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Dorset walk: Gussage All Saints and Harley Gap

The bridleway inside Harley Wood. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)
The bridleway inside Harley Wood. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

The parish of Gussage All Saints covers 2430 acres, entirely on chalk, and through which runs Gussage Brook. Its western boundary is the Roman road known as Ackling Dyke. Whether the name reflects any unofficial title used by the Romans is unrecorded but, as eminent archaeologist, lecturer and academic Bill Putman states in his book Roman Dorset: ‘We do not know the name of any Roman road in Britain and Ackling Dyke is the Saxon name.’ It was the supply road of the Second Augustan Legion, built after the initial invasion, between Old Sarum, Lake Farm and Hamworthy Harbour. Roman roads were surprisingly narrow although the causeway (or agger) may have been as much as 20m (65ft) wide between ditches, varying with the height of the road above the natural ground. The surface was rarely more than 3m (10ft) wide and surviving ruts show that wheeled vehicles predominantly travelled along the centre, passing carefully on meeting one another. Where the road surface is exposed in a cutting not far from here, it is composed of large stones, topped with finer gravels as a running surface.

At All Saints’ Church in the village, the chancel, nave and lower part of the tower are all early14th-century. The tower’s upper stages are 15th-century; the building was restored and re-roofed in 1864.

The Walk

Great British Life: The long Drove road from the Drovers Inn. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)The long Drove road from the Drovers Inn. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

1. From the war memorial on the green below All Saints’, walk along the village street, passing thatched Church Cottage left. The cottages are almost exclusively single-storey late 18th-century with brick walls and thatched roofs. At The Drovers Inn, take the unsigned left path - a bridleway - rising, sunken, flinty and under trees. Crossing a left/right footpath, continue up along the broad green hedged ¾ mile long bridleway, surely a former medieval drove road, like many other wide green tracks which will be encountered up on these chalk downs. It follows exactly a line between All Hallows and Moor Crichel, passing the 17th-century Drovers Inn, previously called The Earl Haig and, before that, The Rose. On your way, at a right gate, see distant ruined Knowlton Church and, wherever the hedges thin out, notice the typical huge un-hedged fields on both sides.

2. Reaching the T-junction, see Horton Tower from the right field’s cantilever gate, and turn left along the similarly broad track. Rising slowly to the top electricity stanchion and overhead cables, continue over and down and around the left bend where a ‘Private’ track goes right, and the facing gate overlooks the lower field’s bridleway track and Harley Wood. Descend the sunken track to an expansive four-way junction of bridleways with an arrow post on the right corner. Turn right along the bridleway track with left trees and more ‘Private’ tracks left. Now, rising slowly with a vast field on your right, where I watched a red kite being escorted from the premises by a buzzard when I walked this route, Harley Wood is on your left. Reaching a meander, the track bends right and ascends the huge field, but go straight on into the unsigned bridleway track, still alongside ‘Private’ Harley Wood with extensive old, coppiced hazel.

Great British Life: On Ackling Dyke at Harley Gap. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)On Ackling Dyke at Harley Gap. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

3. Keep meandering along the slowly rising track. The O.S. map shows the track wholly inside the wood but, over time, the field has spread into the wood’s edge and the first half mile is now outside the wood. However, as you progress, the track does wend its way into the coppiced wood and, on a slow right bend with a ‘Private Woods’ track and a bridleway-post left, continues rising through larger deciduous trees. Reaching a three-way sign-posted bridleways’ T-junction, notice pine-topped Pentridge Hill distantly ahead through the facing hedge. Turn left, still inside Harley Wood, and meet Harley Gap, the cutting through Ackling Dyke with the four-way Jubilee Trail signpost and the memorial stone for John Ironmonger 1919-1986. Turn left alongside Ackling Dyke, but first go through Harley Gap to admire views to Sixpenny Handley and the Blandford to Salisbury A354 road.

4. Still in the woods, continue walking down alongside Ackling Dyke. Reaching a fence-gate into a left triangular field where Harley Wood is its left edge, keep following the rising bridleway between Ackling Dyke and the field-fence. Up to where the Roman Road is largely free from encroaching bushes, go up onto the top to see how the road was raised by using soil and stones from either side, forming the lower level of our current track which, at 350ft here, is the highest point of our walk. Now, when the field fence ends, go through the left bridleway-arrowed gateway and follow the right hedge across the triangular field, passing a right gate with far distant views and Horton Tower nearer, to the corner bridleway-gate.

Great British Life: All Saints' Church in Guasage All Saints. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)All Saints' Church in Guasage All Saints. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

5. Through, follow the meandering hedged track, again alongside left Harley Wood. Reaching the facing ‘No Access’ field-gate on a right bend, go around the bend into another ‘drove road-type’ track, gently descending with views over wide fields at any hedge gaps. At the gateway into the right field, before the facing ‘dead-end’, follow the wide track around the left turn and keep straight on to the open green four-way junction of bridleways where we arrived earlier down the opposite bridleway. Turn right up to the bridleway signpost and continue up the sunken track, over and down to the cantilever-gate. Past this, and the left bridleway-signed gate at North Cottage, continue down Harley Lane to All Saints’ Church where we started.

Compass Points

Distance: 5 miles/8 km

Time: 3 hours

Exertion: Quite easy. Ascents and descents are gradual. Some mud in winter

Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195

Start: All Saints’ Church, Harley Lane, Gussage All Saints (Grid Ref: ST998108). Park thoughtfully nearby or in the village street

Public Transport: None

Dogs: On leads where there is livestock or when requested, abide by The Countryside Code

Refreshments: The Drovers Inn for pub lunches and suppers (dog and horse friendly), check website for opening times


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