The Dorset Walk 1 – Fiddleford, Hammoon, and Piddles Wood
Matt Wilkinson and Andy Farrer in the south-east of the Blackmore Vale
Published in September ’15
However you define the Blackmore Vale, it is bounded to the south-east by a series of noble hills – Okeford, Shillingstone and Hambledon – that form a backdrop to this walk. It starts in Fiddleford, which, ridiculously for its tiny size, contains two notable buildings. Not much is known about the history of 14th-century Fiddleford Manor, but magnificent wooden beams survive in the roofs of the solar and the great hall. It is owned by English Heritage and is open every day. A mill at Fiddleford was mentioned in Domesday, but not the present building, which dates to the 13th century and is a favourite subject for photographers.
Some of the walk is on the North Dorset Trailway, which runs along the track-bed of the old Somerset & Dorset Railway. It is a wonderful facility and makes for very easy walking, but in case it should become monotonous, there is a diversion to Hammoon, a village whose odd-sounding name derives from its having been the home of the Mohun family. The small parish church of St Paul is worth visiting. It lies between Hammoon Manor, a particularly charming thatched manor of about 1600, and Hammoon House, built by Viscount Portman in the 1890s as somewhere to have lunch when out hunting.
Hammoon is susceptible to flooding in the winter and the whole of the landscape through which the walk passes is dominated by the Stour, so it is ironic that although you may catch a glimpse of a couple of bridges, at no point does the course of the river itself come into sight.
The last part of the walk is through Piddles Wood, which has been accurately described as ‘as good an area of ancient oak woodland and hazel coppice as you will find anywhere’. Its name has nothing to do with the river but is believed to derive from an old surname, Pyttel.
Distance: About 5½ miles
Terrain: This is the Blackmore Vale, so expect mud except on the lanes and the firm surface of the North Dorset Trailway. There are no steep climbs.
Start: The car park at Fiddleford Manor. OS reference ST802135. Postcode DT10 2BX.
How to get there: Turn north off the A357 Blandford-Sturminster Newton road up a lane with a brown sign to Fiddleford Manor. If coming from the west, it is just over a mile from Sturminster Newton bridge; from the east, it is the second of two turnings to Fiddleford.
Maps: OS Explorer 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Fiddleford Inn is close to the start/finish.
1 Turn left out of the car park and follow the lane round to the right. In about 100 yards turn left up a track to the broad track that is the North Dorset Trailway. Follow it to a lane, where turn left. Walk up into Hammoon. In the village, the lane bends to the right and reaches a cross-roads with the church on the left. Turn right here and follow the lane until it becomes a track which peters out as it enters a large open field. Walk along the right-hand edges of this and two more fields. Turn right immediately on entering a fourth field and walk along its right-hand edge to the first corner.
2 Here rejoin the Trailway, turning left. The Trailway leaves the track of the old line in front of a metal gate marked ‘Private’: turn left, then right through the next gate and follow a track, then a lane, past Bere Marsh Farm to a road. Turn right, go under a bridge and walk straight down to the main road. Turn right and in a few yards left, down a track alongside the buildings of Hambledon Farm. Paved at first, the track soon becomes heavily rutted.
3 About 800 yards after joining it, go through a metal gate on the right and up the left-hand edges of two fields straight ahead. At the top of the second field, enter Conygar Coppice and follow a path straight ahead that is generally well-defined and heads steadily uphill. Soon after reaching the top of the wood, the path bears right and descends to meet a lane. Turn left, through an interesting collection of caravans and other vehicles, to reach a road. Turn right and in about 125 yards left over a stile next to the right-hand of two metal gates. Walk down the field to a stile and the main A357 road.
4 Turn left along the verge for 25 yards, then left again into Angers Lane. Pass Oak Tree Farm on the left, cross a bridge and on the sharp left-hand bend that follows, go right through the hedgerow to a gate. The target in the next field is a metal gate clearly visible on the far side, just to the right of a slate-roofed building. However, a slight detour to the left is needed to cross a stream and fence that is hidden from view at the start of the field. Through the metal gate, turn right to another gate and cross to a gate about halfway up the left-hand field-edge. Bear slightly right across another field and slightly right again to double gates on the edge of Piddles Wood.
5 Enter the wood (signed to Broad Oak, not Fiddleford) and follow the broad grassy path as it climbs gently, bends to the right and continues through the centre of the wood (now signed to the A357) to a cross-paths. Here turn right, signed to the A357 and Fiddleford Mill, on a path that soon bends to the right. Follow it for about 400 yards, and keep a sharp lookout for a path that leads down to the left, marked by a single bridleway arrow on a post. Take this path down to the main road, where turn right and in 25 yards left. The car park is along this lane. ◗