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The Dorset Walk: Tolpuddle, Briantspuddle and Turners Puddle

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold in the woods and meadows of the River Piddle

One of the many pretty thatched properties in Tolpuddle

This is a satisfying walk, best done when the woods are just dressing themselves in the light green of spring or early summer. The southern side of the Piddle Valley is largely woods and heathland, while the second half of the route enjoys the more open fields on the other side of the river. The Piddle itself is complicated hereabouts, dividing into several streams that are crossed near the start of the walk.
Tolpuddle will forever be associated with its six ‘martyrs’ who were transported to Australia in 1834 for daring to form an agricultural trade union, an event which, more for convenience than accuracy, is taken to mark the beginning of the trades union movement in this country. They would meet under the Martyrs’ Tree on the village green. More recently, the village has been much improved by a by-pass – although the noise is intrusive, especially when the wind is in the north – and by some excellent modern developments on the north side of the main road, which for the most part sit very sympathetically with the older buildings.
Briantspuddle was a model village created by Sir Ernest Debenham, of department store fame, between the wars as home to a self-sufficient agricultural enterprise. The venture was only partially successful, but its legacy is a village abounding in well-designed houses, many of them surprisingly large and a high proportion thatched. Debenham commissioned Eric Gill to design perhaps the most striking war memorial in Dorset; Gill may have been an unpleasant man with some unusual sexual habits, but when his work is good, it is very good, and his Briantspuddle war memorial is very good indeed. Although it is a thriving modern community, the village continues to present a rather charming, old-fashioned air to the visitor.
Turners Puddle once had a parish population of 111 but now there are half that number of inhabitants, and the farm and Holy Trinity Church stand almost on their own. The church is deconsecrated but is occasionally used for events like concerts and art exhibitions. Its churchyard has returned to nature and is full of wild plants. The name was originally ‘Toner’s  Piddle’, after Sir Henry Toner, who was given the manor by Edward I.

The deep, dark shade of the woods offers respite against the warmth of the sun

1 Walk along the main road through Tolpuddle in a westerly direction. Where the road forks, bear left onto The Green, pass the Martyrs’ Tree on the right and follow the road as it bends to the left and becomes Southover Lane. Cross several bridges over streams of the Piddle to reach a sharp left-hand bend. Almost immediately after the bend, beyond a white house, turn right up a lane signed to Southover Farm. At the next fork go left, leaving Beech Cottage South on the right, and the lane becomes a track.

2 In just under ½ mile, turn left through an opening to go up the edge of a field with woodland on the right and a view down to Southover House on the left. Bear left at the top of the field and in about 100 yards go through the right-hand of two gateways. Follow the left-hand edge of the field and in the next corner enter the wood and turn immediately right on a path that runs inside the very edge of the wood. In a little under ¼ mile ignore a path which runs off left into the centre of the wood but at a fork in a further 300 yards take a path which does the same. It broadens out to become a rough track, which follow straight ahead until it eventually leaves the wood to meet a wide, lighter-coloured track.

3 Turn left and in about 550 yards, shortly after walking up and over a small hump, left again on the first well-defined track. This track descends and approaches the far edge of the wood, about 50 yards before which, turn right up a small rise. Continue in the same direction on a path that is reasonably easy to follow through the trees. At a distinct fork, after a wooden barrier on the left, take the lower, or left-hand, fork. There is now heathland on the right, but the path soon re-enters the woods and becomes wider.

4 When it reaches a road, turn left and walk carefully down the right-hand side for 200 yards. Here turn right into woodland again, on a path which descends and bears to the left before rising again and bending more gently to the right. The path eventually runs along or parallel to the edge of the wood; ignore all turnings to the right, towards the centre of the wood. At the first major cross-tracks, turn left on a path which leads out of the wood onto a grassy track. Walk down this with a paddock on the right and an open field on the left, and continue straight ahead on a drive. Follow this as it bends to the right onto a broad, rough track that leads down to the war memorial and the road through Briantspuddle.

5 Turn right, and at the cross-roads go straight ahead and walk out of the village. Continue along the lane until it bends very sharply to the right, where go straight ahead on a track marked with a ‘no through road’ sign. In a few yards fork left. The track crosses two arms of the River Piddle and reaches Turners Puddle opposite the farm and church. Turn left on the track, which becomes a path with fields sloping up to the right.

After the woodland, the walk opens out into fields on its return leg

6 Go over a lane and continue ahead on a narrow path. Cross a stile into an open field and follow the right-hand edge. In the next corner turn right and then left to follow the left-hand field edge. At the end of the field, cross a stile, go through a few yards of undergrowth, and emerge over another stile into a large open field. Walk straight along the bottom edge and cross two stiles, the second one onto a lane.

7  Turn left for 80 yards, turn right over a stile and follow the path as it soon bears to the left and closes very gradually with the right-hand edge of this large field, passing a barn on the right on the way. At the very end of the field, cross a stile in the right-hand corner and follow the left-hand edge of the next field round the next corner and up to a stile and steps that lead up to the main road through Tolpuddle. Turn left and walk along the pavement to your car.

Distance: About 7 miles.
Terrain: A couple of short, sharp climbs, but nothing demanding. The woodland paths are muddy after rain.
Start: On the main road through Tolpuddle, near the eastern end of the village.
How to get there: Turn south off the A35 at the Tolpuddle Ball junction (B3390). If coming from the west, go under the dual carriageway and turn almost immediately right. If coming from the east, turn right a hundred yards or so after leaving the main road. OS reference SY799944, postcode DT2 7EZ.
Maps: OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset), OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Martyrs Inn, Tolpuddle. Briantspuddle village shop (mornings only).

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