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The Dorset walk: Charlton Higher Down and the lower Cerne Valley

Matt Wilkinson and Andy Farrer explore north of the county town

As the title and map of this walk indicate, downland  and small settlements are featured along its route

As the title and map of this walk indicate, downland and small settlements are featured along its route

Most of this route is typical Dorset Downs: an undulating landscape of big, mainly arable fields, punctuated by farms and patches of woodland. The last part descends into the Cerne Valley and follows one of Dorset’s prettiest rivers on the last stages of its journey before it joins the Frome between Charminster and Dorchester.
Charminster itself is easily thought of as a suburb of Dorchester, but it is a village in its own right, with its own atmosphere. Our walk touches only the edge of the more modern part, with some regrettable mid-20th-century housing, but the old part of the village has some charming old buildings, not least the notable Norman church of St Mary.
Its much newer neighbour, passed towards the end of the walk, is Charlton Down. To judge from the publicity, you might think that Poundbury was the only new village being built near Dorchester over the last twenty years. Charlton Down grew up with much less fuss and is much more successful architecturally. It is based around the buildings of the old Herrison Hospital which, until it was given that more discreet name, was the Dorset County Lunatic Asylum.

0170 Map - April

Distance: About 6½ miles
Terrain: An undulating route but with no serious climbs. Some muddy enclosed tracks and paths.
Start: Vicarage Lane, Charminster. OS reference SY683927. Postcode DT2 9QF.
How to get there: From Top o’ Town roundabout in Dorchester, take the A37 towards Yeovil. At the bottom of the hill, bear right in front of the petrol station towards Lower Burton. Pass the Sun Inn and Vicarage Lane is the fifth turning on the left, just before the de-restriction signs.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: Nothing on the route, but the Gamekeeper at Charminster and the Sun Inn at Lower Burton are close by.

The landscape can change quite radically depending on the point in the agricultural cycle one walks the route

The landscape can change quite radically depending on the point in the agricultural cycle one walks the route

THE WALK
1 Walk back to the main road and cross it on a slight left-right dog-leg, signed to Wolfedale Golf Course. Walk up the lane to a cattle grid between two modest pillars which are the entrance to the golf course’s clubhouse. Fork right before the cattle grid along an enclosed track which rises and then descends steeply. As it levels out, just before a track junction marked by a large metal tank, turn left up the left-hand edge of a large open field. The path cuts through the corner of a belt of woodland and continues up the right-hand edge of the next field. It then picks up a track which runs up the right-hand edge of the next field and part of the field beyond that.
2 In this second field, where the track curves away to the right, bear left to continue up the right-hand edge of the field. At the top, bear left, then in a few yards turn right into woodland. Follow the well-defined path until it emerges into an open field; walk straight ahead along its left-hand edge. In the first corner, go through the left-hand of two gates and continue up the right-hand edge of two fields. We are now on the northern slopes of Charlton Higher Down. In the first of the two fields is a tumulus topped by a tree and towards the end of the second, looking back to the left, the top of the down’s trig point can just be seen if the crops are not too high.

3 At the end of the second field, go straight across a road and bear slightly left to follow the right-hand field-edge all the way down to a gate onto another road. Go carefully straight across, pick up the right-hand field-edge in about 100 yards and follow it downhill. At the bottom, bear left on a track which climbs up the flank of the hill. On the far side of the field, where the track curves to the right, continue straight ahead across the next field, aiming to the right of a barn visible in the far right-hand corner. Just beyond the barn, turn right onto a broad enclosed track which runs downhill and into the buildings of the farm by Forston Grange.

This abandoned shelter is on the fourth leg of the walk

This abandoned shelter is on the fourth leg of the walk

4 Turn left immediately before the first barn and walk up to a gate straight ahead. Follow the left-hand edge of the field beyond. At the end of the field, go through a gate into woodland, where the path rises to enter an open field. Walk straight ahead across the field, pass the right-hand end of a rather scrubby hedgerow and parallel a line of wires on the right, reaching the far side of the field some 80 yards to their left. Here go through a gate and continue along two fields to a gate, shortly after which the path leads onto a road along the edge of Charlton Down village. Follow it to a T-junction, cross on a slight right-left dog-leg and walk in front of the handsomely white-painted Herrison Cottages to a wooden gate.

 There is plenty in the way of livestock on the walk, so please keep dogs on leads

There is plenty in the way of livestock on the walk, so please keep dogs on leads

5 Take the narrow path to the right of the gate. It broadens out and leads onto an open path along an otherwise steeply sloping field. At the far end of the field is a white-painted thatched cottage with slate-roofed extensions; aim for a gate just past this and to its left. Bear left to head up the next field and at the top bear right along the left-hand edge. Go through a gate and follow an enclosed path which reaches the outskirts of Charminster. Continue straight ahead on it as it runs between two fences and eventually reaches Vicarage Lane, where your car is parked.

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