The Dorset walk – 1 Folke and Sherborne Park
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold walk where Sir Walter Raleigh once trod
Published in November ’14
Sherborne Castle is a monument to Sir Walter Raleigh, who acquired what is now the Old Castle in 1592. He built his new castle two years later and spent most of his time here once he had fallen out of favour with Elizabeth I because of his marriage to Bess Throckmorton. It was in the grounds that he was famously smoking some of the tobacco that he had been the first to bring to England from Virginia when a servant, thinking that his master was on fire, threw a bucket of water over him.
When Raleigh lost his head on the orders of James I, the castle was bought by the Digby family, whose descendants own it to this day. An 18th-century Digby commissioned Capability Brown to lay out the gardens and park, creating the magnificent landscape through which this walk passes. Much of the route outside the park is on land owned by Sherborne Castle Estates, too, and is eloquent proof that an enlightened and wealthy private landowner is the best guarantee of the preservation of all that is best about the English countryside.
In the hamlet of Folke, where the walk starts, the lovely 16th-century manor house stands opposite the church of St Lawrence. The church’s interior is delightful for its wooden furniture and decoration. In a glass case there is a wooden chain of 769 single links and a cross. Nothing special about that at first sight, but the whole thing was carved from a single piece of lime wood by Rev. William Mayo, a former rector. The only other settlement of note on the route is Haydon, where the 19th-century church of St Catherine has now been turned into a residence.
Distance: About 7½ miles
Terrain: Woodland paths in the Blackmore Vale mean mud after wet weather, and pock-marked ground needing a little care after dry, but there is usually a way round the worst patches. There are a couple of steep but short climbs.
Start: Outside Folke parish church. OS ref ST659133. Postcode DT9 5HP.
How to get there: From the A3030 Sturminster Newton to Sherborne road, take the turning south, signed to Folke, at a crossroads between Caundle Marsh and North Wootton. In Folke turn left down a no through road, at the bottom of which is the church.
Maps: OS Explorer 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne), OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth) and 183 (Yeovil & Frome).
Refreshments: None on the route but plenty in Sherborne.
1 Walk down the track at the end of the road, with the church on the left. At the end of the track, turn right and follow the right-hand field-edge. Go through a gate and continue straight ahead, along the right-hand edge of a second field. In the first corner, enter a small patch of woodland, go down some steps onto a lane and turn right. Where the lane bends sharply to the right, cross the verge on the left in order to continue in roughly the same direction, alongside a line of trees on the left. The path is quite overgrown at first but shortly reaches a more distinct path, where turn left. The path winds through woodland for almost ½ mile before widening out into a rough track that leads to a main road.
2 Cross carefully, turn left and in about 25 yards right, to go through a kissing gate in the impressive railings immediately next to The Lodge. Follow the track ahead as it curves away uphill. The track starts to descend steeply, then becomes a paved lane which, at the bottom of the hill, next to no. 309, bends to the right. Here go straight ahead on a grassy path, past playing fields on the left and across a paved drive. At the first fork after the paved drive, keep right, immediately after which the path descends to a gate.
3 Go through the gate and turn immediately right through a kissing gate onto a path which runs along the hillside with the roofs of Sherborne away to the left, beyond the River Yeo. The path is easy to follow as it passes above the gates of Sherborne Castle and reaches a gate of its own into Sherborne Park. Continue on the path with a splendid view of Sherborne Castle on the left, and glimpses of the lake and of Sherborne Old Castle above the trees. At the end of the first field, go through a kissing gate and straight ahead onto a track which curves to the left between two fences. Go through the next kissing gate and continue ahead, gently uphill.
4 Pass a shuttered thatched cottage on the right and follow the track up a sharp slope, round to the right and into woodland. The track turns sharp left and follows the edge of the wood briefly before plunging into the trees again. Here it is concrete and passes buildings on the site known as ‘The Camp’; both the concrete and the name are relics of when the park was occupied by US troops during the preparations for D-Day. At the end of the wood, turn right on a drive which shortly reaches a cross-roads. Here go straight ahead, through open fields dotted with trees, and reach ornamental gates with a road beyond.
5 Turn left and in about 100 yards right over a stile. Bear slightly left to walk down the field, beyond which walk straight uphill, aiming for the right-hand edge of a thick wood, where it joins the hedgerow. Here cross a stile and continue ahead. In the first corner of the field, go through a gate on the left and continue on a path just inside the edge of the wood. As the woodland on the right thickens up, continue in the same direction and reach a gate into an open field. Follow the left-hand edge and in the first corner go through a gate onto a track which runs along the top of the field with a steep slope to the left. Bear right through the first gate on a track that leads to a lane.
6 Turn right and follow the lane for 1¼ miles to a road junction, where turn immediately left. Where the road bends to the left, turn right, then immediately left into a field, then right to follow its edge to a stile. Bear left to cross the next field diagonally to a stile and a short, narrow path to a lane on the edge of Alweston. Continue ahead in the same direction and follow the lane as it bends left, right and left again to reach a main road. Turn right and walk about 30 yards, keeping a very sharp eye on the hedgerow on the other side of the road, where there is an overgrown stile.
7 Cross the road and the stile and walk down the field beyond to an opening 35 yards to the left of the far right-hand corner. Bear slightly right to cross the next field diagonally to a stile in the far corner, just after some power lines. Follow the right-hand edge of the next field and cross a double stile and bridge in the first corner to continue in the same direction, again following the right-hand field-edge. As you cross another double stile and bridge in the first corner, Folke church comes into sight. Once again follow the right-hand field-edge, which soon swings to the right and reaches a stile. Follow a path along the fence on the right. A bridge and stile lead into an open field, at the end of which go through the gate on the right and turn right to return to your car. ◗