The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Stalbridge and Stalbridge Weston walk

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold in the ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’

This is a classic Blackmore Vale walk, the greater part of it being on field-paths alongside rich pastureland or small woods and coppices. This distinctive landscape is changing as the difficulties of dairy farming mean that the Vale is seeing more and more arable and a regrettable disappearance of some of the hedgerows. Hardy’s name for the Blackmore Vale, the Vale of the Little Dairies, is becoming less and less accurate.

The impressive Stalbridge Park wall: five miles of walling in differing states of repair

Stalbridge is a pleasant enough town but of no great distinction. Its most notable feature lies to the north-west: the great wall surrounding Stalbridge Park. Despite its name the Park is little different from the surrounding farmland, except for the wall. The great house that it surrounded was barely 200 years old when it was taken down in 1822. At the time of its building it was the fifth largest house in Dorset and was described as ‘a goodlie, faire house’. Most famously, it was home for a time to Robert Boyle, one of the most distinguished of British scientists.
Stalbridge’s outlier, Stalbridge Weston, is a hamlet with a mixture of some interesting buildings with some rather regrettable modern infilling.

There are some lovely houses along the route of the walk

 

THE WALK

Distance: About 5 miles
Terrain: This is the Blackmore Vale, so expect mud after anything but the driest weather. There is one quite demanding climb, but generally the route is undulating rather than steep.
Start: Park Road, Stalbridge. OS ref. ST731177, postcode DT10 2RB.
How to get there: Approaching Stalbridge from the south on the A357, head into the centre and turn left into Gold Street, shortly after the Swan Hotel on the right. Turn right into Park Grove and follow the road round to the left. Park Road is the first turning on the left.
Maps: OS Explorer 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne), OS Landranger 183 (Yeovil & Frome)
Refreshments: None on the route, but there are pubs and a supermarket café in Stalbridge

 

1 Walk back up Park Road to the T-junction and turn right. On a sharp right-hand bend, a footpath runs off to the left into Stalbridge Park. Fork immediately right to a stile, then walk along the left-hand side of an open field. In the first corner, go over a stile on the left and walk along the right-hand edge of the next field. Cross into the next field, and in 40 yards turn right over a stile. Walk straight across a narrow field and turn left on the paved track on the other side.

2 The track bends to the right in front of some farm buildings on the left, and in a further 50 yards bear left over a stile and cross the field diagonally to a gate in the far corner. Beyond it, walk straight down a narrow field to a stile. Bear right on the other side to walk up the field to cross another stile visible to the left of a house on the skyline, and turn left on a rough track to reach a road.

3 Turn right and walk carefully for about 300 yards to a gate on the left. Go through it and turn right. Follow the field-edge past Frith Farm Cottages on the right and round to where the corner of a wood juts into the field. Turn right round this corner and in a further 100 yards turn right onto a track, immediately bearing right. Where the track leads into an open field, turn left. At the end of the field turn left and, in about 25 yards, right. Follow the right-hand edge of two fields, until in the second corner of the second field, cross a bridge and turn right to follow the right-hand field-edge once again. Turn left at the first corner and in 50 yards right into the next field.

4 Follow the right-hand field-edge at first but as it turns away to the right, continue ahead, straight across the field, aiming for the tallest group of trees on the far side. Turn right, then double back round the corner of the hedgerow to follow the left-hand field-edge. Bear right then right again, and in the next corner go left through a gate and follow the right-hand field-edge down to another gate. Go through this and across a small patch of grass at Clayhanger to a lane.

Arable crops are now supplanting the traditional pasture of Hardy's 'Vale of Little Dairies'

5 Turn left and walk uphill for almost ¼ mile to a gate on the left. Immediately beyond is a stile into an open field. Cross this field diagonally, passing to the left of the nearest farm buildings of Haddon Lodge and aiming for a double pole carrying power lines, just beyond which is a gate into a riding manège . Cross this diagonally as well, and in the far corner pick up a narrow woodland path running to the right next to a wooden fence. In a few yards cross a stile and the drive to Cockhill Farm and walk alongside a wall on the right down to a gate.

6 In the next field go through the first gate on the left and then the first gate on the left again. Bear right and strike up the field to a gate about 100 yards down from the top corner. Head for the bottom right-hand corner of the next field, about 15 yards up from which cross a stile and follow the right-hand edge of the field beyond for about 120 yards to a stile on the right. Cross it and head straight across the next field to a rather overgrown stile on the far side. Walk straight across a narrow field to another stile, then parallel to the right-hand edge of the next field, passing the ruin of an old agricultural building on the right, to a stile. On the other side, walk straight ahead to where a corner of the hedgerow on the far side juts into the field. Reaching this corner, continue straight ahead, with the hedgerow on the left, to a gate on the left in the next corner. Go through it and bear right to the right-hand of two gates. Head down the next field, moving gradually away from the left-hand edge, to a double stile about 50 yards to the right of the corner. Walk straight ahead over the brow of the next field to a stile and continue straight down the lane through Stalbridge Weston.

7 At the crossroads go straight over, marked ‘No through road for motor vehicles’. At the start of a bend to the right, turn left on a track that leads into the buildings of Sturt Farm. At the end of the farmyard bear slightly left onto a short muddy track leading into an open field. Walk down the field to a gate on the left about 120 yards before its far left-hand corner, go through it and turn right to follow the right-hand edge of two narrow fields to a stile. Follow an overgrown track for a few yards almost to a road with the wall of Stalbridge Park on the other side.

8 Just before the road, turn right on a grassy path which parallels the road for a few yards before reaching a stile. Continue ahead until the path starts to climb, at which point bear left, uphill, to a stile. Walk along the left-hand edge of the field beyond, then straight ahead through a small wood and across another field to a lane. Turn left and at the T-junction do a right-left dog-leg into Park Road, where your car is parked. ◗

 

Dorset Directory