The Dorset Walk – Ashmore
Teresa Rabbetts takes a stroll around Dorset’s most elevated village
Published in June ’15
At 700 feet (210m) above sea level, Ashmore is one of the highest villages in southern England and the highest in Dorset. It lies in an area of chalk downland on the western side of Cranborne Chase. Over the centuries many hilltop settlements, such as nearby Hambledon Hill, were abandoned because of the difficulty in retaining a water supply, Ashmore was never deserted as the hilltop settlers dug holes into the permeable chalk on which they lived and lined them with clay to retain water creating what became known as ‘Dew Ponds’. Although dating the pond is difficult, it was probably created in Roman or Saxon times not only as a watering hole for the settlers but also for the cattle being herded along the drove way to the markets in Salisbury. Evidence has been discovered belonging to the Bronze, Celt and Roman periods which suggest long-term occupation and that there may have been settlement around Ashmore for approximately 3000 years.
The residents of Ashmore appear to have been independent and private God-fearing folk, even up to the early twentieth century many occupants remained in their village community all their lives without travelling even as far as Salisbury, a mere 24 miles away. Religion has been a key feature of the community; the original church of Ashmore, a small stone and flint building dedicated to St Nicholas in about 1423, was replaced in 1874 by Charles Edwards of Exeter with a Victorian construction. However it would appear that in the 19th century the majority of the villagers were Methodist. There was no inn or hostelry although there was a taproom in Stag’s Head Cottage.
Ashmore, mentioned in the Domesday Book as ‘Aisemere’ meaning ‘pool where the ash trees grow’ is at such a height above sea level that very little water is lost to evaporation, even in the hottest year, however in Edward William Watson’s 1859 publication Ashmore, Co. Dorset: a history of the parish with index to the registers, 1651 to 1820, he writes that on the rare occasions the pond dried out the tradition of the village was to hold a feast: ‘Cakes are baked, and eaten round the margin and in the bed of the pond; and the farmers haul out the hundreds of cart loads of mud which have accumulated on the bottom, and lay them on their land.’ By a curious coincidence, the pond happened to dry, and the feast was held, in 1887, the Jubilee Year.
In 1956 this custom was revived as an annual festival called the ‘Filly Loo’. On the Friday evening nearest to the Feast of St John the Baptist or Midsummer’s Day (in 2015 it will take place on 19 June). The festivities are begun by a procession and public dancing led by a Green Man to live music from the Hambledon Hopstep Band and continues throughout the evening until dusk when the Abbots Bromley Horn Dancers lead a torch-lit procession and the evening ends with the eerie sight and sound of six deer-men (complete with antlers), and four other traditional characters: Maid Marion, a bowman, a hobbyhorse and a fool dancing through the darkness.
How to get there: Take the Higher Blandford Road from Blandford towards Shaftesbury and turn right opposite the turning to Fontmell Magna.
Start: OS reference ST 913 078 – Halfpenny Lane travelling south from Ashmore Village.
Distance: 3 miles
Terrain: Gentle walk on clearly marked footpaths with some muddy areas through woodland.
Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer 118 – Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase; Landranger 184 Salisbury and the Plain.
This is a beautiful and varied circular walk – across open down-land, with views across Cranborne Chase and returns through deciduous woodland.
1 The walk begins on the west side of Ashmore, the footpath leaves the road on a clearly marked junction (just before the bend, opposite Manor Farm), the signpost is marked Ashmore Wood. Stick to the straight track called Halfpenny Lane for a mile before entering Ashmore Wood.
2 Follow the path straight through Ashmore Wood until reaching a three-fingered signpost and take the left path marked Well Bottom. This track continues for half a mile and then descents downhill to a rough tarmac lane with Well Bottom Cottage straight ahead.
3 Turn left into the lane and follow it uphill to the turning to Mudoak Farm – turn right here and walk down the road until reaching a point where the road turns into a chipping track and is a junction with barn buildings on the left and Mudoak Farm on the right, at this point turn left and find a small green track just before the entrance to the barn – there is a broken signpost marked ‘footpath’.
4 Follow this path, through the next gateway which is marked with a yellow Dorset County Council marker and the route continues with Mudoak Wood to the left of the path. At the end of this stretch go through a metal five-bar gate and follow the path downhill, keeping the hedge on the left. (On emerging from Mudoak Wood the trail crosses the course of a Roman Road)
5 At the bottom of the field, cross the stile and immediately turn left (the DCC markers are present on the stile but illegible). Walk through the woodland, keeping the field on the left, the track rises through Wiltshire Copse – quite soon the path reaches a ‘Y’ junction, follow the right-hand fork.
6 Before long the woods on the left end, the scenery opens out into a field (this section is quite open with trees planted in parkland style). Continue for a short stretch with woods still on the right and field on the left, until reaching a wooden gate, go through here and follow the path uphill. As the path flattens out, cross the field diagonally-right towards Ashmore, go through a metal gate and cross into the next field – the path to exit this field is through a wooden gate which is situated between the houses, the route returns to the road. Turn right and walk back into Ashmore. ◗