The Dorset Walk – Chaldon Herring and Scratchy Bottom
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold in a literary landscape and on the coast path
Published in October ’15
The route of this walk was not actually chosen just for the sake of including two of Dorset’s more comical place names. ‘Bottom’ is often used in the name of a valley, and the ‘Scratchy’ may come from a profusion of undergrowth or from the difficulty of scratching a living from the poor soil. The area’s more distinguished claim to fame is that it was used in Far from the Madding Crowd as one of the locations where Gabriel Oak kept his sheep before they tumbled off the cliff.
The ‘Herring’ in Chaldon Herring comes not from the fish but from the Harang family, who owned the manor (as they did that of Langton Herring, west of Weymouth) in the 12th century. They did have three herrings on their coat of arms, though. The village is alternatively known as
Chaldon Herring has literary connections as distinguished as those of any village in the county. Of the prodigiously talented Powys family of eleven children, Llewelyn and Theodore Francis both lived and wrote in the village for some of their lives. The former set his novel, Mr Weston’s Good Wine here, while a memorial stone to Llewelyn stands on Chaldon Down. Another distinguished resident was Sylvia Townsend Warner, author of such novels as Mr Fortune’s Maggot and Summer Will Show and of many short stories. It was at T F Powys’s house in 1930 that she met the poet, Valentine Ackland. The two women fell in love and, for the time, were unusually open about their relationship; it lasted for the next forty years.
1 Turn through the entrance on the left (assuming that you have come from Lulworth towards Winfrith) and walk straight ahead through some farm buildings on a track that leads into an open field. Follow the track into the next field and down to a rather smaller set of farm buildings. Turn right in front of these, ignore a right fork into an open field and continue down to a metal gate. Stay on the track as it curves away downhill to reach another metal gate. About 120 yards after that, bear left onto a path that runs along the valley bottom. Go through another gate and continue along this path until a gate on the left gives on to a chalky track that has come curving in round the hill on the left.
2 Go through the gate and follow the track on down the valley. It eventually bends to the left and goes through a gate. Descend round a right-hand bend to reach a lane. Turn left and walk into Chaldon Herring. At the village green, turn left and follow the lane for 1 mile, past the church, to West Chaldon. In West Chaldon, just before farm buildings on the left and no. 29 on the right, turn left through a gate and up a track.
3 In about 150 yards, turn right up the bank and through a gate, then walk straight ahead over the brow of a large open field. At the brow, bear slightly left and eventually a gateway on the far side, immediately to the left of a power pole, will come into view. Go through this and up the next field to a wide opening a few yards to the right of the next power pole. Bear slightly left, crossing under the power lines approximately halfway between two poles. Continue to the far side of the field, where turn left onto a track between two banks.
4 Pass next to a dilapidated barn on the left and continue, now with a bank on the right only. At the end of the field, turn right on a track and follow it up to a gate onto a broader track. Turn left (passing the drive to Sea Barn Farm on the left and a somewhat incongruous post-box on the right) and in about 250 yards, just as the track becomes paved, fork left. In about 100 yards go left through a gate onto a path that winds up through gorse bushes, then climbs up the open hillside to approach White Nothe. From White Nothe, stay on the coast path for a further 2 miles. It is towards the end of this stretch that there are the two challenging climbs, up onto Bat’s Head and then Swyre Head (not to be confused with the one on the Isle of Purbeck). The descent from Swyre Head, which provides a good view of Durdle Door, is into Scratchy Bottom.
5 Go through the second gate on the left and follow a path along the bottom of a steep hillside on the right, with a fence and field on the left. The path bends to the right round the base of the hill and runs up the valley to a gate. Continue ahead to another gate, where bear half-left to cross the ridge, beyond which a gate becomes visible on the far side. Beyond the gate, turn right on a track that descends to a T-junction. Turn left and walk up to the main road, turn left again and walk the 250 or so yards to Daggers Gate. ◗
Distance: About 7½ miles
Terrain: The going underfoot is good and rarely very muddy. There are two major climbs on the coast path.
Start: Daggers Gate. OS reference SY811814. Postcode BH20 5PU.
How to get there: Take the road to Winfrith Newburgh that runs north-west from the main road through West Lulworth. After a right-hand bend about ¾ mile after the parish church, tracks run off to the left and the right and there is plenty of space to park on the verge on the left. Coming from the north, Daggers Gate is about 4½ miles from Winfrith Newburgh parish church.
Maps: OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Sailor’s Return at Chaldon Herring is literally yards from the route.