The Dorset walk: 1 – Langton Herring and Moonfleet
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold on the shore of one of Dorset’s most notable geographical features
Published in November ’13
The Fleet is the eight-mile-long lagoon of brackish water trapped behind Chesil Beach. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the country, which makes it of special interest to professional geographers, but it is also a place of exceptional beauty and a haven for wildlife. The Fleet’s quiet waters divide the attractive inland landscape from the long line of Chesil Beach, whose bulk has a slight air of menace about it, but which in fact protects this tranquil scene from the worst excesses of south-westerly storms sweeping in across Lyme Bay.
Fleet House was built by the Mohun family in Georgian times on a bluff commanding a sweeping view of the Fleet. When it became a hotel, the owners sensibly exploited the romantic nature of its setting, and the success of J Meade Falkner’s thrilling novel about smuggling, and re-christened it Moonfleet Manor.
Langton Herring has an isolated feel, which is surprising since the conurbation of Weymouth sprawls to within three or four miles of it. This isolation, combined with its position above the Fleet, made it an ideal base for smugglers, the contraband supposedly being stored in a cellar below the village inn, the Elm Tree. Five members of the same village family were tried for smuggling between 1818 and 1832. The charm of the parish church of St Peter comes mainly from its small size; it was heavily restored by the Victorians. The unusual village name derives not from fish but from the Harang family, who were lords of the manor in the 13th century.
The route explores something of the rural hinterland before heading south to join the coast path by Moonfleet Manor.
1 Return to Langton Cross and turn left. Walk extremely cautiously on the right-hand side of the road down the hill for about 150 yards. Just before the bottom of the hill, turn right through a gap in the hedge to a stile; keep a keen look-out as gap, stile and footpath sign can all be overgrown. In the open field beyond the stile, turn left, then right at the first corner. At the far end of the field, go through a gate and turn right on a broad track. Where this leads into an open field, continue straight ahead up and along the left-hand edge. In the next corner, cross a stile and bear right on a short path through woodland to another stile. Bear slightly left in the open field beyond, heading for the white building on the other side of the road at the bottom of the field. This is the Victoria Inn and, having crossed the road carefully, take the path that leads off to the right next to its front right-hand corner.
2 Go through a gate and over a stile and walk up the left-hand edge of an open field. At the top of the field, turn left on a roughly made track that passes a caravan park and Bagwell Farm on the right. Continue until it reaches a paved drive, where go straight ahead. The drive soon reaches a lane, where turn left, and at the top of the rise turn immediately right on a lane which soon passes between a large house on the right and an impressive gate-pillar and South Lodge on the left. Continue on this lane, passing Fleet House Farm on the left, followed by The Cedar. About 100 yards further on, where the lane bends to the right, bear left to a kissing-gate and a path beyond. About 100 yards after the next kissing-gate, look for another in the right-hand hedge. Go through it, down some steps and over two bridges to yet another gate.
3 The path leads straight ahead with the Fleet on the left and Moonfleet Manor on the right. The path, staying near the water’s edge, is easy to follow. Ignore a turning on the left into Gore Cove but stay on the higher path that skirts the cove, crosses the neck of the promontory called Herbury and rejoins the water’s edge. At the very end of the bay beyond Herbury, turn left to follow the path close to the water. At Langton Hive Point, go straight across the old coastguards’ road, which has white buildings on the hill to the right and moorings to the left. At the very far end of the field beyond, turn right and continue up the field-edge. In a little under 200 yards, go left over a stile and through a small patch of woodland to emerge into an open field.
4 Bear slightly left, away from the wall on the right, and walk over the brow of the field, heading just to left of centre between two power-line poles on the skyline. Here cross a stile and another one, slightly to the right on the other side of the track. Cross the next field diagonally towards a red roof and chimney in the far corner. Here go through a gate and turn left to go through a gateway, then continue straight ahead on a track, downhill. Reaching a paved lane, turn right. The lane eventually bears right, then left round the parish church. At the next T-junction, turn left and walk up past the Elm Tree. Turn right at the next T-junction and walk back to your car.
Distance: About 5½ miles.
Terrain: The coast path has a few muddy patches, but generally the going underfoot is good. There is a steady climb up to Langton Herring near the end of the walk.
Start: At a layby on the left of the road to Langton Herring, about 300 yards from Langton Cross. OS reference SY 620824. Postcode DT3 4HS. (Or, if you plan to patronise the Elm Tree after the walk, drive on to the village and use its car park.)
How to get there: Langton Cross is on the B3157 coast road between Weymouth and Bridport, about 1½ miles north-west of Chickerell and about 2¾ miles south-east of Portesham.
Maps: OS Explorer OL 15 (Purbeck & South Dorset), OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Victoria Inn on the outskirts of Chickerell and the Elm Tree at Langton Herring are both on the route.