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Dorset country walk: Witchampton circular snowdrop walk

St Mary, St Cuthburga and All Saints' Church in Witchampton. <i>(Image: Edward Griffiths)</i>
St Mary, St Cuthburga and All Saints' Church in Witchampton. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

Less than a mile from the village of Witchampton, where this circular walk starts, is Hemsworth Farm, formerly East or Lower Hemsworth. The 16th-century brick and flint farmhouse was extended in the 18th and 19th centuries. Immediately north of the farm are the settlement remains of the former village, consisting of a hollow-way and seven or eight closes bounded by low banks and scarps. Recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as ‘Hemedesworde’ held by the Count of Mortain, a follower of William the Conqueror, Hemedesworde was occupied by one villager and three smallholders with one plough. We will see these earthworks on this walk. Nearby, but behind the farmhouse, is West Building. This brick and flint house, dating from the 17th century, is on the site of West or Upper Hemsworth, listed in Domesday as held by Humphrey the Chamberlain, another supporter of King William, and occupied by one slave and three smallholders. A few fields west of the farm, the remains of a Roman villa were discovered in 1831 and excavated in 1905. The main block was 250ft long with four floor mosaics; one circular mosaic showed the head of a river god. Another illustrating Venus rising from the waves is now in the British Museum.

Great British Life: The 16th century Manor House at the start of the walk. The 16th century Manor House at the start of the walk. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

The Walk

1. From the church, the 16th-century Manor House opposite has heraldic frets worked in the brickwork and is surrounded by its protective garden wall. Walk down the hill and past the first Village Hall drive right. At the next drive, signposted ‘Footpath and Hardy Way’, turn in and walk along the high grass bank. At the footpath arrow, continue into the hedged and fenced footpath, rising between fields. Continue up to the drive between left cottages and right Wesleyan Chapel. On to the lane, turn left with the cottages’ back walls left. At the crossing, go straight across into the hedged lane, sign posted ‘No Through Road. Bradford’. Pass Malt House to your left. The single storey range is an early 18th-century cottage with a two-storey section added slightly later as a malthouse. Continue along the partly sunken lane to the end T-junction.

Great British Life: Levels and hollows revealing the former settlement of East Hemsworth. Levels and hollows revealing the former settlement of East Hemsworth. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

2. Over the road is a dark shady bridleway-signed track. Instead, go over the right-corner footpath-signed stile by the double-gates onto the fenced track between fields. In ¼ mile, the slowly rising track, with increasingly expansive views, arrives at a tracks’ crossing at Hemsworth Farm. Turn right, signed bridleway on the fencepost, and walk up to the yard with bridleway arrows on both gateposts. Continue across the yard between the right open barn and left verged dairy barns. At the fork, go right along the grass verged iron fence. Continue past the left cottage and ‘Private Road’ track. Divert left around the vehicle spraying unit and rejoin the descending track. In the right field are the levels and hollows of East Hemsworth settlement. Down to the exit 1½ gates and cattle grid, go through and cross the road.

Great British Life: Drifts of snowdrops in Dean Hill Coppice. Drifts of snowdrops in Dean Hill Coppice. (Image: Edward Griffiths)Great British Life: Drifts of snowdrops in Dean Hill Coppice. Drifts of snowdrops in Dean Hill Coppice. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

3. Walk into the ‘Dean Farm’ bridleway-posted track, hedged both sides. Past right Dean Farm driveway, go around the facing bridleway-gate and walk straight across the field corner. With late 17th-century flint and brick Dean Farmhouse to your right, continue to the hedged track L-bend and go left at the two-way bridleway-post. In ¼ mile, pass a right track to Dean Hill barns and pass left Brach Lane hedged footpath-track. Continue along right Dean Hill Coppice, packed with snowdrops at this time of year, and pass another right barns’ track and some left barns. Then, before a left bend, take the right footpath-posted track, ascending Rushton Hill slowly with the coppice right and a fine panorama of fields and woods left. Past a pheasant-watch seat, continue into Chetterwood.

Great British Life: Panoramic views from the Rushton Hill track. Panoramic views from the Rushton Hill track. (Image: Edward Griffiths)Great British Life: Path through Chetterwood. Path through Chetterwood. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

4. Follow the leaf-strewn track through the plantation of deciduous trees, then with row upon row of pines. Arriving at the six-way tracks’ junction, take the fourth clockwise track and pass the tree-trunk seat on your left. Keep straight on, reducing to a path to the gate, and walk through the Crichel Properties wood-fenced black sheds area. Continue to pass left thatched cottages and cross the road on the bend to the wide hedge-gap, bridleway-signed back. Into the wide left-fenced grass track, turn right between the road hedge and the field with newly planted beech wood. Continue to the end’s three-way bridleway-post. Cross the road on the bend into the bridleway ‘Private No Entry’ track passing the right brick building. Continue past right 1989 Constance Cottage, a right track and another cottage. When the track bends right for Maximillian Cottage, go straight on around the facing un-signed gate into the large field with right iron fence. Pass Maximillian Cottage.

Great British Life: Ivy House in Witchampton dates from Tudor times.Ivy House in Witchampton dates from Tudor times. (Image: Edward Griffiths)

5. Continue on the track between fields and across a shallow valley. Past the right wood, join a T-junction and turn left at the field’s bridleway-post to follow the left hedge. Pass a two-way bridleway-post and a right line of trees dividing the right fields and continue along the left hedge to the footpath-gate. Cross the road - the resurfaced Roman Ackling Dyke - to the opposite footpath-gate. Through into another field, bear half-left and cross to the garden hedge of Sheephouse. Continue along the hedge to the wrought-iron kissing-gate onto Sheephouse Drove, footpath-signed back. Turn right along the road, steadily ascending past double-gates on both sides and left Downley Coppice, to the top T-junction. Turn left and first right into Pound Hill, signposted ‘Witchampton ¼’. Walk down to the village, with the 1580-dated black-and-white Ivy House opposite, now Witchampton and Crichel Club. Turn right along the road, past the First School right and Linden Lea cottage left. Go through the lych-gate. Follow the path past the war memorial and the west tower’s doorway and down the steps back to the road where you started.

Compass Points

Distance: 5¼ miles/8.25 km

Time: 3½ hours

Start: St Mary, St Cuthburga and All Saints’ Church, Witchampton (Grid Ref: ST988064). Park in road below church

Exertion: Easy. Lanes and good tracks

Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195

Public Transport: None

Dogs: On leads on farm tracks, roads and where requested. Abide by The Countryside Code

Refreshments: Witchampton Community Shop, mainly open in the mornings

 



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