The Dorset Walk – Woolland, Belchalwell and Ibberton
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold on the southern edge of the Blackmore Vale
Published in November ’11
The title is something of a cheat, as the walk only brushes the fringes of the first two villages named, but each can be explored by taking the briefest of diversions. It starts on the great escarpment which bounds the Blackmore Vale to the south-east and which provides some of Dorset’s most spectacular views, then descends to explore the gentle, lush landscape of Hardy’s ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’.
Belchalwell has one of Dorset’s weirdest place-name histories. It is really two villages, originally Bell and Chaldwell. Bell took its name from nearby Bell Hill, so called because of its shape, although it takes an imagination more creative than mine to see the resemblance to a bell. Chaldwell simply meant ‘cold spring’. In the 16th century, Bell became Belchalwell and Chaldwell became Belchalwell Street. This opens up another mystery, since ‘Street’ often implies the presence of a Roman road and there is no trace of any such in the area. The parish church of St Aldhelm, which boasts a Norman porch and has lovely views, is in Belchalwell.
Ibberton is a delightfully peaceful village, best known for its cricket ground, across which the walk passes, and for its parish church of St Eustace. Not only is the church’s dedication unusual, its interior is charming and the churchyard enjoys views matched not even by Belchalwell’s and perhaps only by those from All Saints’, Kington Magna, which similarly overlooks the Blackmore Vale but from its northern rim.
1 Turn left out of the parking area and at the junction continue straight ahead briefly before turning right, signed to Stoke Wake and Mappowder. Continue for a little under ½ mile until just before a junction on the left, where turn right on a path which runs steeply downhill along the edge of woodland on the right. Reaching the end of what is in effect a long, narrow field, turn left to a gate and turn right on the lane beyond. Walk downhill to a sharp right-hand bend; Woolland lies just round this bend and is worth a detour to see its church, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and manor house. Otherwise, turn left on the drive to Hill Farm.
2 Opposite the last of the farm buildings, turn right through a gap and bear right to a kissing-gate. Follow the enclosed path beyond to another kissing-gate, after which turn immediately right through a gate onto a track with an open field on the left. At the end of the field cross a track and a stile, then bear immediately left to cross another stile in a few yards. Bear right to head for what is now the far corner. Here cross the stile next to the right-hand of two gates and follow the track as it bends to the left and right. Where it swings sharply to the left again, cross a double stile straight ahead and follow the right-hand field-edge up to a gate onto a lane. Go straight ahead on the lane for about 250 yards to a gate on the right just beyond a patch of woodland.
3 Go through the gate and follow the right-hand edge to a gate near the corner. Stay close to the left-hand edge of the next field and follow it up to a gate straight ahead. Here turn left, then right at the corner. Halfway up this side, turn right to reach a track and turn left on it into the buildings of Mount Pleasant Farm. In the farm, turn left through the farmyard and along the farm’s drive, which leads to a lane. Turn left, then right in just over 350 yards. The lane fords the River Divelish (footbridge provided) and about 160 yards further on swings sharply to the right.
4 Here go straight ahead through a gate and follow the left-hand field-edge. In the next corner, go through a gate on the left and walk straight ahead to a gate on the far side of the narrow field. Continue along the right-hand edge of the next field, go through a gate in the far right-hand corner and follow the left-hand edge of the field beyond. Go through a gate into the next field and bear slightly right to an opening in the far right-hand corner. Turn left on a track, which leads through the buildings of Lowbrook Farm and onto its drive, which in turn leads up to a lane on the edge of Belchalwell. Unless making a diversion to the left to visit the village, turn right and follow the lane for just under ½ mile to a T-junction at Belchalwell Street.
5 Turn left, then in a few yards double back to the right, signed to Bulbarrow, Ansty and Milton Abbas. Opposite the far end of the impressive landmark of a disused chalk quarry on the left, bear right through a gate and head along the field, aiming for a gate in the far end which is in line with one of the radio masts on Bulbarrow Hill. Continue along the next field, moving steadily away from the left-hand edge to reach a stile near the far right-hand corner. Once over the stile, bear right to a narrow gate about 100 yards up from what is now the far left-hand corner. Walk straight across the outfield of the cricket ground to another gate and continue in the same direction right into the far corner of the field, where a stile, short path and gate lead onto a lane.
6 Turn left and walk down through Ibberton to a turning on the left signed ‘To the church’. Turn left until the paved lane runs out at Church Farm House. Go on up the track straight ahead and, having diverted up some steps to admire the church and its views, continue ascending the track until it reaches a lane. Go straight across and through the smaller, left-hand gate. The track beyond eventually leads into an open hillside field; walk along it, ascending slightly, to a gate just below halfway down the far end. Beyond, a well-defined path runs ahead for a short way, then bears left to climb steeply up the hillside. Pass close to the top end of a line of gorse and continue to a wooden gate in the left hand field-edge. Go through this gate to the road, turn right and walk up to your car.
Distance: About 7¼ miles
Terrain: Apart from a steep descent near the start and the corresponding ascent near the end, the route is very flat. Expect Blackmore Vale mud after rainy weather, but the stretches of paved lane throughout the route give a chance to knock it off.
Start: The parking area on what is usually known as Bulbarrow Hill but is in fact Woolland Hill. OS ref ST783059. Postcode DT11 0HQ.
How to get there: The parking area lies just to the north-east of the junction on top of Bulbarrow, where four roads meet: from the north-east, the road from Ibberton and Sturminster Newton; from the north-west the road from Hazelbury Bryan and Sherborne; from the south-west the road from Ansty and Dorchester; and from the south-east the road from Milton Abbas and Blandford.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth)
Refreshments: The Crown at Ibberton