View towards Stepleton House
After a year's break, we resumed the Wessex Ridgeway in Dorset. A chalk path leads up to Hambledon Hill and after a short while there are glimpses of Ranston, an 18th century house, substantially rebuilt in the early 1960s by Louis Osman. I wish I could have got a clear picture.
At a slightly higher vantage point, you can see Stepleton House, whose presence forces the busy A350 road into a massive detour. I have made this detour many times and often wondered why. Now I know. The house is 17th century according to Pevsner.
At the end of the pleasant climb you go through a gate and turn left onto the sprawling Hambledon Hill. The ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort are away to the right.
You walk along the ridge, surrounded by sheep, and then turn right downhill, to soon have an excellent view across to Okeford Hill, with the town of Shillingford over to the right.
At the bottom, left and right turns take you the hamelt of Hanford, which appears to consist of a farm and a school. The school is in Hanford House, described by Pevsner as "a major Jacobean house", dating from 1623.
Now across fields to suddenly meet our old friend, the mighty Stour (we walked the Stour Valley Path in 2014, although the route went further to the east at this point.
Soon afterwards, in Cliff Coppice, there was a lovely display of Primroses, Celandines and Bluebells - our first of the year.
And shortly afterwards I saw my first Peacock of the year. We now walked under a former railway bridge, now carrying the North Dorset Trailway ....
... and crossed the A357 on the outskirts of Shillingford. Shillingford Hill and Okeford Hill towered ahead.
This next filed led to a long walk uphill through mixed woodland, mainly Beech and Silver Birch, to Okeford Hill. This is the entry to the last section.
The route now goes downhill to cross a minor road with lovely views to the south.
The next section is on a classic, albeit shallow, ridge: there is too much foreground for worthwhile pictures and the sun is in the wrong place too. However, these trees offered some drama to the view backwards.
On the right, above Bell Hill, there was some serious pig farming and the track became trying with enormous muddy puddles in the tractor ruts.
We descended gradually to the high path above Ibberton which offered fabulous views past Woolland (where a walk in December 2014 helped us form the desire to walk the Wessex Ridgeway) towards Hazelbury Bryan.
We ended our walk at the small parking area here.
Conditions: generally sunny, gradually warming to reach 12 or 13 degrees.
Distance: 6.5 miles.
Maps: Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury and Cranbourne Chase) and 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis).
Rating: Three and a half stars.