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Dorset Walk: Dorchester’s river

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold take a watery stroll in the county town

A quiet section of this town walk by the river

As the River Frome approaches Dorchester, it divides into a number of different streams which do not re-unite until the river has flowed on for a couple of miles beyond the town. Add in several short rivulets that drain into one or other of the arms of the Frome, and the countryside to the north-east of Dorchester is a maze of streams, bridges and waterside paths.
This, one of our occasional shorter walks, explores that countryside, which is remarkably rural in places yet is rarely out of sight of at least part of the county town’s distinctive skyline. Having taken in Top o’ Town, with Eric Kennington’s rather self-effacing statue of Thomas Hardy, it passes the blocky 1930s architecture of County Hall and descends to Hangman’s Cottage. It really was the home of the town’s hangman, whom Thomas Hardy (you can’t get away from him in Dorchester) saw through its window cheerfully eating his evening meal the night before a hanging.
A stretch of busy London Road is regrettable but necessary if the route is to cross Grey’s Bridge, built in 1748, and take full advantage of the quiet paths and fields of Coker’s Frome. The walk passes the showground where the Dorset County Show is held on the first weekend of September, before heading back towards Dorchester over Blue Bridge, which has been the colour suggested by its name since it was built. It is here that the River Cerne joins the Frome.

1 Leave the car park by the pedestrian exit opposite the Hardy statue. Go across the zebra crossing and turn left for a few yards before turning right to walk between County Hall on the left and the library on the right. At the end of the road, turn left into Glyde Path Road and walk down the hill. As the road bends to the left, continue straight on down some shallow steps. Cross the road at the bottom of the steps and, with Hangman’s Cottage on the left, cross a bridge. Immediately after the bridge, turn right and follow the paved path alongside the water. Emerge onto London Road, turn left and walk along the pavement to the traffic lights by Grey’s Bridge.

Somewhat gnomic sign on Greys bridge

2 Cross the bridge and turn immediately left through a kissing gate. Follow the path alongside the river until the river bends away to the left, where the path goes straight on over a bridge. Pass directly in front of a white-painted thatched house on the right and continue alongside an open field until a gate onto the drive of Dairy Cottage. Continue in the same direction for 70 yards and turn left on a track. Where the track swings to the right in front of some farm buildings, continue straight ahead into an open field. Walk along the left-hand edge of the field and in the next corner leave it through a gate onto an enclosed path. This becomes a track, which in a few yards bends round to the right.

Dorchester pictured from the showground side of town

3 25 yards after the bend, go through a kissing gate on the left and walk along the right-hand edge of the field beyond. At the end of the field, go through a kissing gate, turn left and cross a little bridge. Cross two more bridges, the second of which is Blue Bridge, and walk down to where the stream on the right is crossed by a wooden bridge. Turn right to cross the bridge. This path reaches a road, where turn left over the bridge and at the T-junction turn left again. In about 100 yards, climb some steps on the left and walk up the tree-shaded pavement to return to Top o’ Town.

A tree-lined section of the walk in Dorchester

Distance: About 2¼ miles.
Terrain: Mostly good underfoot, and fairly flat.
Start: In the car park at Top o’ Town.
How to get there: The car park is on the north side of Bridport Road, about 100 yards west of the Top o’ Town roundabout. OS reference SY688907, postcode DT1 1RN.
Maps: OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset). OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: Restaurants, pubs and tearooms abound in Dorchester.

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