The upper road between Shaftesbury and Blandford Forum closely follows the western edge of Cranborne Chase before the land plunges down in a series of ridges to the A350, which itself meanders around these ridges’ bottom edges, roughly parallel to the top road. In medieval times, there was a third road running parallel to the present upper road. Historian Ronald Good, an expert on Dorset’s ancient roads, commented in his diligently researched 1940 publication The Old Roads of Dorset that this ‘left the upper Blandford road, probably opposite Compton Abbas (near the present airfield), and ran down from Stubhampton Bottom by Washers Pit and through the villages of the upper Tarrant valley’. This old road’s route is now represented by the bridleway descending from the top road through Fontmell Wood to Washers Pit, where it crosses the Fontmell Magna to Ashmore Lane and becomes the Stubhampton Bottom bridleway-track (which this route follows) for two miles through Ashmore Wood before seamlessly joining the present road through Stubhampton and Tarrant Gunville and continuing eastwards.

On this fine atmospheric walk, circumnavigating Ashmore Wood, we follow in the footsteps of travellers, carters, huntsmen, Ashmore villagers and woodsmen. In his 1980 book Cranborne Chase, former BBC broadcaster Desmond Hawkins discussed Ashmore’s attachment to the Quakers, recorded as early as 1663. He then continued: ‘South of Ashmore, the falling slopes take on pagan and pantheist qualities. At Washers Pit and along the flanks of Stubhampton Bottom, the old woodlands reassert themselves’.

Great British Life: Washers Pit. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)Washers Pit. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

The Walk

1. From the parking area, not obstructing the access gate, go around the cantilever gate by the bridleway arrow and follow the firm forest track along the valley floor. Continue alongside the ditch and hazel bank on the right with the hill field behind and beech forest left. Then, there are mostly pines and deer-fenced hazel right and a single lofty pine. All this time, the track has been slowly swinging left, occasionally with hill fields right. When the deer fence ends at a pronounced left bend, there’s a bridleway crossing with a green track right and a bridleway half-gate into a valley field. Left, the bridleway is a narrow path rising up the grassy slopes.

Great British Life:  The Wessex Ridgeway inside the wood's edge. (Photo: Edward Griffiths) The Wessex Ridgeway inside the wood's edge. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

2. Keep straight on, even in January the woods are filled with bird song. Now, there are mostly hazels and magnificent pines, the track meanders slowly right then slowly left at a fork. Here, leaving the main track which goes slowly uphill, keep straight on into the bridleway-posted lesser quality green track with some mud. Still edged with pines and hazels, the track meanders to a bridleway-posted left rising green track. But keep straight on along the valley as before, noticing the parallel green track to your right behind the trees and mostly beech wood again on your left. Sometimes a little muddy, our track swings left and passes a leaf-covered track below-right which goes straight on through hazels, possibly part of the original road’s route. The main track continues around that left swing, but turn off at a right fork onto the bridleway-posted lesser path. The lower path now rejoins our bridleway-path, so just keep straight on.

Great British Life: Through Great Peaky Coppice hazel wood. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)Through Great Peaky Coppice hazel wood. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

3. Continue through Great Peaky Coppice, the forest of hazels forming a long ‘tunnel’. The track reduces to a path. Passing right footpath-arrowed 1½ gates, continue along the right wire-fence, rising to a left field’s corner multi-arrowed post. Here, turn left onto the ‘Wessex Ridgeway’ bridleway, ascending between the right field’s fence and the left valley. Nearing the top, long views start to appear on the right and become more distant after the Wessex Ridgeway bridleway signpost. On the top, over a succession of low banks, keep straight on with beeches left and field right, all still inside the wood’s edge which, incidentally, follows the parish boundary between Ashmore and Tarrant Gunville. Then, suddenly, a three-way bridleway signpost appears with ‘Tollard Green 2’ ahead, ‘Great Peaky Coppice 1¼’ behind and ‘Ashmore 1½’ left.

Great British Life:  Turn left for 'Ashmore'. (Photo: Edward Griffiths) Turn left for 'Ashmore'. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

4. Turn left along the ‘Ashmore’ leaf-strewn woodland track, past a confirmation arrow-post and through beech trees. Pass another bridleway-post and left pines before reaching a tracks’ junction with several bridleway-posts and a three-way pointer with ‘Well Bottom ½’ right and ‘Great Peaky Coppice1½’ behind. Follow ‘Ashmore 1¼’ straight on, between fields, with a large barn ahead in the left field. Reaching the right pine and beech wood, before its end, take the left ‘Great Morris Close ¼’ bridleway at the three-way pointer. Follow the track past the barn and the left hedge’s gateway with the bridleway-post. Follow the meandering track, with hazel on both sides and a field left. Meeting an unsigned tracks’ crossing, walk straight on into the valley but fork right onto the lesser bridleway-posted path, rising and sunken through trees.

Great British Life: Firm track at Stubhampton Bottom, with hazels right and pines left. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)Firm track at Stubhampton Bottom, with hazels right and pines left. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

5. Across a green track, keep straight on inside the wood’s edge with a field outside right. Then, swinging left across the wood’s corner, keep following the grass track inside the wood’s edge again. Ignore any side turnings. When the outside field ends, by an oak with two bridleway-arrows, continue on the path through hazels and pines, swinging to a bridleway T-junction with a bridleway-post. Go left. In 30 yards, take the right track, bridleway-posted if it's been repaired. Descending slowly, swing right and left to another bridleway-post. Continue right, fairly level through beech trees then, rising slowly, meandering above left Stubhampton Bottom and meeting a track joining from the side. Then, past right 1½ gates from a high field, follow the right hazels and fence all the way down to the car park where you started.

Compass Points

Distance: 4¼ miles/6.75 km

Time: 3 hours

Start: Washers Pit parking area, signed ‘Forestry Commission Ashmore’, off the Fontmell Magna to Ashmore road (Grid Ref: ST897168)

Exertion: Not strenuous. Any ascents are fairly easy.

Map: OS Landranger Sheets 184 and 195

Public Transport: None

Dogs: Forestry Commission notices ‘Keep dogs on tracks’, abide by The Countryside Code

Refreshments: Compton Abbas Airfield Café for breakfast, lunch, snacks and coffee

Pull quote

'South of Ashmore, the falling slopes take on pagan and pantheist qualities'

'At Washers Pit and along the flanks of Stubhampton Bottom, the old woodlands reassert themselves'