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The Dorset Walk: Woodlands, Horton Tower and Chalbury

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold head east

Near the beginning of the walk in Woodlands

The area around Woodlands is curiously lacking in identity. Not quite Cranborne Chase, not quite the New Forest, it has characteristics of both, and the resulting patchwork of pastures, paddocks, woodland and some large arable fields deserves to be better known.
Appropriately, Woodlands itself is a somewhat anonymous village, although it does have a church designed by George Bodley – one of his more curious and unsuccessful efforts as a line of pillars right down the middle of the building cuts it in half and obstructs most of the sight-lines. It was also the home of Henry Hastings (1551-1650), the notoriously eccentric squire ‘who bestowed all his time on [field] sports, but what he borrowed to caress his neighbours’ wives and daughters, there being not a woman in all his walks, of the degree of a yeoman’s wife, or under, and under the age of forty, but it was her own fault if he was not acquainted with her.’
Horton Tower was the creation of another sport-loving squire, Humphrey Sturt of Horton Manor. He built it in 1750, supposedly so that he could watch his hounds hunting when he became too old to ride with them. It is a good story, but as he was only 25 in 1750 and was to live for another 36 years, it is more likely that he intended it as an observatory or perhaps just as a folly. At one time the tallest secular building in England at 140 feet, it was used for the cock-fighting scene in the film of Far from the Madding Crowd. Today it houses mobile phone masts and equipment – how are the mighty fallen, one might say, but at least this 21st-century adaptation means that the tower is kept in reasonably
good repair.
Chalbury boasts one of the prettiest and most interesting small churches in Dorset. To enter the light, immaculate interior of All Saints is to receive an uplift to the soul that too few churches give. Largely 18th-century, although parts of it date back to the 1200s, it retains its box pews, which originally were allocated to the local gentry and gentlemen farmers, the size of the pew being in direct proportion to the importance of its occupants. From its churchyard there are long-reaching views to the south and east, including the water tower in Tower Park, Poole, and, on a good day, the hills of the Isle of Wight. Not surprisingly, Chalbury was the site of one of the stations in the Admiralty’s telegraph chain from Plymouth to London.

All Saints Church, Chalbury: well worth a 150 yard detour

1 Walk along the road in an easterly direction. Pass the village hall on the left and in a further 50 yards, immediately after ‘Park Cottage’, turn right into Park Lane. Unlike its West End equivalent, this is a broad track that becomes an avenue of trees crossed by two tracks which link the golf course on either side. As the track forks, take the left-hand option, which is still a broad way through quite open woodland with the golf course on either side. Cross a broad track and come to a fork, where take the left-hand, slightly narrower option. Shortly after finally leaving the golf course behind, reach a large gate into an open field on the right, with a path running just on the other side of the field’s hedge.

2 Turn right here, with the hedge and field on the right and woods on the left. At the end of the field, buildings begin to appear and the path becomes a track which bends left onto an unpaved lane. Turn left and follow the lane round to the left then the right to pass ‘High Hopes’ on the left. Continue as the lane swings to the right and then to the left in front of ‘The Lodge’. It becomes paved and leads down to a T-junction with a main road. Turn right and walk carefully along the right-hand edge of the busy road for almost 200 yards.

3 Cross the road to go past a gnarled oak tree and through a gate onto a path running between an open field on the left and woodland on the right. At the end of the field, the path bends to the right, enters Ferndown Forest and shortly reaches a track, where turn left. Go straight across a wide cross-tracks and continue through the forest. Do the same at the next cross-tracks, where a bridleway joins from the left, but in a further 120 yards leave the main track for a grassy (and usually muddy) track. Follow this to go through a gate on the edge of the forest and continue straight ahead on a grassy track between two open fields with Horton Tower on the skyline.

The unmistakeable, if architecturally questionable, Horton Tower

4 Pass the tower, with Horton itself down in the valley on the right, and walk down to a gate. Go straight ahead on a paved drive and turn left on the road. At the left-hand bend in the middle of Chalbury Common, with Tower Close on the left, fork right and follow the road to Chalbury. Watch out for the steps on the left that lead up to All Saints Church – well worth the detour. About 150 yards after the steps, fork right down a drive signed to ‘Horton’ and ‘Horton Inn’. Go through a gate at the bottom of the drive and continue along the left-hand side of a field. The path enters a brief stretch of wood, then reaches two gates. Go through the left-hand one to walk along the right-hand field-edge, at the end of which go through another gate onto a rough track.

5 At Chalbury Farm the track becomes a paved drive. Follow it down to a road, go straight across and up the field ahead. Emerging onto a drive, continue in the same direction to North Farm. Go through a gate and follow the drive round the left-hand side of the main farm buildings. Just before the last building, turn right and walk through the farmyard, bear left round the end of the buildings, then right onto a broad track running down the left-hand edge of two open fields. At the end of the second field, follow the track for a few yards as it bears right, then go through a gap and walk down the left-hand edge of the field.

The arable fields are part of quite a mixed patchwork of land usage on this varied walk

6 In the next corner go straight ahead to enter the wood and, after a small ditch, turn right on a path that runs just inside the edge of the wood. Ignore all paths on the left, towards the centre of the wood. However, the wood on the right thickens up and soon the path bends to the left and forks. Take the left-hand option, ignoring the right-hand fork, which descends a small bank. Turn left at a T-junction with a building just visible through the trees ahead. The path eventually emerges from the wood onto a track. Turn right to reach a gate in a few yards, and turn right on the road beyond.

7 Enter the hamlet of Haythorne on a sharp right-hand bend, on the crown of which turn left on a track, then immediately left again to go through a gate to the left of ‘April Cottage’. Go up the left-hand side of the field, turn right at the corner and in a further 75 yards left over a stile. Go immediately right to cross another stile and walk round the right-hand edge of the field beyond, past Greenlands Farm. In the far corner cross a double stile and turn left on a track. Where it meets a paved drive, continue straight ahead. The drive bends right then left, then turns to the right. After a lake on the left, reach a T-junction in front of Woodlands Manor Farm, where turn left.
An imposing pair of gates comes into view; cross the stile to the left of them and turn right up another drive.

There are various ponds and small lakes along the course of the walk

8 In about 220 yards turn left onto a track that almost immediately curves to the right, but continue straight ahead on a grassier track that twists and turns through the woods until it emerges into an open field. Follow the right-hand edge of the field to the next corner, where go through a belt of woodland, turn right in front of an open field and walk up the left-hand side of a short enclosed path. Soon turn left and continue to follow the left-hand field-edge right up to the next corner. Here cross a stile onto a track which leads up to the football field, beyond which is your car.

Distance: About 8 miles.
Terrain: Mostly very flat tracks and field-paths. The woodland stretches provide welcome shade on a hot day but mean that muddy patches are slow to dry out.
Start: On the main road through Woodlands, close to the football pitch.
How to get there: From the west, turn east off the B3078 Wimborne-Cranborne road about ½ mile north of the Horton Inn and a little over ½ mile south of the turning to Knowlton, and follow the road into Woodlands. From the east, take the B3081 out of Verwood towards Cranborne and ½ mile after Romford turn left through Whitmore to Woodlands. OS reference SU050090, postcode BH21 8LJ.
Maps: OS Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase), OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck).
Refreshments: None on the route.

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