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The Dorset drive: North(ish) and south

After a foray into lovely landscapes towards the centre of the county, Matt Wilkinson explores some of the byways and villages of South Dorset

Heath, bog and forest sit cheek by jowl just off the Wareham Forest road at the beginning of our journey

Heath, bog and forest sit cheek by jowl just off the Wareham Forest road at the beginning of our journey

There is no particular theme to this drive: it just meanders through some of the loveliest and most interesting countryside on offer within the south-eastern quadrant of the county.

Distance: About 60 miles.
Start: The Town Cross in Wareham. OS reference SY923874; postcode BH20 4NS.
Maps: OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset) and 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis). Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck) and 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth).
Refreshments: On the route at Winterborne Whitechurch, Milton Abbas, Ansty, Cerne Abbas, Charminster, Dorchester, Broadmayne, West Lulworth, East Lulworth, Stoborough and Wareham.
[Milometer readings are given in square brackets. They should be generally reliable, but milometers do vary slightly.]

0170 Map - April

1 Head up North Street. At the first roundabout [0.3], take the third exit on the A351 towards Poole. At the next roundabout [0.6], take the first exit and go down the slope to the roundabout by Wareham station, where turn right, signed to Bere Regis. Follow the road through the varied landscapes of Wareham Forest. At the T-junction with the A35 [6.0], turn left. At the next roundabout, on the outskirts of Bere Regis [6.9], turn right. At the roundabout after that [7.3], take the third exit onto the A31 towards Ringwood. Branch off onto the first turning to the left [7.9], signed to Winterborne Kingston. In the centre of Winterborne Kingston, once known for its button-making, turn left into West Street immediately before the war memorial and village hall [8.9].

Joseph Damer's model village replacement for Middleton: Milton Abbas

Joseph Damer’s model village replacement for Middleton: Milton Abbas

2 Reaching the A354 at Winterborne Whitechurch [11.6], go straight over onto the road signed to Milton Abbas, passing on the left the church of St Mary with its unique 15th-century carved pulpit. Take the first turning on the left [14.0] and drive down through the chocolate-box village of Milton Abbas. This was built between 1773 and 1780 by Joseph Damer, 1st Earl of Dorchester, who also built the house at Milton Abbey. Next to the abbey was the town of Middleton, but the thought of looking out of his windows and seeing common people so offended Damer that he had the town demolished and its inhabitants moved to the next valley.

3 At the bottom of the village street, as the road bends to the left [14.5], fork right, signed to Milton Abbey. Follow this lane past the abbey, Damer’s house (now a school) and playing fields, to the village of Hilton. Like the Winterborne Whitechurch pulpit, some fine 15th-century paintings in Hilton church were originally in Milton Abbey. Go through the village and up onto a ridge, where turn right at a T-junction [17.1]. At Ansty Cross [17.3], where an old chapel occupies the centre of the junction, turn left, signed to Melcombe Bingham and Dorchester.

Milton Abbey

Milton Abbey

4 Drive through Ansty and Melcombe Bingham and on to Cheselbourne, home of a tradition known as ‘treading in the wheat’; on Palm Sunday young village women from the village would walk the fields, dressed all in white. Immediately after the village school (one of the smallest in Dorset) [20.1], turn right, signed to Doles Ash and Piddletrenthide. Reaching the latter at a T-junction [23.9], turn left and in about 100 yards right, signed to Cerne Abbas. At the top of the hill, go straight across a cross-roads [25.5] and descend to a T-junction in Cerne Abbas [26.7]. Turn left.

5 Drive through Cerne Abbas, which in its time has been voted ‘Britain’s most desirable village’ – and one can see why – to a T-junction with the A352 [27.0]. Turn left towards Dorchester. Drive through Godmanstone (once home to Britain’s smallest pub, now enlarged and a private dwelling), past Brooklands Farm, home to the Dorset Wildlife Trust, and through Charminster to a T-junction with the A37 [33.0]. At the roundabout [33.4] bear left into the centre of Dorchester.

One of many clusters of lovely old houses in Cerne Abbas

One of many clusters of lovely old houses in Cerne Abbas

6 Go straight across Top o’ Town roundabout [34.5], overlooked by the seated figure of Thomas Hardy, and follow the road through two sets of traffic lights. After the second set of lights, take the first on the right, Herringston Road [35.2]. Continue out of town and in front of Herringston House, home of the Williams family, follow the road round to the left then right and over a bridge. About 100 yards beyond the bridge, turn left [36.3]. Follow the road through Came Park, passing on the right Came House, home of the MacGregor family, who came to it by marriage into the Martins. Hidden in the trees is Winterborne Came church, where William Barnes was rector from 1862 to 1886; his grave is in the churchyard.

The herringbone floor and painted walls of Whitcombe Church

The herringbone floor and painted walls of Whitcombe Church (image: David Pearson)

7 At the end of the park [37.8], turn right onto the A352 through Whitcombe, with its racing stables, ancient barn and pretty church, where Barnes preached his last sermon. Next comes Broadmayne, where highwayman Bill Watch used to keep the horses on which he would hold up London-Weymouth coaches. Continue to the roundabout at Warmwell Cross [41.4], take the second exit and continue on a stretch of dual carriageway past Owermoigne. Pass a garden centre on the right and take the next turning on the right [43.3], signed to West Chaldon. Follow the lane through West Chaldon to Chaldon Herring. The village’s strong artistic heritage includes writers Llewellyn and Theodore Powys, Sylvia Townsend Warner and David Garnett and sculptor Elizabeth Muntz, all of whom lived here at some point.

The lychgate at Winfrith Newburgh church

The lychgate at Winfrith Newburgh church (image: Stan B C Green)

8 At the triangular village green [45.8], turn right and follow the lane to Winfrith Newburgh, reaching it at a T-junction [47.0] by the village church and opposite the Manor House, the oldest parts of which are 16th-century. Follow the road to West Lulworth, passing the church to reach a T-junction [50.1]. Turn left and drive up through the village, passing Lulworth Camp, home of the Armoured Fighting Vehicle Gunnery School, on the right. After the camp, take the next on the right [51.2] and pass Lulworth Castle, home of the Weld family, and East Lulworth. Cross a stretch of heathland studded with tank firing points, part of the Lulworth Ranges.

Lulworth Castle

Lulworth Castle

9 Leave the ranges and at a cross-roads [55.7], turn right, signed to Stoborough. Visible across its park to the left off this road is Holme Priory: a priory because a Cluniac monastery, a cell of Montacute Priory, stood here before the Dissolution. Cross a bridge over the Swanage Railway’s extension to Wareham and at the next T-junction [57.9] turn left. Cross the Wareham bypass [58.2] on a left-right dog-leg, signed to Stoborough. At the T-junction [58.4] turn left, cross the South Causeway, which is occasionally closed by flooding, and drive up South Street to the Town Cross [59.1].

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