WALK 1 – A VILLAGE CIRCUIT (maps 1 & 2)
This fairly long walk (4 miles) encircles much of the village, and in one section crosses into neighbouring Shillingstone. It thus goes close to the River Stour, and at many points there are fine views of Hambledon Hill. There are options to cut the walk short if desired. There are a number of stiles, but many have now been replaced by gates.
A. From the Cross turn right (not up to the church, but the road signed to Shaftesbury etc) and walk up the road past the surgery. Turn left into the drive of Yew Hedge House, then go through 2 gates to follow the path between the fences. Go through a gate at the bottom, then a pond is seen on the right, perhaps with wildlife such as moorhens, mallards and Canada geese. Parts of the path may be muddy here. Cross the bridge and go through a gate. Take the middle one of 3 arrowed routes, heading towards the centre of a small copse to find a stile, which is seen from the brow of the field. Follow an interesting path through the copse in a pleasant hollow. Cross the bridge with a handrail on the left, then at once cross a stile.
B. Go diagonally across a field towards the tallest lime tree. Exit the field through a metal gate to the left of a cattle trough and near a large farm gate. Continue over a small bridge, and follow the path with a high wall on the left (the wall was built with bricks from a local brickyard, and once formed the boundary of the Millbrook House estate). At the far end of the wall, climb the steps, then keep to the left-hand grass verge of a private garden (Gold Hill Cottage) leading to the road.
C. Turn right at the road, and in about 20 yards turn left down Netmead Lane, past houses on the right. Continue down the lane to the far end of the field on the left, then turn left through a gate. Go through the next gate and along the right-hand edge of a field, with views of Hambledon Hill to the left. At the field end turn right through 2 gates, then 2 more across the lane. Follow the left-hand edge of the field by a stream, then over a stile or through the gate. (Hereabouts you may see buzzards high above – 17 at once is thought to be the Dorset record!). After 2 more gates at the field end, turn left and keep left, still by the stream. Keep left along the field edge, then do not cross the bridge but go right away from the fence, still with the stream on the left. (N.B. short cut to village – cross bridge, turn left through a gate and keep straight ahead through gates). Head for a prominent raised footbridge over the Stour, with Okeford Hill now ahead. The bridge is a pleasant place to pause: you can listen to birdsong, maybe see a heron or even a kingfisher.
D. After crossing the bridge follow the footpath between fences and cross a narrow concrete bridge. Then bear left away from the farm track towards the far corner: on a clear day you can pick out Okeford Beacon on the hill beyond. Try to ignore the unattractive road bridge and reach the road from Bere Marsh Farm. Go over a stile, turning left past the cattle grid to reach the main road near Haywards Bridge. Detour on to the bridge for a view up and down the Stour (impressive in flood). Swans can often be seen here, sometimes an egret, or cows cooling their feet in summer.
E. Go up the ramp on to the North Dorset Trailway which used to be part of the old Somerset and Dorset (popularly the ‘Slow & Dirty’) railway line. The line suffered closure in the Beeching cuts: Blandford Forum station, along the line, earns a mention in the Flanders and Swann song ‘Slow Train’. Follow the trailway to reach Shillingstone Station, where Edward, Prince of Wales, used to alight when visiting friends at nearby Hanford House. Enthusiasts are at an advanced stage of renovating this historic station. There is a small museum, and refreshments are available on Wednesdays and at weekends. In 2014 the railway carriage once provided an appropriate venue for a production of Noel Coward’s “Still Life”, on which the film “Brief Encounter” was based.
F. For some distance still follow the trailway which becomes a picturesque path winding through trees with rook nesting sites above. To the left, the whole western flank of Hambledon Hill can be seen, from the steep northern end to the famous yew forest in the south. Further on, Shillingstone’s ‘Church of the Holy Rood’ can be seen up to the right, and the Stour meanders pleasantly on the left. A small bird hide on the left gives a chance to pause awhile and observe the wildlife by the river.
G. Upon reaching a signpost pointing to Child Okeford on the left, go through the gate and head for a green footbridge over the Stour, opened in 1998 and named the Wilson-Haines bridge, in honour of long serving footpath officers of the two parishes. Pause on the bridge, and try to imagine the scenes when all but the topmost handrails have occasionally been covered by the Stour in flood.
H. When you have crossed the bridge one path goes left, but we suggest going straight on. Head for a gate in the further left hand corner towards an obvious track with the hill behind and a good view of the yew forest on the right. Continue along the left hedge line, and the gate is just past a large equestrian gate on the left. Go through the gate and into the lane, turn left and immediately right onto a track alongside the equestrian field. The track bears right then left, and continues until you reach a new barn on the left, and then into Melway Lane and the village.
I. Our route turns right just before the barn, through a gate or stile, and along the left of a field past a magnificent oak tree. Turn left after the oak, and cross 2 stiles. From the 2nd one
follow the right-hand arrow, bearing right to the far corner. After crossing the stile, steer to the left of the prominent thatched house, ‘Five Chimneys’ and cross a stile in the corner. Turn left into Duck Street, pass “Quackers” and continue up the road to the Cross.