Dorset walk 2 – Stoke Abbott and Waddon Hill
Teresa Rabbetts on a western welly-friendly walk
Published in April ’15
Nestled beneath Waddon Hill lies the enchanted gold ham stone village of Stoke Abbott. Although just six miles from Beaminster, the village is tucked away; enclosed by a narrow, winding valley hidden amongst an undulating landscape it has the impression of being an isolated settlement forgotten by time.
The village can boast buildings of medieval origin and is surrounded by green lanes and tracks of the same age; however the surrounding landscape bears witness to even earlier history.
Waddon Hill was the site of a Roman fort and dates to the invasion of 43AD when, newly crowned from obscurity, Emperor Claudius decided that in order to gain respect and political security he needed a glorious military victory to prove himself; where better could he do this than in Britain which had managed to remain free when previous invasions had ultimately been unsuccessful. Quarrying on the eastern part of the hill in the late 1870s uncovered Roman coins and pottery and also a magnificent 1st-century iron scabbard, now on display in Bridport Museum.
Extend exploration of the area beyond this walk and you come to nearby, (and finally confirmed as the highest point in Dorset at 279 metres high), Lewesdon Hill, site of an Iron-Age univallate hill fort, some of the banks and ditches are still visible. Unusually, for a high point in Dorset, Lewesdon Hill, now owned by the National Trust, is enclosed by woodland with some magnificent ancient beech and oak trees; glimpses of the surrounding landscape through the trees makes the climb to the top worthwhile and in the spring the woods are carpeted with bluebells.
William Crowe, rector of Stoke Abbott from 1782 to 1788 celebrated his regular walks up Lewesdon Hill in a poem he called Lewesdon Hill which, although somewhat lengthy for modern tastes, in its day was admired by Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Above the noise and stir of yonder fields
Uplifted on this height I feel the mind
Expand itself in wider liberty.
Named in the Domesday Book as ‘Stoche’, by 1275 the village had become Stok Abbatis. Stoc from the Old English meaning a secondary settlement and abbotis of the abbot and so it was literarily the secondary settlement belonging to the abbot, the manor originally belonged to the abbey of Sherborne.
Originally introduced by William I, it was once a common custom across the villages of England to sound a curfew bell. Stoke Abbott is a rare survivor of this practice, at one time the village was awoken daily at 5.30am although this lapsed during the World War 2 when bells could only be rung as a signal if the German invasion began, however, it was revived in May 1954 at the slightly more sympathetic time of 7am and then only in the summer months.
Long before the growth of any form of state provision, social welfare payments from friendly societies across Britain were essential to the survival of families in times of crisis. Members were entitled to a weekly benefit when ill-health prevented them from working and their family received a lump sum if they died. In Stoke Abbott, Revd William Austin-Gourlay founded The Club in 1870. With a membership of 102 associates there was clearly a need for support in the community although the rules ensured that it was strictly policed and available only to those in genuine need: No member while drawing sick pay may work, or visit a public house, or be out before dawn or after sunset. Annually on the first Friday in June the Club held a payout day of celebration and feasting, the villagers decorated their houses with streamers and the highlight of the day was the procession behind the Beaminster Band, when each Club member walked or danced carrying a wooden stave decorated with ribbons, pausing regularly for cider along the route before feasting and dancing. Nowadays the village still holds an annual celebration in the form of Stoke Abbott Street Fair which is held in July.
How to get there: Leave Beaminster heading west on B3163 and turning left on Stoke Road, signpost indicates Stoke Abbott, opposite St Mary’s Primary School.
Start: Stoke Abbott village – track opposite the New Inn
Distance: 3 miles
Terrain: Can be muddy and wet – begins with a steady uphill climb.
Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer 116 Lyme Regis & Bridport
The walk begins along Anchor Lane which is a green lane directly opposite the New Inn car park with Anchor Cottage (the former Anchor Inn) on the right of the path.
Follow the path as it rises steadily through the tree-lined path until it flattens out slightly and arrives at a gate and stile marked with a yellow Dorset County Council route marker. Entering the field over the stile follow the path which runs slightly to the left of centre – at this point the route is most clearly marked by the path left by previous walkers and may be slightly overgrown during summer months.
1 At the top of the field cross the stile and follow the steps down a steep bank bank into Norway Lane and then turn right. Follow the lane uphill until reaching the junction with the B3162.
At this point (on the black route 2a to 2b) it is possible to extend the walk to include Lewesdon Hill and the way-marker can be seen on the roadside opposite Stoke Knapp Farm showing ¼ mile to Lewesdon Hill.
2 For the main walk, with Stoke Knapp Farm on the right, walk through the farmyard to the next signpost and follow the path marked to Chart Knolle. The pathway now zigzags a little, crossing quite open landscape with Waddon Hill on the right and old quarry workings on the left, to the next gateway, go through the gate, following the direction of the yellow arrow marker. Once through the gate, the path descends to the approach to Chart Knolle, keeping first Waddon Hill and then strip lynchets on the right hand side. Through the next gateway, again maintain the route indicated by the yellow arrow marker.
3 Just before the house at Chart Knolle as the sweeping trees of Gerrard’s Hill can be seen beyond, there is a four-fingered signpost and Stoke Abbott is marked as ½ mile to right. Follow the tree-lined path which eventually drops down into a lane and continue downhill back into Stoke Abbott village.
4 Once back in the village, turn right to return to the pub and your car.. ◗