Thursday, 10 September 2020

Thorncombe and Forde Abbey

St Mary's church, Thorncombe

We started today's walk from St Mary's church, which was rebuilt in 1866-7. There are, according to Pevsner, wonderful 15th century brasses inside the church.

We headed away from the church towards the north west, being immediately struck by the dramatic countryside.

We followed a series of paths quite comfortably until we reached a very large field where none of the route description in the walk book seemed to apply. We used our skill and judgement and managed to find our way to the Forde Abbey fruit farm and the road which was our target.

We followed the road for a short while then turned right into a massive field of sweetcorn, enlivened only by a pretty set-aside at the end.

We wondered what these (slightly out of focus) attractive blue flowers were.

Now across a field to reach a road and the entrance to Forde Abbey, which we had hoped could be visited as a detour from the walk. We walked up the drive to see in quick succession the dormitory range (or Dorter) ...

... and then the beautiful exterior of the main part of the Abbey.

The Abbey was founded in the 12th century, but like so many others, was in decline by the the time of the Reformation with an abbot and only 12 monks. It was then in ruins until 1649 when it was bought by Edmund Prideaux who created an unusual mansion from former parts of the monastery.

The Chapel (once the Chapter House) is on the right with the Abbot's Hall, the West Dining Room and the Drawing room arranged from right to left. 

The gardens were laid out in the 18th century and include the Long Walk with cheerful flower plantings on both sides, and three ponds. We rather liked these two wart hogs under a tree.

A high point in the gardens offered a lovely lateral view of the main front of the House and part of the Long Walk and Long Pond.

Leaving the Abbey we crossed the River Axe, only a small stream here, with deep banks. 

We followed the river for a while and then headed away from it, passing this curious piece of landscaping. We couldn't work out what was going on.

After this, a narrow path through another large field of sweetcorn, several field paths and a small copse led us back to the village.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

From: 50 walks in Dorset (AA).

Distance: 5 miles, plus the wander round Ford Abbey.

Map: Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis & Bridport).

Rating: four stars.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Old Harry Rocks and Ballard Down


                                                                        Old Harry Rocks

We've done several versions of this walk in the past, but not a complete clockwise one, so we thought we would do that as a way of re-connecting with this wonderful area. We parked at the National Trust car park in Studland and walked past the Banks' Alms towards Old Harry Rocks. The views remain dramatic.

First something new: the cruise liners currently parked off the coast of Bournemouth.

Then a view looking along the rocks and highlighting how one section has become isolated from the mainland. (A third cruise liner can be spotted on the horizon towards the right.)

This is clearer from a side-on view (see picture at the head of this post). A close look reveals some people with helmets at the base of the rocks. We wondered what they were up to - surely they weren't going to climb the chalk stacks?

We headed west passing another isolated chalk rock ...



... and climbed to reach and then walk along Ballard Down. It is a steady climb for a mile or so. On the right there was a great view of Studland Bay with Poole harbour beyond.

At length we turned right from the Down and crossed two fields to pass a cottage (a useful landmark) beside the Studland to Corfe road. We followed the track near to the road to reach Studland church with its famous Corbel Table just below the eaves.

To conclude, there was a wonderful display of gravestones.

Conditions: warm, becoming a little cloudy towards the end.

From: memory.

Distance: about 5 miles or a little less.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset).

Rating: 4 stars. A delightful reminder of what a great walk this is.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Dorchester and Charminster

We parked in the centre of Dorchester and followed the main road eastwards to reach the Dorset County Council 1954 bridge and turn left along the river bank, a tributary of the Frome. We have visited Dorchester before but have never registered the existence of the Frome.  

Further along there is a narrow bridge-cum-sluice gate.

We turned right and soon crossed the well-named Blue Bridge of 1877.

One more small bridge completed the initial encounter with the Frome.

We headed towards Charminster and as we passed water works came upon this lovely flower, as yet unidentified.

We crossed the road and headed towards Charminster across the fields. We were interested to have fine views towards Poundbury (or Poundbury Hillfort as it was once known).

Reaching Charminster, we made a small detour to see the Church of St Mary the Virgin. The nave dates from about 1100 and the ailes from the late 12th century. The imposing tower is early 16th century.

The next stage was across open country along farm tracks and then doubling back along a track. We passed a farm with a lovely medieval-style double height porch.

We continued southwards towards Dorchester, passing a cottage which was being re-thatched, to rejoin the Frome near the 1748 Grey's Bridge.

A right turn brought us along the main road into the town.

Conditions: mild.

From: Dorset Life magazine.

Distance: 6 miles.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset).

Rating: 4 stars. A delightful surprise.

Sunday, 30 August 2020


                                                                            The rear elevation

This lovely family walk around Cliveden also offered the opportunity for another blog about a stately home. I was surprised at first to get a lot of stick from my daughter-in-law for never having been to Cliveden before: just because I have lived in Berkshire for 45 years without doing so.

The present Grade I listed house was built in 1851 by the architect Charles Barry for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland.  Two previous houses on the same site burned down. The house sits 40 metres (130 ft) above the banks of the Thames and its grounds slope down to the river.

Cliveden became the home of the Astor family in the 1920s and in the 1960s was notorious for its contribution to the Profumo affair. After the Astor family stopped living there, it was leased to Stanford University, which used it as an overseas campus. Today the house is leased to a company that runs it as a five star hotel. 

We started with the lovely water garden with its Chinese Pagoda.

Of particular interest was this heron standing stock-still on a concrete block. 


We had some fun with whether it was live or statue. Even when it moved its head there was some willingness among our group to believe it was an automaton ... The matter was only resolved definitively when it flew off.

We ambled through woodland to come out at the rear of the house. The view from the terrace was wonderful, although you couldn't see the river.

We headed round to the front,  the main car park and entrance to the hotel.

To the right was the magnificent gilded Clock Tower. The  100 foot (30m)  tower was added in 1861 and was the work of the architect Henry Clutton. An open exterior staircase can be seen on the right. The tower still functions as a water tower and provides water for the house.

We paused for refreshments at the Orangery and admired this dovecote on the corner of the building.

Returning to the front of the house, we walked along the main drive to pass the lovely scalloped-shaped fountain. It is known as the shell fountain, or the Fountain of Love. It was commissioned by Lord Astor from the sculptor Thomas Waldo Story in Rome in 1897 and for this site.

It remained only to return to the car park.  I have focused on some of the buildings (others we missed), but a great deal of fun was also had by the kids involving games with sticks, a frisbee, and general chasing around. A wonderful day out. I wished I had been sooner!

Saturday, 29 August 2020



                                                        St Mary the Virgin, Upavon

We started our walk from Upavon at the parish church. The original wooden Saxon church was replaced by a late Norman church (circa 1175), but what you see now is largely the result of 15th and 19th Century restorations.

The village, which we didn't really explore fully, has some nice thatched cottages.

On the edge of the town was a rather unusual cottage, brick built and quite tall, but surmounted by a thatched roof.

We headed west to cross the River Avon ...

... and then climb quite steeply through woodland to suddenly emerge in open countryside.


We walked along the edge of a well-tended golf course: this was one side of the simple triangular route. Meeting a crossing track, we turned left for the second leg. This offered wonderful wide open vistas.

A bit further on we had a glimpse of the White Horse near Alton Barnes. It was first carved in the chalk in 1785 and re-cut a hundred and fifty two years later to mark the coronation of George VI.

Soon after this the track began to descend and no closer picture of the White Horse was possible. We turned left onto the third stage of the triangular walk, a grassy track. It was pleasant enough, but not as rewarding as the earlier sections. 

The final amusement was watching a mixed flock of geese successfully block the traffic while they searched for food.

Conditions: bright and sunny.

Distance: 4.25 miles.

From: Wiltshire: from Salisbury to the Kennet (Jarrold).

Map:  Explorer 130 (Salisbury & Stonehenge).

Rating: four stars.

Thursday, 27 August 2020



We parked in the centre of the village and headed east past the Village Hall and the Cricket Ground. Our first discovery was that not only is Mildenhall known as "Minal", this name is actually used on the Village Hall and the Cricket Ground.

We turned right and crossed the pretty River Kennet. We couldn't quite decide how much we liked the new house on the far bank. It was certainly striking.

We headed along the road for a short way then took a left into path leading across a large field. We knew that the walk was basically a rectangle and we could see on the right the high ground we would doubtless be returning on.

We passed the fortified Roman site of Cunetio - sadly no traces remain, although the Cunetio Hoard was found there. It was the largest collection of Roman coins (almost 55,000 of them) ever found in Britian.

Now were closer to the river and it was surprising to see that first the right bank and then both banks had been mowed. There were also a couple of benches. A sure sign of private ownership!

Reaching Stitchcombe, we turned right and climbed quite steeply to high ground and then turned right again to follow a parallel route to the one we had previously taken. We continued along this line until we were opposite Mildenhall. Here we turned right, descending open access land. It was raining now and the hillside was quite slippery. It looked like a lovely piece of chalk down and on a better day would probably have been busy with butterflies.

It was interesting to see how close we now were to Marlborough. The spires of the two main churches can be spotted at the edges of the photo, behind a densely packed housing development.


At the bottom of the descent a couple of lanes led us back to the bridge over the Kennet. We turned left and walked long the back of the Cricket Ground to reach the Church of St John the Baptist, photographed from under a tree.

It dates back to Saxon times and has a 12th century nave and Georgian box pews, pulpit and gallery. Just beyond the church we reached the main road and our car. 

Conditions: pleasant at first, but wet later.

Distance: 5.25 miles.

From: Walking in the North Wessex Downs.

Map:  Explorer 157 (Marlborough & Savernake Forest).

Rating: four stars.

Friday, 21 August 2020

Great Bedwyn and Crofton



We parked at the canalside car park in Great Bedwyn and put our walking boots on as normal. Then there was a nightmare exchange: "Have you got the walk book and map?" "No, I thought you had them!" We knew from looking at the map where the first key point was: turning right shortly after the church and we were confident that we would always know more or less where the canal was ... so we decided to to do the walk anyway.

We walked through the village and turned left into Church St, passing the church and turning right at a footpath sign. So far so good!

We followed the path between fields to reach a couple of isolated houses. The nearer one was an interesting melange of traditional and modern.



We turned left into a small area of woodland and then took another left to pass the second, more conventional, house. The woodland quickly gave way to a pleasant track and after a while we encountered some people picking sloe for sloe gin. We weren't totally sure we were on the right track when we started to see a line of houses. I wondered what settlement it could be. When we reached the road it all became clear: we had emerged on the edge of Great Bedwyn, about 300 yards on from where we took the footpath sign!

Fortunately, the road was signed to Crofton, our next major destination. So we plodded along the merciful quiet road until we reached Crofton, the home of the celebrated Pumping Engines.

From Wikipedia: "when the canal was built, no reliable water sources were available to fill the summit by normal gravitational means. However a set of usable springs were found adjacent to the canal" and the pumps were used to supply water to the canal. The two engines date from 1812 and 1846. The 1812 engine, made by Boulton & Watt 1812,  "is the oldest working beam engine in the world in its original engine house and capable of doing the job for which it was installed".

We crossed the railway line, always an exciting moment, and then crossed a canal bridge which gave a good view of the Pumping Station in relation to the canal.

Now we were definitely in the right place and all we had to do was to walk the mile and half along the canal tow path. At first the canal seemed wider than usual.

But soon it resumed its more normal dimensions. The section from Crofton to Great Bedwyn is one of the most attractive we have walked along.

Conditions: rather grey.

Distance: 4.5 miles.

From: Walks in the Kennet Valley and Beyond (West Berkshire Ramblers).

Map:  Explorer 157 (Marlborough & Savernake Forest)

Rating: three stars.