The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset walk: Sandford Orcas and the Somerset border

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold in the far north-west of the county

Some interesting farmyard heritage seen on the walk

Purists may object that part of this walk is in Somerset – indeed, it starts in our neighbouring county – but the great majority is in Dorset and why deprive ourselves of some lovely countryside and some stunning views northwards to the Somerset Levels and the Mendip Hills?
The hills immediately surrounding this route of open fields and hidden lanes seem somehow friendly, if that is not too fanciful: the pleasing outlines of Holway Hill, Corton Hill and Corton Ridge are high enough to give character to this patch of north-west Dorset, but not so high as to loom over it.
The only village on the route is Sandford Orcas. It is notable for its 16th-century manor-house, built in mellow Ham Hill stone and little altered, inside or out. It has been owned by only two families since it was built – the Knoyles and now the Medlycotts – but is reputed to be home to no fewer than fourteen ghosts! Next door is the parish church of St Nicholas, which has a 13th-century font.
Sandford Orcas also boasts one of Dorset’s nicest village pubs, the Mitre. The village owes the strange second part of its name not to killer whales but to the Norman Orescuilz family.

The vistas really open up

1 Go through the gate on the southern side of the T-junction, immediately opposite Slade Lane. Walk down to the far right-hand corner of the field (crossing back into Dorset as you do so) and cross a bridge and stile straight ahead, Walk down the right-hand edge of the next field, go through a gate on the right in the next corner and walk diagonally to the far right-hand corner of the next field, heading for the gap between two large modern barns. On the other side of the gate, walk down to another gate in the far left-hand corner. Turn right onto a lane, walk up to the main road and turn left.
2 It can be a busy road, so walk for 200 careful yards to where two tracks run off to the left. Take the left-hand one, which soon goes downhill. At a major fork about ½ mile from the main road, soon after a barn on the right, fork right. Stay on the track as it bends left then right, fords a stream and begins to climb. Continue over a cross-tracks and reach a lane, where turn left. In just under 200 yards turn right in front of a post-box into a no through road and go through the first gate on the left.

Keep dogs on leads when entering any field with livestock in it

3 Walk up the right-hand side of the field and in the same direction straight across the next field to reach a track. Turn left, almost immediately fork right, and walk through farm buildings down to a lane. Turn left. In about 400 yards the lane swings left, downhill, but continue over the stile straight ahead and walk along the right-hand field-edge. Through the next gate, follow the left-hand field-edge. At the far end, cross a stile about 80 yards to the right of the corner. Go straight across a narrow field to a stile, after which bear very slightly right to yet another stile.
4 Turn left on the lane beyond. In about 250 yards turn right, then in 50 yards left to walk down between some corrugated iron barns. Go through a kissing gate at the end of the barns and turn right to follow the right-hand field-edge for about 50 yards, at which point ford the stream on the right and turn left to continue along its bank. At the far end of the field, ignore a bridge on the left but continue to a stile near the far left-hand corner. Continue along the left-hand edge of two fields. Go right to the far end of the second one and descend a bank straight ahead to reach a stile which is difficult to see until one is almost on top of it. Turn left and walk up through Sandford Orcas.

A fascinating construction that is half gatehouse, half porte cochère

5 Unless carrying on to the Mitre Inn, take the first turning on the right, signed to Trent, between the Dower House and Merton House. In about 150 yards, just past the drive to Jerards, turn left up some steps and walk along the top of the bank to a stile. Walk along the right-hand edge of two fields to a kissing gate onto a drive. Turn right on the drive and right again on the lane beyond the gate-pillars. Walk up to a T-junction and go through the left-hand of the two gates ahead.
6 Bear left to walk over the brow of the field, which is crossed diagonally to a stile in the very far corner. Walk along the right-hand edge of the next field until the hedge turns sharply away to the right; here continue straight ahead to another stile. Go up the right-hand edge of two fields, then bear very slightly right to go straight across a third field. Continue in the same direction across a dry ditch and the next field, heading for the far right-hand corner. Turn left on Slade Lane and follow it back to your car.

Distance: About 5 miles.
Terrain: Muddy patches and puddles after anything but the driest weather, although nothing insuperable in good boots or shoes. No significant climbs, although the last ¼ mile is uphill.
Start: On the verge near the junction of Great Pit Lane and Slade Lane, about a mile west of Sandford Orcas.
How to get there: Take the B3148 Marston Magna road out of Sherborne. In about 2½ miles, some 150 yards beyond the ‘Welcome to Somerset’ sign, turn right. This is Great Pit Lane and Slade Lane is the first turning on the left, in about 600 yards. OS reference ST609203, postcode between BA22 8AP and BA22 8AW.
Maps: OS Explorer 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne), OS Landranger 183 (Yeovil & Frome).
Refreshments: The Mitre Inn at Sandford Orcas is about 400 yards off the route.

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