This early springtime walk encompasses Dorset’s former major market town, two distinctive Dorset churches, three Dorset manor houses, a mile or so following Dorset’s longest river, a former flour-producing mill, and an easy stroll along the route of a former Somerset and Dorset railway track. Overall, we have all things ‘Dorset’ in one delightful country ramble with little exertion, and many tempting places to pause, or rest awhile, and admire the fine views.

Great British Life: Fiddleford Manor, now owned by English Heritage.Fiddleford Manor, now owned by English Heritage. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

The Walk

1. Leave the car park through the top right corner opening onto Station Road with Poets Corner Café opposite. Go right around the corner and walk down Station Road’s right pavement with the Exchange and Co-Op left and Streeter’s (old railway station building) right. Continue down to the traffic lights with the modern development and Old Market Hill left. Continue past Harts of Stur and a few older cottages left and new estate houses right. Pass Friars Moor and Elm Close right and more older cottages left. At left, Green Close, the road becomes Marston Road. Cross onto the left pavement. At the top left bend, cross to the ‘Manston 1½’ footpath-signed track right of ‘Tuscans’ cottage.

2. Through the gate/kissing-gate, descend to the next kissing-gate. Through into the field corner, walk straight down, with the hedge right, to the kissing-gate and footpath-bridge over the stream. Over, turn to the nearby kissing-gate. Through, go sharp left along the meandering trees, with Hambledon Hill forward-right and Piddles Wood right. Soon, veer slightly-right (east-north-east ENE) to the hedge’s visible wooden fence’s half-gated concrete footbridge. Over into the big field, keep straight on along the right bank and hedge. When it ends at a footpath-arrow post, keep straight on over and down the field, passing two footpath-arrow posts, to the low ditch-hedge. Go over the footpath-stiled concrete footbridge into the next field with the River Stour right. Now, walk half-left (ENE) across the field with the meandering Stour on your right.

3. Reaching an iron fence, go over the footpath-posted concrete footbridge and maintain the same direction (ENE) now aiming for a red-roofed barn/cottage about ½ mile ahead, still with the river right. Passing two facing old gateway fenceposts to your left, continue on the path along right trees, noticing Manston’s church across the river, to the right end of the clay-tiled roof wooden cottage. Go through the corner footpath half-gate and the instant-left footpath half-gate at River Barn. Follow the drive to the road, footpath-signed back ‘Sturminster Newton 2’. Turn right, cross the tributary bridge and go around the left bend. Go through the right ‘Manston Church’ car park gate, footpath sign posted ’Hammoon ½ Child Okeford 1¾’, not Manston House’s gated drive with the Lodge Cottage. Into the car park, for the walk, cross to the twin black wrought-iron gates. But, to visit the church first, follow 3a below.

3a. Go through the right 1½ gates onto the hedged/fenced track, round the right bend and past the right Mausoleum to St Nicholas’ Church, with its 13th-century chancel, 14th-century nave and 15th-century tower. Then return to the car park.

4. Through the black wrought-iron gates into the field with spaced trees, walk ¼-left (south east/SE) to the facing fence’s footpath-stile. Over, cross to the next fence’s footpath-stile. Over, cross the bigger field to the far-left corner’s footpath-stiled sleeper bridge. Over into the next field’s corner, cross ¼-right to the gated footpath-bridge between two new trees’ enclosures. Over, go over the roadside fence’s steps and turn right along the road. The opposite stile leads to Child Okeford. Over the Stour bridge, continue along the meandering road. Entering ‘Hammoon’, continue to Hammoon Cross and visit St Paul’s Church, on your right, with the beautiful, thatched Manor House beyond, but private. Then, continue along the road, signed ‘Okeford Fitzpaine’.

Great British Life: St Paul's Church, Hammoon. St Paul's Church, Hammoon. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

5. After the last cottage, pass right Manor Farm’s drive and keep straight on, with high banks either side. On leaving ‘Hammoon’, in 100 yards, take the right ‘Private’ track and the instead-left bridleway-signed ‘Fiddleford 1¼’ half-gate into the field corner. Follow the left roadside hedge through this field and, through a banked hedge, into the second field. Continue to the end two-way bridleway-signpost with the road left. Turn right down the path into the railway (North Dorset Trailway) cutting. Keep straight on, elevated above the fields. In ¼ mile, see Manston Church far across the right fields. In another ¼ mile, at two sets of opposing double-gates, take the left footpath half-gate onto the field’s green track with hedge and ditch left. Bending right in the field corner, follow the hedge to the left gap and facing double-gates. Go through the footpath half-gate onto the Fiddleford lane.

Great British Life: Following the North Dorset Trailway, formerly part of the route of the Somerset and Dorset Railway which linked Bristol and Bournemouth.Following the North Dorset Trailway, formerly part of the route of the Somerset and Dorset Railway which linked Bristol and Bournemouth. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

6. Turn right, hedged, banked and maybe with early daffodils. Reaching a left bench, the right turn goes back to ‘Trailway’ and ‘Hammoon’ but our path was better. Continue along the lane and over the bridge to the T-junction. Left will take you to Fiddleford Manor and, after your visit, return here and continue straight on, signed ‘Sturminster Newton’. Through Fiddleford Mill yard (the mill is the square stone building with engraved stone plaques), continue along the path over the sluice-gates and the weir, magnificent after heavy rain. Go through the end kissing-gate and turn right, signed ‘Sturminster Newton via Railway Path 1¼’. Follow the Stour’s river-edge path, cross the gated footbridge and continue to the kissing-gate by the river bridge and leading up to the Trailway. Turn left, elevated above fields both sides. Reaching a path crossing, see St Mary’s Church Sturminster Newton, forward-left across fields and houses. Just keep straight on, past a footpath crossing, to the railway-style white barriers. Go through, back into the car park from where you started.

Great British Life:  Fiddleford Mill and sluice gates. Fiddleford Mill and sluice gates. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

Compass Points

Distance: 5½ miles/8.75 km

Time: 3½ hours

Exertion: Moderate. No real ascents. Some stiles. Mud after prolonged rain.

Start: Pay and Display car park, Station Road, Sturminster Newton (Grid Ref: ST788142)

Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194

Public Transport: South West Coaches No.3 from Gillingham and Bourton

Dogs: On leads on roads. Follow The Countryside Code

Refreshments: Harts of Stur Coffee Loft in Station Road, The Swan Inn on Market Place (also offers accommodation)