The Dorset walk 1 – Chettle, Farnham, and Minchington
Matt Wilkinson and Andy Farrer enjoy the variety of Cranborne Chase
Published in April ’16
It is a fascinating but inconsequential challenge to try and decide which part of Dorset provides the best walking country. Purbeck and West Dorset have strong claims, but if I was forced to decide, I might well opt for Cranborne Chase. Its rolling landscapes under great skies which are reminiscent of East Anglia and which nowhere else in Dorset can match, its noble trees and woods, its charming villages, its profusion of wildflowers and birdsong, and its sheer variety: on a balmy day in spring or early summer there is nowhere else in the world, never mind Dorset, that I would rather be.
Chettle is the estate village for Chettle House, a fine example of Queen Anne architecture designed by Thomas Archer, with interiors by James Thornhill. It was regarded by Pevsner as one of the finest Baroque houses in the country. The village still boasts a shop, housed in a wartime hut from Blandford Camp, and St Mary’s church is among Dorset’s prettiest village churches. A former farmhouse at the edge of the village has been turned into an upmarket hotel and restaurant, Castlemans.
Not the least of Cranborne Chase’s merits is its rich archaeological history. The earliest and most significant excavations were carried out in the 19th century by General Augustus Pitt-Rivers, who, after establishing the museum in Oxford that bears his name, collected the rest of his finds in a museum at Farnham. The collections were dispersed in the 1970s, but they are remembered in the name of the village pub, the Museum Inn. Today Farnham is an elegant and picturesque village, typical of Cranborne Chase.
If such a village can be said to have a suburb, Minchington is it. Too small even to be called a hamlet, it consists of a few scattered houses. Archaeological investigations here have revealed sites from the Bronze Age to the Roman era.
Distance: About 5 miles
Terrain: Cranborne Chase generally drains well, but expect mud on woodland paths after heavy rain. Very gentle climbs.
Start: The centre of Chettle. OS reference ST952134. Postcode DT11 8DB.
How to get there: Turn north-west off the A354 Blandford-Salisbury Road, signed to Chettle. The turning is 2½ miles from Tarrant Hinton and just under 1¼ miles from Cashmoor. Drive into Chettle and take the first turning on the left. There is space to park immediately on the right.
Maps: OS Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase); OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck).
Refreshments: The Museum Inn at Farnham.
1 Continue up the lane, past the church on the left. Just after a tantalising glimpse of Chettle House at the end of its drive on the left, the lane becomes an unpaved track. Continue straight ahead, taking the centre option at a three-way fork. At the next fork take the right-hand option, alongside the fence of an open field on the right. The track dog-legs to the left then the right and continues through some handsome trees to a gate. Go through it and almost immediately fork left, through woodland, to a T-junction of tracks. Turn right and continue on the track as it becomes a path.
2 At the end of the wood, enter an open field and walk round two sides of its left-hand edge to reach the far right-hand corner. Here turn left and continue on a track along the right-hand field-edge. At the first corner, go through a gate by a barn and walk down to a cross-tracks. Go straight ahead, passing a smaller barn on the right. At the bottom of the slope, bear left across a small field to an opening into the next field, where turn right almost immediately into a large open field.
3 Follow its right-hand edge down into a dip, where turn left onto a track through the crops or plough. It rises slightly, climbing the gentle slope of Chettle Down. Reaching a lone tree at the left-hand end of a low hedge, turn right. Follow the top edge of the field up which you have been walking. In the first corner, go through a gap on the left and through a short stretch of undergrowth, then down a path with an open field to the left. This path leads onto a paved drive next to a cottage. Follow this drive as it heads gently uphill and reaches a lane. Here turn right and in just over 100 yards left, between a fence and a hedge, into a large open field. The path runs straight across the field to a stile.
4 Pass the former Methodist Chapel to reach a lane, where turn right to walk down through Farnham. At a T-junction opposite Minchington Farm House, turn right, then take the first on the left. Follow the lane until it bends sharply to the right, then the left. As it bends to the left, turn right through a gap onto a path which initially runs along the edge of the lawn of Yew Tree Lodge but soon enters a belt of woodland. Follow the path up to a gap into an open field, where bear right, up to an electricity sub-station and beyond it, a lane.
5 Turn left and in 120 yards right along the right-hand edge of a field. Turn right on another lane and in 20 yards left through an opening that serves two open fields. Bear right to walk down the left-hand edge of the right-hand field. At the end of the field, pick up a path between fences with a field on either side, which becomes an enclosed path. It then becomes a track and leads down to the road through Chettle. Turn left and walk down to the first turning on the right and your car. ◗