Dorset walk - Kingston Lacy Avenue and White Mill
- Credit: Archant
Edward Griffiths strolls down the famous beech avenue then follows the River Stour to Dorset’s most beautiful bridge
This lovely walk may be a trifle longer than usual, but we’re starting by walking the first two miles of the famous Kingston Lacy Estate beech avenue with its glorious autumn shades. The 2½ miles long avenue was laid out in 1835 by William Bankes of Kingston Lacy so, approaching 200 years of age, the trees are nearing the end of their natural lives and will soon need to be felled. However, the National Trust has been planning this for years and started planting replacement beeches about 25 years ago. These are maturing nicely and patiently awaiting their turn in the spotlight. We also follow the River Stour between Shapwick village and White Mill where the ‘chequer-board’ stone bridge is said to be the most beautiful in Dorset. There are fine views to enjoy, rooks in the woods, and swans, egrets and herons in the river.
• Distance: 7 1/2 miles (12 km)
• Time: 5 hours
• Exertion: Not strenuous. Level field paths and gentle ascents/descents on good tracks. Some mud and wet grass after rain.
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• Start: National Trust’s Blandford Lodge Car Park. Out of Wimborne on the B3082, pass left Kingston Lacy House entrance and Blandford Lodge. In 50 yards, take the left track into the car park (Grid Ref: ST973020)
• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195
• Public Transport: None
• Dogs: On leads by roads and when requested. Note diversion onto country lane for dog-walkers between Shapwick and White Mill (see point 2 and map inset below).
• Refreshments: The Anchor Inn at Shapwick
1 From the car park, walk along the west side of the B3082 avenue between the old and new beech trees. Pass a left hedged track and cross the Sturminster Marshall road. From here, the ground is higher with good views left to Charborough Park’s tower and right to Badbury Rings hill-fort. Across the Shapwick road, with Badbury Rings access right, continue along the avenue to left ‘Swanway Cottage’ bridleway-gates. Follow the hedged track between fields, rising to a right bend under beeches and passing Swanway Cottage with its super views.
2 Descending now, pass a left wood and keep on down with fine views along the Stour Valley and to Highwood Tower ahead. Through 2½ bridleway-gates, pass a right footpath-stile and continue down, narrowing. At a facing open-fronted barn with Elm Tree Cottage on Swan Lane corner, turn right along the bridleway. Through facing 1½ gates, follow the grass track down by the left wood to locked 1½ National Trust Walk gates. Onto the road, turn left into ‘Shapwick’, passing Bishop’s Court, thatched cottages, the old school and the Anchor Inn. Dog-walkers continue along the lane for 1½ miles to White Mill at the end of Point 5. Everybody else turn right at the war memorial for ‘Stour Valley Way White Mill. No Dogs’.
3 Follow the lane to St Bartholomew’s, then go through the flood-gated gap into the car park to the first of many National Trust riverside route stiles. Over, bear half-left across the field, past the stanchions right support cables, to the next stiled-footbridge. Over this, turn right to the next stile into a wide field. Follow the riverside to another stile. Over this, keep along the fenced river around a sweeping bend. Hear the Poole-Blandford road’s traffic behind the right wood just before another stile. Over this, keep following the river. Over another stile, level with the opposite wood’s end, stay along the river again.
4 Over the next stile, with Sturminster Marshall church tower ahead, veer away from the river to pass left of some stunted trees to the next stiled-footbridge at the right end of facing trees. Over this, aim towards St Mary’s tower to the stile by the right fence. Past this, keep aiming for the church across the field. Under electric wires and over the next stile, you’re along the river fence again with the church behind the opposite bank’s willows. Over the next stiled-footbridge, cross the field to another stiled-footbridge. Over this, follow the river to the stile and half-gate into a narrow riverside field. Turn right to a stile/gate. Over, follow the path and steps up to the roadside stile. Walk straight on, passing the left ‘Cowgrove 2’ turning and White Mill Car Park. Meet the dog-owners at White Mill.
5 Past White Mill, go through the road-corner ‘Stour Valley Way Pamphill 3’ kissing-gate into the riverside field with superb views of the ancient bridge. Dogs are welcome on this official footpath. Over the footpath-stile by the gate, follow the hedged path into the field with a clear path to the next footpath-stile. Over, follow the river path to the footpath-stile into a small wood. Over the nearby exit stile, cross the field to the footpath-stile/gate onto the road. Over, turn right. At the first left oak, take the 1½-gated bridleway-track, rising gently for ¾ mile and passing Harry’s Copse left. At the Kingston Lacy Drove T-junction with ‘Stour Valley Way Pamphill’ right, turn left. Pass left Sweetbriar Drove and continue for another ¾ mile to your starting point Car Park.