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The Dorset walk 1: Gunville Down and Stubhampton

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold explore the upper Tarrant Valley

It may be less well-known than other valleys in Dorset, but the Tarrant Valley is as pretty as any

The Tarrant Valley is one of those parts of Dorset that is perhaps less well-known than it deserves to be. It is not spectacular countryside but there is something very satisfying about the classic English woodland and undulating agricultural landscape which make up most of the route of this walk.

The river from which the valley takes its name rises at Tarrant Gunville, so strictly speaking, Stubhampton, where this walk starts, is not in the Tarrant Valley, but its name was originally Tarrant Stubhampton, which seems to qualify it. Like the rest of the Tarrant Valley, it lies within the southern edge of the Cranborne Chase AONB, although the classic Cranborne Chase scenery starts a little further north.

The walk skirts Tarrant Gunville, whose parish church of St Mary dates in part from the 13th century but was heavily restored by the Victorians. Tarrant Gunville Manor lies on the route, but it would have been eclipsed by its near neighbour, Eastbury House, designed by Vanbrugh for George Doddington in the early 18th century. Completed in 1738, it was a massive country house – of Vanbrugh’s creations, only Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard were larger. Less than a century later, it was demolished because none of Doddington’s descendants wanted or could afford to live there.

The Tarrant Valley is home to some beautiful examples of the local vernacular cob and thatch construction

The Walk

Distance: About 6¼ miles.

Terrain: There are a lot of woodland paths, which are frequently muddy, but the worst patches can be avoided, There are two short, steady climbs, but nothing severe.

Start: At the northern end of Stubhampton there is a sharp bend with, on the north side of the road, a space with two farm gates leading off it. It should be possible to park there without obstructing either of the gates.

How to get there: From the Higher Shaftesbury Road, about equidistant between Blandford and Shaftesbury, turn east at the cross-roads where the road to Iwerne Minster runs down the western side of the ridge. The starting point is in 1¾ miles on the left. OS reference ST913142. Postcode DT11 8JU.

Maps: OS Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase), OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck).

Refreshments: None on the route.

1 Go through the right-hand of the two gates. Follow the track beyond, ignoring turnings to left and right. The track narrows to a path, which curves to the left and enters woodland to run just inside its right-hand edge. Where more woodland comes down from the right, the path forks left. Take the left-hand option and in 80 yards fork left again, on a clearly defined uphill path. When this emerges into an open field, follow the woodland on the right all the way down to a road.

2 Turn right and walk up the road to the second bridleway on the left, in 750 yards. Turn left and follow the path down through the woods. At the end of the wood, turn left to follow the edge of an open field. At the end of the field, continue straight ahead to re-enter woodland, the path eventually leading to a lane. Cross it and go down the enclosed path ahead. In about 800 yards, just before coming out of a wood, turn left. Follow the path out of the wood onto the open  expanse of Gunville Down.

3 Follow the right-hand edge of a large field, at the end of which turn right onto an enclosed path with woodland on the right. Continue straight over a cross-tracks, where the path becomes a track. Stay on this track, ignoring all turnings to left and right, as it descends, quite steeply at first. Bear left past Home Farm onto a paved drive, which becomes a lane. At the next T-junction, go straight on, then follow the lane round to the right. Immediately opposite a pedestrian gate and path leading into the churchyard of St Mary’s, turn left through a gate onto a path that runs along the right-hand edge of a field above the houses of Tarrant Gunville.

4 Follow the right-hand edge of this and four more fields to reach a track. Turn right and in a few yards bear left round the corner of an old shed to reach a rough track. Turn left. On the right is an equally old but longer shed, at the end of which bear left to a gap in the hedgerow. Go through this into an open field and follow the right-hand edge. At the end of the field go through a gate, turn right and then left onto the road opposite Stubhampton House. Turn left and walk up to your car.



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