The Dorset walk: Powerstock, West Milton and the Poortons
Matt Wilkinson and Andy Farrer in ‘the beginnings of West Dorset proper’
Published in August ’16
One of my favourite parts of the county is what I think of as the beginnings of West Dorset proper: the area roughly bounded by Loders, Mapperton, Eggardon Hill and the A35. It does not have the high hills found further west, nor does it offer spectacular wide views, but the small-scale landscape of sharp little hills and hidden valleys is full of delights: the sensuous curve of a sloping field, say, or the positioning of a wood on the skyline, or a thatched cottage tucked under the flank of a hill.
Powerstock lies at the centre of this part of Dorset. Its church of St Mary is known for its chancel arch, a survivor of an earlier Norman building, and for the dole table in the churchyard, from which bread was once ‘doled out’ to the poor. In the 19th century the village’s reputation was as rather a rough place and the main reason for the appointment of one vicar was said to be that he had won a boxing Blue!
West Milton is a mixture of old and modern buildings. Its population is mixed, too, long-established families rubbing shoulders with weekenders. Its old mill was home to the writer and broadcaster, Kenneth Allsop. Loscombe seems to be almost literally in the middle of nowhere, buried in a little valley. Around it is a Dorset Wildlife Trust nature reserve in whose unimproved grassland fritillaries and orchids thrive.
North Poorton provides another interesting church on the walk. Built in 1862 by John Hicks (to whom Thomas Hardy was articled at the time), it has an east window that is colourful but of dubious artistic merit, and some splendid 19th-century stone carving, including excellent capitals, an ornate pulpit and a notable font.
Distance: About 5 miles
Terrain: Mostly lanes and field-paths, which can be muddy. Not much of the route is flat! However, none of the ascents or descents is severe or long.
Start: Between the Three Horseshoes and the church of St Mary the Virgin in Powerstock. OS reference SY517962. Postcode DT6 3TF.
How to get there: Turn north off the A35 to go through Askerswell. On the far side of the village, at Spyway, turn right and take the road up onto Eggardon Hill. At the crossroads at the top, turn left and follow the road along the edge of the hill, through Whetley and into Powerstock by the Three Horseshoes.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: The Three Horseshoes. The Marquis of Lorne at Nettlecombe is less than a mile away.
1 With the church to the right, walk down to a crossroads. Turn left and walk steeply downhill, past the village school. Near the bottom of the hill, as the road starts to bend to the left, turn right along a path on the far side of Bridge Cottage. Go through a gate and walk along under some power lines, with a stream (the Mangerton River) to the left. In about 100 yards bear right to the right-hand edge of the field and follow this to another metal gate. Continue through another gate and go straight ahead on a grassy track, between the stream at the bottom of the field on the left and the power lines on the hillside to the right.
2 At some farm buildings on the left, one track goes left into them and another curves to the right, up the hillside. Ignore both of these but continue straight ahead. Walk in front of the farmhouse and fork right, down to a bridge and wooden gate. On the other side, bear left,
straight up the field to a stile between a modern house on the left and an old barn on the right. Continue through the old churchyard to a metal gate and descend some steps to the road through West Milton. Turn left.
3 Where the road forks in front of a stone shelter, turn right. Take the first turning on the right and turn left on a path opposite Watercoombes. Go through a gate and walk straight across an open field to another gate. Follow the right-hand edge of the next field initially, but then aim for its far left-hand corner. Here go through a gate and in a few yards turn right on a track which curves to the left to reach a T-junction of tracks. Turn right on a drive which leads to a cross-roads.
4 Go straight across on a narrow lane which goes steeply downhill at first. In about ½ mile, the lane does a left-right dog-leg in front of Flowery Bottom, crosses a stream and reaches a junction. Turn right and walk through the buildings of Loscombe. The last on the left is Rose Cottage; about 50 yards past it, go through a gate on the right, in front of another house on the right, and follow the path through woodland – part of Loscombe Nature Reserve – to a bridge into an open field. Follow the fence on the right for about ¼ mile to a stile on the right.
5 Cross it to go down to a bridge and stile, beyond which turn left and walk slightly uphill to a gate visible on the far side, about 40 yards up from the corner. Follow the left-hand edge of the next field on a right-hand bend to begin with, then turning left round the corner of a wood. Stay by the wood, ignoring a path that runs uphill to the right. At the end of the wood, go straight ahead, along the right-hand field-edge. At the end of the field, go straight ahead through a metal gate and in the same direction across the middle of the next field, to a gate visible on the far side.
6 This gives onto an enclosed track, where turn right. Within a few yards are two metal gates on the left. Go through the second of these and walk straight across to a gate on the far side of the field. Turn right to follow the right-hand edge of the next field to a gate, beyond which go straight ahead on a paved lane through North Poorton, bearing left to pass the church and to reach a junction. Turn right and at the next junction turn right again to walk into South Poorton. Just past the postbox in the wall on the right, fork left, downhill.
7 At the bottom of the hill, just past Bottom Farm, go left through a gate, then almost immediately right, over a bridge. Entering a field, bear left to go steeply uphill, following a line of telegraph poles. At the top of the slope, go under the telephone wire and head for a stile in the corner. On the other side turn right, and in the first corner turn right through a gate. Follow the right-hand edge to another gate, beyond which turn left in a few yards to cross the stone chippings of a driveway to reach a narrow path between a large thatched house on the left and a fenced paddock on the right. This in turn leads onto an enclosed grass path. Follow it round to the left then the right, onto rather a muddy stretch. The next time the path bends to the left, turn right through a metal gate and follow the left-hand edges of two fields to reach a lane.
8 Turn right. In about 400 yards, just after a pond on the right, go through a rather muddy gateway and bear left to cross the field diagonally, reaching the brow of the hill at its highest point. Continue to a gap a few yards to the left of the far corner. Follow the right-hand field-edge briefly before crossing a stile on the right and heading downhill to a gate in the far left-hand corner. Here cross a stile and continue downhill to a gate onto a lane. Turn left and walk down until the church comes into view, alongside which your car is parked.