The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset walk: the Comptons and Trent

Matt Wilkinson and Andy Farrer in the far north-west of the county

The high banks and hollow ways are characteristic of walks in this part of the county

The high banks and hollow ways are characteristic of walks in this part of the county

The area between Sherborne and the county’s boundary with Somerset is rather a forgotten corner of Dorset, but it is home to a cluster of villages each of which has a charm of its own. The landscape hereabouts is well-wooded and is notable for its enclosed lanes, some between walls of the local sandstone, some between high hedges. In spring and summer they provide a riotous variety of ferns, wild flowers, grasses and trees.
The church of St Nicholas at Nether Compton is 13th-century, much ‘improved’ in the 18th century. It stands next to a large semi-circular expanse of grass dominated by an impressive house. Like its neighbour, Over Compton, it was owned by the Goodden family from 1736. They lived at Compton House in Over Compton, which the walk passes. Robert Goodden founded Worldwide Butterflies, which caters for butterfly enthusiasts worldwide, in 1960. It took over the house in the 1970s and opened a butterfly farm to the public in the grounds, but the Goodden link was finally broken when Worldwide Butterflies moved out in 2003.

The lovely honey-coloured stone of Compton House in Over Compton

The lovely honey-coloured stone of Compton House in Over Compton

The spire of St Andrew’s at Trent would soar above the towers of the two Compton churches. In its crypt lies Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury who presided at the Coronation in 1953 and who retired to the village. The acting Scott Thomas sisters, Kristin and Serena, spent their childhood here. Most of the land round the village is owned by the Ernest Cook Trust; established by the grandson of the travel magnate, Thomas Cook, the trust gives grants particularly for outdoor education.
All three villages contain character properties for which it would be inhuman not to feel mouth-watering envy, while modern additions have for the most part been done sensitively.

0170 Map - April


Distance: About 5½ miles
Terrain: Mostly good underfoot, on tracks and lanes, but some muddy patches in woodland, especially on the final stretch
Start: In the centre of Nether Compton, near St Nicholas’s church Map reference ST598173. Postcode DT9 4QA.
How to get there: Turn north off the A30 Sherborne-Yeovil road a little over 1¼ miles from the traffic lights on the western edge of Sherborne (signed to Nether Compton). Follow the road through the village’s rather straggling outskirts to its centre.
Maps: OS Explorer 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne Chase), OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck) and 183 (Yeovil & Frome).
Refreshments: The Rose and Crown, Trent; The Griffin’s Head, Nether Compton.
1  Continue in the same direction along the village street and at the end of the green space on the right, take the first turning on the left, opposite a cottage with the date-stone ‘JRPG 1882’. Take the first turning on the left again, Flax Lane. As it bends to the left, cross a stile on the right and there is a choice of two fields; go up the left-hand edge of the one on the right. At the top of the field, go through a gate and continue ahead on a path through woodland. It emerges onto a grassy area.

2  Go straight across to a drive and turn left to pass between the church on the left and Compton House on the right. Follow the drive round to the left as it passes the house and continue past some cottages on the right and the gate to The Manor House on the left. The drive becomes a track and heads downhill into woods. The track bends to the left round the bottom of a lake and goes through a gate.

3  Immediately after the gate, fork right, uphill, to another fork, where again take the right-hand, uphill option. The track descends and becomes a path, then a track again. Where a hollow lane comes up from the left, bear right and continue on the main path as it climbs up through a steep ravine with a remarkable multi-trunked sycamore on the left. After a track comes in from the right, the path descends again and reaches a lane. Turn right, then take the first turning on the left, past Court Ash Cottage.

4  Continue up this lane, in which sandstone walls give way to high hedges. At the top of the hill, as the lane becomes a track, pass some rather shabby agricultural buildings on the left. At the top of a rise after the buildings, bear right on the main track. Follow it for 2/3 mile to a cross-tracks, where turn left down an enclosed grassy track. It enters woodland and starts to descend, but soon forks; take the right fork and continue downhill. The path leads to a gate into an open field. Head down the field to a gate almost at its very bottom, just on the other side of a small brook and right under some overhead wires.

Giving new meaning to 'pausing to take stock' at the village noticeboard in Trent

Giving new meaning to ‘pausing to take stock’ at the village noticeboard in Trent

5  Go through the gate and in a few yards turn right on a track, grassy at first. After thatched Down Farm House, the track becomes a lane. Follow this to a T-junction with two left turns. Ignore the first (Plot Lane) but turn left to follow the broader lane into Trent. In ¼ mile, the road bends to the left and before it bends to the right, turn left opposite an impressive house with the datestone ‘DEBE 1660’, into Down Lane. Just before a gate straight ahead into buildings with the discouraging notice, ‘No trespassing. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again’, turn right on a path that leads to a swinging V-styled stile.

6  Beyond the stile, turn right to follow the top of an open field to a road by the Rose and Crown. Walk down to a T-junction, where it is worth crossing the road to look at St Andrew’s, but the route turns left. Walk carefully down to a T-junction, where turn left, signed to Over Compton. Cross a stone-parapeted bridge and in a further 240 yards, look out for a sometimes overgrown gate in the hedge on the left. Beyond the gate, bear left towards a building just visible in the trees in the field’s bottom left-hand corner.

7  Go through a gate and over a bridge, turn left, round The Old Mill and through a gateway. 20 yards after the gateway, turn right along a path, stretches of which are muddy. This continues, mostly through woodland, to a road. Turn right, then right again at the T-junction, and walk down through Nether Compton to your car.

Dorset Directory