Dorset walk around Winterborne Came and West Stafford

Looking back to Conygar Wood from Winterborne Came drive

Looking back to Conygar Wood from Winterborne Came drive - Credit: Archant

Edward Griffiths enjoys exploring the Dorset landscape that inspired local residents Thomas Hardy and William Barnes

Only a stone’s throw from Dorset’s county town, the countryside is remarkably peaceful. Here, at Winterborne Came, Dorset dialect-poet William Barnes was a country rector for 24 years, tending his flock and finding inspiration for his warmly evocative poetry. Here, also, Thomas Hardy walked, worked and cycled, meeting the people who inspired his brilliant novels and poems.


• Distance: 5¾ miles (9.25 km)

• Time: 4 hours

• Exertion: Fairly easy. Some mud after rain.

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• Start: Max Gate, Allington Road, Dorchester (Grid Ref: SY704898). Park outside or in Syward Road.

• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194

• Public Transport: Damory 2, 101, 103

• Dogs: On leads in fields with livestock and on roads

• Refreshments: The Trumpet Major, Allington Road for traditional lunches and real ales

The walk

1 From Syward Road, cross Came View Road and the A352 Wareham Road, using the ‘refuge’, to the ‘Winterborne Came ¾’ bridleway into trees. Follow the path down to the half-gate into a very long field. Follow the left hedge, up the field and through bushes with a bridleway-post into the next field. Keep following the left hedge path. Meeting the footpath from the right, go through the half-gate into Conygar Hill Wood. Go straight through onto the beech lined track down between fields into the South Winterborne valley.

2 Through the bridleway-gate, cross the lane into Came House’s ‘Private’ drive. Over the river bridge, follow the drive, ignoring the left bridleway and all right and left turnings. Meeting a right stone wall, take the ‘To the Church’ footpath along this wall to William Barnes’ church, then return to the drive. Back down the drive to the twin-right tracks (one ‘Private’) you passed earlier, take the left one to the gate into a field with a right cottage. Walk to the T-junction with a three-way signpost, two for ‘Jubilee Trail’ (J/Tr). Go through the gateway and turn left. Follow the grass track around the left edge up the field, past the chalk-pit and up to footpath (F/P) and J/Tr 1½ gates into Cole Hill Wood.

3 Follow the track up through the wood, taking the left fork on the way, to the F/P-J/Tr 1½ gates. Leaving the wood, cross the ‘gallops’ into the F/P-J/Tr half-gated fenced footpath down between long fields. Through the bottom half-gate, cross to the ‘Winterborne Came ¾’ half-gate onto the A352. Turn left to the lay-by opposite the thatched barn. Cross to visit Whitcombe Church on the ‘Church Only’ path, then continue up the verge. Past the ‘Whitcombe’ sign, take the right footpath-signed half-gated path through young trees to the F/P-J/Tr gate. Through, follow the right hedge to the corner F/P-J/Tr half-gate into the next field. Follow the right hedge to the F/P-J/Tr gate into a path behind stables.

4 Across the drive, follow the enclosed grass path around the paddock. Through the end gate into a gates’ junction, turn left along the F/P-J/Tr enclosed path with a right field. At the end, emerge into a field corner with footpath and bridleway signs. Turn left up the hedged, banked track, passing a bridleway crossing before the top. Pass a left wood at right Stafford Farm cottages. Past the left barnyard entrance, take the left bridleway-track. Continue up and over alongside the wood. Reaching a gateway onto a fenced track, descend between fields with expansive views. Through the bottom 1½ bridleway-gates, turn right along the right hedge. Through the gate into a second field, continue to the bridleway-gate/stile onto the road. Cross into the bridleway-signed path into trees.

5 Under the railway bridge, follow the grass path, past West Stafford Playing Field and bending right through trees and along the Winterborne. Out into Rectory Lane, signed back ‘Came Park 1½’, continue to the road facing St Andrew’s Church, West Stafford. Turn left. In 150 yards, over the river bridge, take the left footpath-gate. Follow the meadow path to the squeeze-stile. Into the next field, bear half-left to the footpath-stile onto a track. Past the barrier to the road, signed back ‘Footpath’, turn right. In ¼ mile, take the left ‘Lower Bockhampton ¼’ road. Follow the road over several bridges, including the River Frome. Entering Lower Bockhampton, take the left bridleway before the river bridge. Follow the raised path with several left-joining streams for ½ mile.

6 When the right stream ends at a pool, cross the bridge and fork right to visit Hardy’s heart-tomb at Stinsford Church, where his heart is (his ashes are in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey). Return to this bridge and take the ‘St George’s Road’ footpath along the river’s left bank. Over the footpath-bridge, follow the right stream, then the line of sluice-gates across the field to the fenced corner. Through the kissing-gate, follow the track under the by-pass. At the T-junction with ’Grey’s Bridge’ ahead, go left over the Frome Bridge, then left again. Under the by-pass and past the allotments, cross the road into the unsigned footpath. Behind gardens, rise to the gated railway crossing into Syward Road. Walk up the road back to Max Gate.


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