The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset Walk 2 – Chedington & Winyard’s Gap

Teresa Ridout takes a short walk in the west of the county

Great vistas are on offer, but the ground can be muddy underfoot

Three miles north of Beaminster, hidden beneath a line of trees and high up the chalk backbone of the North Downs is the village of Chedington – an attractive example of an estate village which was built around Chedington Court, now a mock-Tudor Victorian house re-built on much earlier foundations. Most of the Ham Hill stone cottages through the village are Victorian and were originally agricultural estate workers’ dwellings.
At the northern end of the village is a cutting through the hill where the Winyard’s Gap Inn sits, next to what was once a busy highway and one of the main routes in and out of Dorset; flocks of sheep and herds of cattle were driven by the inn to be sold at Dorchester market and many armies marched by as they made their way to and from the West Country.
On the peaceful hill above Winyard’s Gap Inn, overlooking the countryside whence the men had come, is a memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives in service with the 43rd (Wessex) Division. The memorial was designed to be an exact replica of the memorial in Normandy which sits on Hill 112, south-west of Caen close to the D-Day beachhead.The hill, codenamed ‘Jupiter’ was a notorious area which was described by Erwin Rommel as being the most important hill in Normandy, because whoever had control of the hill had control of all around it. The Allied forces began their ferocious battle for Hill 112 at dawn on 10 July 1944 and the struggle continued until 12 August, when it finally fell into British hands, by which time there had been some 7000 casualties.
To the south-east of Chedington is East Axnoller Farm, part of the world-famous Donkey Sanctuary that was founded in 1969 by the late Dr Elisabeth Svendsen to care and protect donkeys from a life of suffering and neglect. East Axnoller Farm houses older donkeys, mules and ponies in large barn accommodation, from where they have easy access to the hills making it an ideal home for animals with respiratory problems. Despite the number of bridleways that cross the land, this farm is not open for visits from the public.

Friendly faces at the Donkey Sanctuary

The source of the River Axe is found on East Axnoller Farm and the Sanctuary takes great pains to remove and (it is hoped with time) to eradicate Himalayan balsam, to make sure that this pernicious weed doesn’t choke up the riverbank and to protect the habitat of the water vole that populate the streams and ponds on the farm. The Axe takes a meandering course as it flows from Dorset, across the Somerset plains and enters Devon on its twenty-mile course.

THE WALK
This beautifully scenic area of Dorset has memorable views which follows a short stretch of the Monarch’s Way – a 615-mile path based on the route taken by King Charles II during his escape after defeat by Cromwell in the battle of Worcester in 1651, when the 21-year-old King was pursued across country by Parliamentary troops. Although hilly, the walk is fairly easy. Most of the walk crosses farmland with short stretches on road.

1    Turn left out of the Winyard’s Gap Inn car park and walk along the lane to Chedington village. Continue through and to the end of the village and follow the lane as it bears left and uphill where you cross Chedington Lane at the top. Go straight across the road and downhill following the track to Broadleaze Farm.

2    When reaching Broadleaze Farm and before entering the yard, there is a signpost on the left which indicates the path into the field and behind farm buildings. Keep the open field to the left and farm building to the right and at the bottom of the field go through a wooden gate into a small wooded area. At first the path through the trees is not very clear but on entering the trees bear left and the path downhill between the trees becomes clear. At the bottom of the slope cross the stream and through a gateway and the path rises up hill across a field and then up a track into the farmyard of East Axnoller Farm.

3    Turn left in the farmyard (keeping the barns on the right) and round the buildings until sighting a signpost, which points through a gate, across a track and then through a second gate. (During this stretch it is likely that donkeys and ponies will be grazing here – they can be very curious but mostly friendly!) Continue to rise uphill, crossing three fields with stiles at the far-side of each. At the top of the fields turn left onto a straight grass track and follow this track until it bears slightly to the left and into a field – cross this field towards the road keeping the hedge on the right-hand side.

4    On reaching the road (A356) cross with care and turn left, walking on the opposite side until reaching the entrance to Eweleaze Farm. The footpath continues on the left side of the track to the farm and begins to descend downhill, passing on the left-side of the farmhouse before bearing left downhill. The views are stunning during
this stretch.

5    At the bottom of the hill follow the signs for the Monarch’s Way (circular yellow marker) and Weston. The path bears to the left through a gate and along a green track which is the Monarch’s Way. Passing another gate, remain on the track and then pass through another gate, there are ponds to the right of the track. Go through the next gate and pass to the left of a barn and walk past Hunter’s Lodge Farm and follow the drive to the road. Turn right onto the main road and walk back to Winyard’s Gap Inn. ◗

Distance:  3 miles
Terrain: Some steady climbs and boggy areas (currently very muddy) with short stretches on road.
How to get there:  From the Rampisham Down direction turn left at Winyard’s Gap Inn off the A356 (ignore the first turning which is sign-posted Chedington Lane.
Start: The Winyard’s Gap Inn (car parking is for patrons only). OS reference ST492062 Postcode DT8 3HY
Parking/refreshments: There is alternative car parking available in a lay-by on the left of Chedington Lane, from where you can visit the memorial to the 43rd (Wessex) Division
Maps:  OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis; OS Landranger 193 Taunton & Lyme Regis

The old and oddly spelled AA sign adds an air of timelessness to Chedington

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