The Dorset Walk 1 – Whitchurch Canonicorum and Shave Cross
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold enjoy the Marshwood Vale
Published in July ’15
Between the small valleys of the eastern part of West Dorset and the high hills to the west, the Marshwood Vale spreads out its fields in a gently rolling landscape devoted almost exclusively to dairy and sheep farming. The hills form the rim of the Vale and are the constant companion of anyone who walks there. A less welcome companion is the pylon line that marches straight across the Vale: an act of visual barbarism that would surely not be allowed today. Let’s hope that it is one of the lines that it is included when detailed plans to ‘underground’ power lines in Dorset are announced.
Whitchurch Canonicorum, where the walk starts, is the largest village in the Marshwood Vale and the parish church with its distinctive tower is sometimes called ‘the cathedral of the Vale’. It is dedicated to St Wite, or St Candida. She was supposedly a Saxon Christian who was martyred by the Danes, but very little is known about her. In the 13th century a shrine was built in the church to hold her bones, with three openings into which diseased limbs could be thrust in the hope that the saint would heal them. Somehow the shrine survived the Reformation, which is why this parish church and Westminster Abbey are the only two churches in England to house the remains of their patron saints.
There has been an inn at Shave Cross since the reign of Edward III. It catered for not only local agricultural workers but also pilgrims on the way to St Wite’s shrine. Many of these were monks who could get their tonsures shaved here, hence the name.
Distance: About 5½ miles
Terrain: Mostly field-paths, with muddy gateways after wet weather. The stretch between Buckett’s Farm and Purcombe Farm is usually quite wet. Lots of stiles! An undulating route, but with no very demanding climbs.
Start: On the road in the vicinity of Wakelys Farm in Whitchurch Canonicorum. OS reference SY398953. Postcode DT6 6RH.
How to get there: Turn north off the A35 at the western end of Morcombelake. In just under a mile turn right at a crossroads. In a further ½ mile, the road bends left then sharply right by Wakelys Farm.
Maps: OS Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis & Bridport); OS Landranger 193 (Taunton & Lyme Regis).
Refreshments: The Five Bells at Whitchurch Canonicorum is about 100 yards up the road from the start/finish and the Shave Cross Inn is at about the halfway point.
1 With the church away to the right, walk down a path to the left of Wakelys Farm, between Orchards and The Hayloft. At the bottom of the slope cross a stream and stile and walk straight ahead up the right-hand side of an open field. At the end of the field go straight ahead through a gate and follow the left-hand edge of the next field. Cross a stile and bridge and bear slightly right over the brow of the next field to a stile into woodland.
2 Follow the broad grassy path through the wood and on the far side bear slightly right across a small field to a gate and footbridge. Head up the field beyond, heading just to the right of some buildings on the far side. Pass through a gate and bear left, downhill, to a metal gate and a footbridge. Continue straight ahead in the next small field to a stile next to a gate.
3 Cross a track leading to the buildings on the left (Mandeville Stoke Farm) and go straight ahead up a slope to another stile. In the next field bear left to a stile in the far left-hand corner, and in the field after that bear slightly right to a double stile about 30 yards to the left of the far right-hand corner. Now follow the stream that runs along the right-hand field-edge. Nearly at the end of the field, turn right over a bridge, then immediately left to a stile.
4 Turn right and follow the stream on the right. The path moves away from the stream to enter the next field but rejoins it until about 150 yards from the far side of the field, where the stream swings sharply to the right. Follow it round, but immediately bear away to the left to a stile visible in the left-hand edge of the narrow field, near the right-hand end of a belt of trees. Beyond the stile turn left, pass close by a house on the right and enter an open field.
5 Walk up its left-hand edge and in the next field bear right towards the far right-hand corner. About 80 yards before the corner, go right over a stile and walk up to a gate at the top of the field, next to a house with three conspicuous windows looking out over the Marshwood Vale. Cross the stile next to the gate onto a lane a few yards down from the Shave Cross Inn.
6 Unless pausing for refreshment, go straight across the lane and through two gates in quick succession to enter an open field. Turn left and follow its left-hand edge to a gate about 30 yards to the right of the bottom left-hand corner and in the next field bear slightly right to an opening in the top right-hand corner. Here turn right and, just before the end of the field, left across a stile next to
7 Continue straight down the left-hand field-edge. In the first corner enter the next field via a bridge and stile and walk up the field to a gate in its top corner. Bear slightly left, heading for the right-hand end of the buildings of Buckett’s Farm. Go through a gate into the farm buildings and walk through them to a lane, where turn right.
8 In a little over 100 yards the lane bends to the right and becomes an unpaved track. It then bends to the left, goes over a bridge and uphill. Follow this rather damp track through woodland, crossing under a pylon line; if in doubt at any point, choose the straight-ahead option. Emerging from the wood, follow the track round to the left and up to Purcombe Farm. Turn right in front of the farmhouse onto a broader track to another set of buildings.
9 At the end of these, bear left through a gate and cross the field diagonally, over its brow. There is a stile in the right-hand field-edge on a ridge that runs across the field, about 100 yards up from a line of trees coming in from the right. Cross this and head down towards the left-hand field-edge, crossing it via a stile and bridge about 100 yards from the far left-hand corner. Climb up to a stile into another open field, where turn right. Move away from the right-hand edge, climbing towards the top of the field as it narrows.
10 About 130 yards before the end of the field, cross a stile in the top edge and walk straight across the next field to another stile on the far side. Bear slightly right in the next field to a stile almost in the far right-hand corner and cross a small patch of woodland to a bridge and another stile. In the next field start by following the right-hand edge but as it bears right, continue in the same direction to the bottom of the field, where cross a track and go over a bridge and stile on the left into an open field.
11 Cross it diagonally and go through a patch of scrubby woodland into another open field. Follow its left-hand edge and in the first corner continue ahead on a track that shortly leads into a clearing. Leave the clearing on a grassy track in its far right-hand corner. Follow this to some farm buildings and a gate onto a lane on the edge of Ryall. Go straight ahead, uphill and round to the right to reach a T-junction.
12 Here turn right for a few yards before turning right down the drive of Beerlands Farm. Immediately after the farmhouse’s gate on the right, turn into the field on the left and head down to the bottom right-hand corner. After a double stile, follow the right-hand edge of the next field, go through a gate and turn right down to a lane, where turn left.
13 In 200 yards turn right onto a short drive and in front of the gates turn left onto a path with a ditch on the left and a fence on the right. Follow the left-hand edge of the next two fields and at the beginning of the third field, turn left over a stile and walk up to Wakelys Farm and your car. ◗