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Sturminster Newton – The Dorset Walk

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold take a stroll round ‘the capital of the Blackmore Vale’

Sturminster’s mill is one of Dorset’s most iconic buildings

This is one of our walks for those who like a shorter route. It reveals the charms of Sturminster Newton, or ‘Stur’ as it is known to all its inhabitants and indeed to most of Dorset. It is a town which sets a shining example to other communities that have fallen on hard times through the changes in agricultural practices. It used to be the home of the largest weekly calf market in the country (unless you had to, you didn’t take to the roads within ten miles of Stur on a Monday because of the traffic), and opposite the market was a creamery where much of the milk from the surrounding Blackmore Vale was processed. But after the market sold its last calf in 1997 and the creamery closed three years later, Stur was for a decade one of the more depressed and depressing places in Dorset.

The transformation was wrought by a number of factors coming together. SturQuest, a community partnership, was well-led and combined energy with vision in becoming the driving force behind putting life back in the town. The market site was eventually bought by a company which built the Exchange, a brilliant building which serves as a community centre, arts centre, meeting place, party venue and almost anything else the town wants it to be. A large estate of new houses behind the Exchange successfully blended with the rest of the town and brought in new blood. Today, there is a lively air of purpose about Stur, the town which in effect re-invented itself.

Poet William Barnes was born near Stur, at Bagber, and went to school in what is now known as the Old School. Appropriately, the town’s modern primary school is named after him. This walk passes both, and also the parish church of St Mary’s, which has a fine wagon roof and some exceptional stained glass. It dates from the mid-13th century but was re-built (at the then rector’s personal expense) in the 1820s.

 

The vaulted roof of the parish church

1 Walk up to the top-left-hand corner of the car park, cross the road and go straight ahead down a narrow alley between two brick walls. Emerge onto Penny Street and turn left. In about 100 yards turn right onto a path between Nazareth Lodge and Farthings, which shares a gate with the Old School. The path leads to the parish church, where turn right on a road. When the road shortly bends to the right, continue straight ahead.

2 Reaching another road, turn immediately left on a path alongside North Wall and Magnolia House. At the bottom of the slope, bear right and walk along the field to a gate. Beyond this, cross the road and turn left on the pavement. Walk down to Town Bridge, but just before it, turn right into the field and walk along the riverbank to the mill on the other side of the river. Opposite it, turn right and continue to follow the edge of the field on the left, with the roofs of Sturminster Newton away to the right.

3 Go through a gate in the next corner and cross the top of a school playing field, leaving in the next corner by bearing left on a footpath. Continue to keep to the left as the path passes through quite thick woodland. Reaching a cross-paths, turn right, signed to Market Place. The path ascends to a kissing-gate, beyond which follow the road which leads to the main road. Go straight across into the pedestrianised part of Station Road, walk down this and the car park is on the right.

Distance: About 1½ miles.

Terrain: Paved roads and paths and field-paths.

Start: In the car park opposite the Exchange in Station Road (pay and display).

How to get there: Turn north off the A357 Blandford-Stalbridge road at Town Bridge. Take the B3092 into the middle of Sturminster Newton and turn right at traffic lights onto the B3091, signed to Shaftesbury. Go through the pedestrian lights, turn right at the next lights and the car park is on the left. OS ref ST787142. Postcode DT10 1BD.

Maps: OS Explorer 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne). OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).

Refreshments: Sturminster Newton is well provided with cafés and pubs.

One of the striking stained-glass windows within the church

 

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