The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset Walk: Oakley Down, Pentridge Knoll and Bokerley Dyke

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold go to Dorset’s north-east corner

A characteristically open vista facing north near the beginning of the walk

Purbeck and West Dorset have their claims, but can any Dorset walking country really beat Cranborne Chase? Even the roar of traffic speeding between Blandford and Salisbury on the A354, which this walk crosses twice, is soon lost in the Chase’s wide vistas and huge skies. Then there’s the history of the landscape: in this case the mysterious linear earthwork of the Dorset Cursus, and Bokerley Dyke. The ditch and bank of the latter were certainly used by the Romans to keep the Saxons out of Dorset, but most antiquarians now agree that its origins date back to the Bronze Age.

Cranborne Chase has some of the county's finest walking country

Pentridge, dozing under Pentridge Down and its highest point, Penbury Knoll, has some super houses and the charming little church of St Rumbold. Here the memorials range from one to poet Robert Browning’s earliest known ancestor – reputedly butler for the Bankes family of Kingston Lacy – to one to World War 2 flying ace Roland Beamont.

St Rumbold's church in Pentridge

The other village through which the walk passes is the county’s most north-easterly, Woodyates. It is not Dorset’s prettiest, but there is a memorial on the A354 to the feat of Lt John Lapenotiere of HM Schooner Pickle, who carried the first news of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Nelson. He travelled the 271 miles from Falmouth to London by post-chaise in 37 hours, changing horses twenty-one times; the significance of Woodyates to the story is that it was here that he made the thirteenth such change.

1 Continue up Oakley Lane, which soon becomes a track. Follow this round to the right, then as it bears to the left, cross a stile and walk up the left-hand edge of the field. The fence on the left comes to an end, but continue straight ahead on a track which curves to the left up onto Oakley Down. At the top of the down, go straight across a paved drive onto a track running along the edge of the next field. Where the track curves to the left into a field, continue straight ahead on a path, with the hedge still to the left. At the bottom of the slope, the path swings to the right, bears right again in front of a house and leads to the A354.

The fields are predominantly arable along the walk

2 Cross carefully and walk down the left-hand side of some garage buildings to a gate into an open field. Follow the left-hand edge of this field until it bears slightly left, by a field boundary on the other side of the hedge. Here bear slightly right to reach the middle of the field at the top of the rise, where bear slightly left down to a gate in the far left-hand corner. (That is where the right of way runs, but when there are standing crops, it would seem commonsense, if technically wrong, to stick to the left-hand field-edge all the way to the gate.) At the gate, you are standing smack in the middle of the Dorset Cursus, although there is no indication of this on the ground.

3 Go down the edge of the next field and turn left at the corner onto a track. At the next track junction, turn left and walk into Pentridge. It is well worth taking the extra effort to explore the village, but the route of the walk turns right through some brick gate-piers onto a drive on the near edge of the village, opposite Quail Cottage. In a very few yards, bear left up to a bank and a stile just to the right of a belt of trees. Follow the enclosed path uphill, and emerge over a stile onto the open hillside. Continue upwards and, where the grassy track divides, fork left, then bear right and head up to a stile. Cross it and continue to the trig point at the left-hand end of the belt of trees that crowns Penbury Knoll.

4 Pass the trig point and descend to a grassy track with a fence beyond. Turn left and walk along the ridge of Pentridge Down, keeping the hedgerow on the right, to reach a gate. Beyond, a short path emerges into an open field. Cross the field, heading initially for the right-hand end of a line of trees on the other side of the field. Reaching the other side, turn left, and at the next gate bear right on a grassy track that curves to the left round the flank of the hill and descends. About 100 yards before the next gate, look out for a stile in the hedge on the right. Cross both it and the narrow neck of the field, then turn right to follow the left-hand field-edge. This bends to the right and reaches a gate, beyond which walk down a track with an open field to the left and woodland to the right. Where the track swings right into the wood, continue straight ahead on a path.

5 At the end of the wood, the path breaks through Bokerley Dyke, after which turn left and walk for ½ mile, keeping the earthwork close by on the left, to an information board erected by Natural England and Hampshire CC; the Dyke is the Dorset-Hampshire boundary hereabouts, so you are in Hampshire by about five yards. Continue ahead with the earthwork on the left until a broad grassy track joins from the right in a further ¼ mile. Here take a clear path which goes up and over the bank on the left and enters an open field. The long barrow on the left marks the northern end of the Dorset Cursus. On the other side of the field, go up the track ahead until it bears left into Bokerley Farm. Here bear right on a path which passes close to the near end of a new, corrugated-metal barn. Go through a gate, then bear right and left to walk along the left-hand edge of an open field. Shortly before reaching the clearly visible and audible A354, go through a gate on the left, turn right on a drive, walk down to the main road and cross carefully.

Whether they were to keep invaders out or to put ancestors in, there is plenty of earthwork evidence of previous civilisation

6 Having admired the memorial to Lt Lapenotiere’s feat, walk down the lane to the left of it to enter Woodyates. At the far end of the village, the road bends left then right. At the second bend, go straight ahead on an enclosed footpath behind the gardens of some modern houses. Passing through a gate into an open field, turn right to follow its right-hand edge. Where this field-edge turns right, bear left onto a track between two fields. As this meets the drive to West Woodyates, turn left, then immediately right onto a rather narrower drive along the right-hand side of an open field. The handsome West Woodyates Manor may be glimpsed on the right. Follow this drive down to a junction with a lane, turn left until the village sign for Sixpenny Handley is reached and, shortly afterwards, your car.

Distance: About 8¼ miles
Terrain: Good underfoot. Apart from the climb to Penbury Knoll, the gradients are gentle.
Start: The junction of Dean Lane and Oakley Lane on the northern edge of Sixpenny Handley. OS reference SU002176. Postcode SP5 5JA. There are two or three places at this junction where a car may be safely parked. If they should be full, there are others back down Dean Lane towards the village centre.
How to get there: Turn west off the A354 Blandford-Salisbury road at the large roundabout where it is crossed by the B3081 Cranborne-Shaftesbury road. Go down the hill at the start of Sixpenny Handley and at the bottom, turn right into Dean Lane. The junction with Oakley Lane is on the right in about 1/3 mile.
Maps: OS Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase); OS Landranger 184 (Salisbury and the Plain).
Refreshments: None on the route. The Roebuck at Sixpenny Handley is near the start/finish.

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