The Dorset walk 2 – Bride Valley – Littlebredy
Teresa Rabetts talks a walk through the Bride Valley
Published in August ’14
At the head of the Bride Valley by the source of the River Bride and sitting in a landscape that is richly littered with the evidence of early human occupation is the small village Littlebredy. The Manor of Littlebredy was recorded in the Domesday Book as Litelbridia which possibly derives from Brydian, the Celtic for gushing or boiling stream; an apt name for a small stream which falls more than 200 feet during the first three miles of its journey. There is an ancient air of secrecy, stillness and quiet about the place; visitors get a sense of stepping away from the modern pace of life back into history, particularly when they discover that cars are not allowed through part of the village.
Sometimes written as Little Bredy, the manor was held by the Abbey of Cerne until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century when the lands were
sold, eventually coming into the possession of Robert Freke of Iwerne Courtney and then his son-in-law Sir Robert Meller. It was Meller that built Bridehead House in the late 16th century.
By the 19th century Littlebredy had come into the possession of the banker Robert Williams and his French wife Jeanne Chasserau, she was famed for living to the grand old age of 102 and is commemorated with a memorial plaque in the church. The subsequent heads of the Williams family (a further three Roberts followed the first) were enthusiastic builders and undertook various works notably using the services of the architect Benjamin Ferrey (a zealous pioneer of the Gothic revival and significant contributor to the design of the newly established seaside resort at Bournemouth). Ferrey oversaw extensions to Bridehead House and the landscaping of the grounds to include the damming of the River Bride and creation of a lake, the 13th-century Parish church of St Michael and All Angels restored to the point that it was virtually rebuilt and a spire was added, he created a Gothic style stable block and rebuilt some of the village cottages.
Today the walled gardens, which produced fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers for the Estate and the villagers during the 19th century, are run as a not-for-profit Community Interest venture. Although reduced in size from its original five acres, the one acre walled garden with greenhouses and stone buildings and walls, is gradually being restored to its former function and, helped by the sheltered micro-climate of the valley and the clear-running stream, The Walled Garden Workshop has produced a beautiful site which is now open to visitors. South of Littlebredy, above the strip lynchets on top of Tenants Hill is an area littered with important prehistoric sites; firstly there is the enigmatic Kingston Russell Stone Circle, the largest of the circles in Dorset which dates back to late Neolithic or early Bronze Age period. All eighteen of the stones have ‘fallen’ and lie flat in an oval, although there is a belief that more of the stones were standing in the 19th century, others suggest that in fact the sarsen stone boulders were never upright. With substantial diameter of over 18 meters, the site was clearly significant, its importance reinforced by the fact that it is on the route of a key causeway for Neolithic man, not only does it connect the site with the Grey Mare and her Colts and the nearby Hampton Down Stone Circle and the Hellstone Barrow, but as he crossed the top of the Ridgeway Hills he would have been provided an excellent defensive vantage point with fine views across the surrounding landscape. The significance of this site remains clear today by the fact that the circle is positioned at the junction of five footpaths which criss-cross the landscape.
Nearby is the earlier remains of a Neolithic chambered long barrow known as the Grey Mare and her colts. Although now in ruins, the monument is still an impressive site on the landscape, a megalithic chamber which was capped by a large slab of sarsen stone which has now slipped and blocks the chamber.
To the north of Kingston Russell Stone circle are the traces of an Iron Age farmstead which occupies a defensive position on the small ridge of Tenant’s Hill. The earthwork is substantial and there is a clearly visible enclosure with an entrance on the eastern side, a high bank and external ditch, however as the site lies on an exposed outcrop much of it has been eroded and worn away over time.
Distance: 5½ miles
Terrain: Steady uphill climb at the beginning of the walk and similar at the end. The route can be muddy in stretches. The path can be difficult to follow in stretches especially where there are crops – taking an OS map is advisable.
Start: The walk begins on the road from Littlebredy telephone box to Littlebredy Farm.
Parking: Park considerately in Littlebredy.
Refreshments: Littlebredy Walled Gardens – Wednesdays and Sundays (Call to check opening days 01305 898055). Lavatory behind the village hall.
Maps: OS Outdoor Leisure 15, OS Landranger 194.
1 Start from the telephone box in Littlebredy at the east end of the village and take the south-east lane towards Littlebredy Farm. At the village cricket ground follow the bridleway signpost. Passing through the next gate, the path proceeds uphill, keep the trees on the left and strip lynchets on the right and continue to climb, on reaching the top of Crow Hill, the track flattens out and maintains a straight route – much of this stretch is tarmac.
2 The bridleway continues straight to a ‘Y’ junction where a road can be seen to the left and beyond the hedge but the path now takes a sharp turn right just before the hedge and the track runs alongside the hedge with the field on the right. The route continues straight ahead, crossing three fields before reaching the Kingston Russell Stone Circle.
Detour – Just after the end of the first field take a short diversion to see the megalithic chamber ‘The Grey Mare and her Colts’ and the views towards Golden Cap in the south-west. There is a stile in the hedge on the left – cross this and once in the field cross the south west direction and follow the hedgerow opposite the stile to a gateway and go into the field beyond and see the Grey Mare to
3 To continue to the stone circle, follow the footpath until reaching a signpost and large gap between the fields and see a large sign which indicates the Kingston Russell Stone Circle. The circle can be hard to distinguish during the growing season but the recumbent stones are quite clear when the growth is low.
4 The downhill route from here is difficult to distinguish, the OS map indicates taking a path straight across the field in a north-westerly direction. Head down the hill, quite a steep descent, and keep a visible hut circle and enclosure to the left and the trees, which are Foxholes Coppice, to the right. Halfway along Foxholes Coppice the path bears left away from the trees and heads towards a gap in the hedge.
5 After passing through the gap, veer to the right and continue to travel downhill as the path leads towards a gate on the east of the field and then crosses the small stream which is the River Bredy into the next field – this area is nearly always boggy. Continue straight for approximately half a mile towards Littlebredy village.
Detour – A visit to Bridehead Lake is a relaxing way to finish the walk. Turn right down the path at the gate of the church of St Michael and All Angels and there are several signs directing visitors to the Lake. ◗