downstream along Sutton Road from the Carriage Company, with your back to the hill. Turn right along Puddledock Lane, opposite the entrance to the Willows. Pass the Puddledocks and bear left. Follow the farm track towards Chalbury Hill and the pylon-line.
2 Turn sharp right in the pasture below Rimbrow Coppice, along the hedgerow, and keep the trees up to your left for half a mile. Then turn left, passing below the right-hand slope of Chalbury Hill, to the stile beside the road.
3 Turn right along the road and pass Stone Barn. Then turn left, following the path uphill to the gate in the corner of the rough pasture, below the pylon. Continue to the second gate under the power cables.
4 Go over the brow of the hill in a few yards and join a chalk track that becomes a terrace along the slope. Head towards Hardy’s Monument and descend into Bincombe in half a mile.
5 From the church we continue straight ahead at the junction, uphill on the raised pavement, beside Hillside. Proceed to the top of the hill, and turn right, to pass the Granary. Continue straight ahead at the next gate, keeping the communications mast to your right. The chalky track across the hill brings us to a road junction beside Came Wood in half a mile.
6 Proceed straight ahead to the end of the wood, opposite Came Down Golf Course, and turn right into the field. Walk down through the trees and then bear left along the shrubby hedgerow to Warren Barn.
7 Turn right the other side of the buildings and keep this hedgerow to your right. Continue straight ahead, up the slope, on reaching the other end of Came Wood. Turn right on reaching the Gallops. Continue ahead from the next corner, into Cripton Spinney, and pass to the right of a tree-covered Neolithic long barrow burial mound. Enter the field and pass beside Culliford Tree beech clump which stands on a big Bronze Age round barrow (also known as the Music Barrow for folklore tunes at midday).
8 Turn right along the road to the junction. Turn left, walking towards on-coming traffic, to the next corner in 300 yards. Leave the asphalt for the wide chalky track. Walk along this Chalk Road, under the pylon line, and pass the ruins of a barn, followed by more barrows. At the end of the droveway we fork right and then turn right, up the bank to a bridleway gate behind the hawthorn bushes. Follow the fence to the left of the burial mound and head downhill towards Portland. Proceed to a cross-roads of grassy tracks in the far right-hand corner of the field at the bottom of East Hill.
9 Turn right through the gate to White Horse cottage and the pumping station in the pine trees. Pass the Springhead public house and then turn right across the bridge to the opposite side of the pond.
10 Turn left beside The Rest, down Silver Street back lane below the mill, down to Plaisters Lane. Turn left to return to the centre of the village.
Distance: 6 miles
Terrain: Stiff climbs on easy to follow well-marked tracks.
Start: From Plaisters Lane, opposite the Carriage Company workshop in Sutton Poyntz village.
How to get there: Turn north off the A353 Preston Road, at Preston, into Sutton Lane at the foot of the hill below the Osmington White Horse. Take the second turning left in half a mile.
Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset); Landranger 194 (Dorchester and Weymouth). OS ref: SY705836, Postcode DT3 6LG
Refreshments: The Springhead beside the pond at Sutton Poyntz.