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The Dorset walk: The Frome and Sydling valleys

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold visit the heart of Dorset

The views open out pretty quickly on the walk

The ridges and valleys of the mid-Dorset hills run northwards like so many fingers. This route climbs out of one valley and into the next, then along the watershed on the far side before returning to follow the first valley.
The start is in the valley of the Frome, Dorset’s second most important river after the Stour. Rising near Evershot, it gives its name to Frampton, which at one time had its own market. Frampton Court, built in 1704 and largely demolished in 1935, dominated the village and was at one time owned by the Sheridan family to which the playwright, Robert Brinsley Sheridan, belonged.
Further upstream, Maiden Newton is one of Dorset’s larger and more anonymous villages. It stands at the point where the Hooke runs into the Frome, which is crossed and re-crossed on this route near Maiden Newton’s satellite hamlet of Frome Vauchurch. The most notable feature of Maiden Newton is its truncated cross in the centre of the village; it is probably 15th-century.
In the next valley, Sydling Water is a much more modest affair than the Frome, into which it flows just west of Grimstone. It gives its name to Sydling St Nicholas, which takes much of its character from the chalk stream and which is an unspoilt Dorset village at its best. It includes the oddity of a church clock that strikes the hours but has no face.

The Sydling water's passage through the village makes for a delightful village scene

1 Walk back up to the main road, turn right and, in front of St Mary’s Church, left into Church Lane. At the top of the lane cross the A37 very carefully and walk a few yards down the lane opposite before turning left through a gate. Cross the open field to a gap about 100 yards up from a barn in the far right-hand corner. In the next field bear very slightly right, aiming for a point in the bottom of the field about 80 yards before the far corner and in line with the left-hand end of some watercress beds. Go through a gate and turn left on a lane.

2 In a little over 300 yards turn right up the drive to Magiston Farm. At the end of the buildings continue on an unmade track that curves to the left and climbs alongside woodland. At the first opportunity fork left into an open field and walk along its right-hand edge. At the far end of the field, currently marked by a wire fence running up from a wood on the left, continue in the same direction, and in the top corner go straight ahead into woods. Bear right, but then there is nothing except a vaguely pointing footpath marker to show the way. The key is to stay on the same level, or possibly climb very slightly; on no account lose height. The right-hand edge of the wood will gradually come closer.

3 Eventually emerge into an open field, ideally about 150 yards before the bottom left-hand corner. Walk up to the top left-hand corner. Go through a gate onto a rough track, following the right-hand edge of a big open field. Pass Huish Barn on Shearplace Hill (the sheep which are usually plentiful hereabouts give a clue to how it got its name). At a track junction go straight ahead to follow the left-hand edge of a field to a gate. Continue along the wide track ahead and follow it along the edge of a field that opens up on the right.

4 Turn right at the corner and go through an opening on the left that has been clearly visible from further down the field. Walk straight ahead over the brow of the next field to go through an opening on the far side. Follow a track along the right-hand edge of the next two fields until it bends away to the right. Carry on up the field-edge to the corner, where turn left and follow the fence on the right down to a gate. Continue in the same direction down the open hillside, then bear slightly left to a gate in a belt of trees. Descend steeply along the flank of the hill to a half-hidden gate, beyond which emerge from a narrow strip of woodland into an open field. Walk down the left-hand edge to a gate.

5 Turn left on the track, which soon becomes a lane. In about 50 yards, just after no. 1, turn right down Waterside Walk. Follow it down to cross a wooden bridge over Sydling Water, after which turn left, then right at the T-junction. Walk down to meet the main road through Sydling St Nicholas opposite the bus shelter. Walk up the lane to the left of the bus shelter and follow it round to the right, where it becomes a track. It bends to the left and starts to ascend through woodland. Where another track joins from the left, stay on the main track as it bends slightly to the right and descends. The track curves to the left and later to the right, but at that point continue ahead on a wide path through woodland. Climb up to a gate into an open field and follow the left-hand edge of this and the next field to reach the A37.

After leaving Sydling St Nicholas, the views get, if anything, even better

6 Cross it, once again with great care, on a slight right-left dog-leg and walk down a broad enclosed track. In about 600 yards pass New Barn and enter an open field. Stay on the track that runs diagonally down the field, under some power lines. At a T-junction, turn right and continue to descend. The track goes under the railway bridge at Maiden Newton station and becomes a paved lane. Follow this down to a road, where turn left to reach the main road through Maiden Newton by the stump of the old village cross.

7 Turn left, and between the houses numbered 25 and 27 turn right down Frome Lane. Cross the bridge over the Frome and follow the road round to the left to reach Frome Vauchurch. Where the road bends sharply to the right by Downfrome Cottage, go straight on, passing the tiny church of St Francis on the left. Where the lane comes to an abrupt end, go through the gate straight ahead and in about 50 yards bear right through a gap and walk across the bottom of the next field. Continue in the same direction to a small gate alongside the river. Cross two bridges, forking right after the second one to reach a gate. Go through it and turn right onto a broad grassy ride, at the end of which, go through a gate into a field. Follow the right-hand edge for about 80 yards to a gate.

Another peaceful scene around a kilometre from Maiden Newton

8 On the other side cross a bridge and turn left on a lane. Follow the lane past Cruxton Manor and go straight ahead as the lane becomes a track. At the T-junction, turn left. Almost immediately go straight across a cross-tracks and continue past the buildings of Notton Farm. Turn right on a drive, then almost left immediately down another paved drive. Pass Notton Cottage on the left and stay on the paved drive to reach Throop Farm. In front of the buildings turn right, uphill, on a paved track.

9 At the top of the hill bear left onto a path between tracks. Go through a metal gate and follow the path along the left-hand edge of open fields, then through woodland to reach a gate on the right. Go through it and turn left on a track to continue in the same direction as before. The track becomes a paved lane which runs through Southover, bears left and runs up to the Millennium Green.

Distance: About 9½ miles.
Terrain: An undulating route, but the going underfoot is generally good.
Start: In the parking space on the lane to Southover opposite the Millennium Green in Frampton.
How to get there: Frampton lies on the A356 Dorchester-Crewkerne road, less than a mile north of its junction with the A37 from Dorchester to Yeovil and just under three miles south-east of Maiden Newton. The turning to Southover is signposted to the south in the centre of the village. OS reference SY624950, postcode DT2 9NH.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis), OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Chalk and Cheese in Maiden Newton. The Greyhound at Sydling St Nicholas is only about 100 yards off the route.

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