The Dorset walk 2: Batcombe and Hilfield
Matt Wilkinson and Andy Farrer visit a straggling village and one of Dorset’s holy places
Published in October ’16
This walk has some terrific views to the north and east, away into Somerset and Wiltshire, with the Mendips visible on a really clear day.
Batcombe is a widely spread village with a scattering of farms but few residences and no village street as such. It does have a church, which is worth a visit; unfortunately, blocked paths rule out a satisfactory walking route that passes it, but it can be reached by a long-ish diversion, or by car at the start or finish of the walk (turn right out of the parking place, then right again in almost 1½ miles). It has a Norman font and a barrel roof.
For about 100 years, it had a missing pinnacle on its tower. In the 17th century, the local squire was known as Conjuring Minterne because he was supposed to have magical arts. Folklore has it that one day he was riding over one of the hills to the south of the village when he remembered he had left his secret book of spells open on the table. In haste, he turned his horse round and tried to leap over the church, knocking off a pinnacle in the process. Afraid they might offend the devil by repairing the damage, the villagers left it as it was. The squire’s manor house was at Newlands Farm, which the walk passes.
Hilfield Friary is for the Franciscan brothers of the Society of St Francis, an Anglican order. It is home to a community of friars and lay people, it hosts retreats and offers a series of lectures and courses on spiritual matters.
Distance: About 4½ miles
Terrain: This is a rewarding walk, not very long and with a fair proportion on lanes. But the field paths are muddy when wet and rough when dry, and there is a stiff climb at the end
Start: Hilfield Local Nature Reserve car park on Hilfield Hill. OS reference ST636039. Postcode DT2 7BE (this is actually the postcode of the nearest postal address, Hilfield Friary, which is some way to the north and at the bottom of the hill).
How to get there: The car park is on the road that runs from Evershot to Minterne Magna. From the west, turn east off the A37 Dorchester-Yeovil road at the staggered cross-roads signed to Evershot the other way. From the east, turn west off the A352 Dorchester-Sherborne road about ½ mile north of Minterne Magna.
Maps: OS Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis), OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: None on the walk. The closest are in Cerne Abbas or Evershot.
1 Leave the car park through an opening on its western side – that’s on the left as you drove in. A short path leads into an open grassy area. Follow the trees on its left-hand edge, but as they bend sharply to the left, continue in the same direction across a narrow patch of grass to a path that leads down through undergrowth. This quickly meets a wider, better-defined path, on which turn left. It winds through woodland and emerges
onto the road just by a turning to the right. Walk past the turning and continue up the road for about 70 yards to the second of two gates in quick succession.
2 Go through it and follow the right-hand edge of the large open field at first, but quite soon, as it falls away to the right, bear away from it to stay on the same level. At the end of it go through a gate in the far right-hand corner and follow the fence on the left-hand edge of the field. Go through the first gate on the left and bear right so that the fence is now on the right. As it turns right, continue in the same direction, downhill on a sunken path. At the end of the sunken path, a deep ditch develops on the right. Cross it and turn left to walk along the bank on the other side. This descends steeply to reach a rough track, on which turn right down to a gate.
3 Beyond the gate, turn left on a lane and walk down to a T-junction in almost ½ mile. Turn left and almost immediately bear right (or left for rather over ½ mile to visit the church, then retrace your steps). In a further 3/8 mile, opposite a farm drive, two paths go off to the right. Take the right-hand one, so double back to the right and reach a stile. Head for a gate in the far bottom corner of the field, which is divided by a wire fence, crossed by a stile. Go through the gate, cross a stream and bear right to a stile visible in the right-hand fence almost 100 yards up from the bottom corner. Walk straight across the field beyond to a gate onto a lane opposite Newlands Farm.
4 Cross the lane and a yard to a kissing gate, then in the same direction across the field and the narrow one beyond it to an opening. In the next field, bear slightly right towards the top right-hand corner. Here go through a gate and up the right-hand edge of two more fields. At the end of the second one, cross a double stile and bear left to a gate in the far left-hand corner. Bear slightly right down into a dip and across a stream, heading for the right-hand end of a cream-painted house with red tiles and with solar panels on one of its outhouses. Here there is a double stile and bridge; cross these and bear right under a telephone wire to another stile-bridge-stile combo across the River Wriggle. Bear right to a stile in a wire fence. Cross this, a track and another stile and head for the gate straight ahead.
5 Turn right on the lane beyond and follow it to a T-junction, where turn right. The lane passes Hilfield Friary, after which it climbs ever more steeply, bears left at a junction and eventually reaches a T-junction. Turn left and in a couple of yards left again onto the woodland path. Follow it until it bears sharply left, away from the road. Here take the narrower path, which leads onto the open grassy space and so back to the car park.