Village walks in Dorset: 7 lovely routes to try
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Winding country lanes, rolling countryside and cosy cottages galore - Edward Griffiths shares 7 lovely walking routes around just some of our most beautiful Dorset villages
1. A ramble around Culpepper's Dish and Affpuddle
Culpepper's Dish is one of several natural swallow-holes on the wooded ridge above Affpuddle. Started by an underground stream tapping a layer of running sand, these sink-holes, also known as a dolines, first appear as vertical shafts. Natural slippage forms the characteristic crater-like shape over time. Over 100 years ago, when Sir Frederick Treves was writing Highways and Byways of Dorset, a lone tree at the bottom of this doline looked like a pestle in a giant mortar, hence 'Culpepper's Dish' after the famous herbalist. Its approximately 277ft diameter and 140ft deep.
The village's surviving listed cottages, mostly built of cob with thatched roofs, belong mainly to the second half of the 16th century or first half of the 17th century. St Lawrence's Church was built around 1200AD, partly rebuilt about 1400 and restored 1875-78; the old vicarage was built in 1792. The former mill-race for Affpuddle Mill and the River Piddle run alongside St Lawrence's churchyard.
2. A ramble around Piddletrenthide and Plush Hill
Butterflies, buzzards and beautiful views sum up this lovely summer walk around Piddletrenthide and Plush Hill (although it's beautiful in winter too).Careful farming and maintenance of natural spaces has helped butterflies to thrive on this chalk hill farmland. You should see marbled whites, brimstones, gatekeepers, peacocks and red admirals.
West Hill and Plush Hill offer magnificent views to the north as far as Duncliffe Hill and Win Green on the edge of Cranborne Chase, and Hardy Monument above Portesham in the south. If the long ascents find you wilting, feign fitness. Above you hungry buzzards may well be circling!
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3. A ramble around Stourton Caundle and Thornhill Park
The quiet country lanes around this Blackmore Vale village offer delightful walking, but the fields before Thornhill Park are more of an adventure. Stourton Caundle is a lovely village where you will find St Peter's Church with its sturdy 14th-century tower, and there are some fine stone houses with mullion windows. Our high point at Thornhill Park enjoys a sweeping panorama from Shaftesbury to Bulbarrow.
Thornhill House was home to Sir James Thornhill (1675 - 1734). Born in Melcombe Regis, he was one of the finest mural artists of his generation and was made court painter by George I in 1718. Thornhill did the painting on the inside of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral; more locally his mural depicting Ovid's Metamorphoses decorate the entrance hall and staircase of Sherborne House. He also painted the altar piece, featuring the 'Last Supper' at St Mary's in Weymouth.
4. A ramble around Holdenhurst and Pig Shoot Lane
This easy level walks takes in an ancient village described as The Mother of Bournemouth and Throop Mill of the River Stour. Thomas Hardy described Bournemouth as a 'pleasure city and glittering novelty' …a new world in an old one'. Historian Elizabeth Edwards wrote that 'the old world consisted mainly of the ancient village, parish and hundred of Holdenhurst, The Mother of Bournemouth'.
Listed in the Domesday Book, Holdenhurst had several owners - from the time of Edward the Confessor to the Earls of Malmesbury and the Cooper-Dean family. The adjacent village of Throop has Throop Mill where the River Stour provided the power through its diverted mill stream until 1974. Pigshoot ford on the Stour's tributary, Leaden Stour, was a smugglers' crossing place, and Sir Walter Tyrell crossed here after killing King William Rufus in the New Forest.
5. A ramble around Shillingstone and Okeford Hill
From Okeford Fitzpaine and the Stour meadows, there are superb views to Hambledon Hill. From Okeford Hill, there are sensational views to Melbury Beacon and Stourhead in the north and Pilsdon Pen and Lambert's Castle in the west.
6. A ramble around Corfe Mullen and Sleight
Popular with commuting families due to its proximity to Poole, Corfe Mullen is surrounded by beautiful countryside. On this fine walk, we explore nearly two-straight miles of the Roman Road's route between Hamworthy port and Badbury Rings, visit the site of an 19th-century lavender farm, explore a handful of heath and woodland nature reserves, and pause at a recreation ground with fantastic views over the Stour plains to Badbury Rings, Wimborne Minster and Poole.
7. A ramble around Bradford Abbas and Ryme Intrinseca
This lovely walk crosses typically lush Blackmore Vale farmland with truly ancient woodland and historic tracks. One footpath is a remnant of an ancient monastic route between Sherborne, Lenthay Common, Bradford Abbas and Ryme Intrinseca. Here is the 13th-century Church of St Hippolytus, the patron saint of prison guards and officers, which shares its dedication with only one other church in England, at St Ippolyts in Hertfordshire.
In both Bradford Abbas and Ryme Intrinseca there are 'roses round the door' cottages, and Bradford Abbas enjoys melodic changes from St Mary's elegant church-tower's bells.