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Dorset walk around Gillingham and Bowridge Hill

PUBLISHED: 14:37 25 June 2014

View from Bowridge Hill over Zeals church spire to Stourhead

View from Bowridge Hill over Zeals church spire to Stourhead

Archant

Edward Griffiths’ delightful north Dorset walk features three rivers and takes us through the remains of a Royal Forest where King John once hunted for deer and wild boar

Distance: 5 1/4 miles (8.5km)

Time: 3 1/2 hours

Exertion: Fairly easy walk on lanes and field paths. Several stiles. Some mud after rain.

Start: Gillingham Long Stay Pay and Display car park, High Street (Grid Ref:ST805264)

Map: OS Landranger Sheet 183

Public Transport: Daily except Sundays, Damory Coaches 309, 59, 83 Wilts and Dorset 29

Dogs: On leads in fields with livestock and on roads

Refreshments: The Phoenix Inn and Red Lion for bar meals. Couch Potato Café in Gillingham High Street and Waitrose Coffee Shop for light lunches.

Gillingham was once the centre of a Royal Forest where ‘a squirrel could go from Gillingham to Shaftesbury without touching the ground’. On this lovely and varied walk, we join three rivers which all meet in Gillingham - Shreen Water, Lodden and Stour - plus a couple of tributaries. The route leads us along delightful country lanes where the verges are thick with the frothy blooms of Queen Anne’s lace and golden buttercups. Enjoy magnificent panoramic views from Bowridge Hill, cross sheep-filled meadows and walk through the remaining banks of King’s Court Palace where King John hunted between 1205 and 1214.

The Walk

1 From the car park, walk west along High Street and round the right corner into Queen Street, passing St Mary the Virgin’s church. At the next bend, continue along Queen Street for 300 yards. Before the Co-Op, take right Bay Road (unsigned) for ‘Knoyles’ and ‘Hindon’. Pass left Lodbourne Green, Fairey Crescent and Shreen Way. Cross Bay Bridge. In 100 yards, take the left footpath-signed track after ‘Little Hayes’. Through the end footpath half-gate, cross the field, past the electricity post, to the hedge twin footpath half-gates. Through these, continue with Shreen Water left and bending left to 1½ footpath-gates.

2 Through, cross the field to 1½ footpath-gates. Through these, bear ¼-right up the field to the hedge half-gate. Through this, walk down the field, aiming for the house, to the hedge’s hidden half-gate. Over Colesbrook stream bridge and up into the footpath-signposted lane, turn right. Past left Thorntons House, enjoy a really pleasant country lane stroll with buttercup meadows, passing left barns and rising up Bowridge Hill. Near a left footpath-track, look back for superb views over Gillingham and Milton-On-Stour to Stourhead’s Alfred’s Tower and Mere Church. Continuing along the lane, pass right Bowridge Hill Farm and scattered cottages.

3 Meeting Bay Road, turn sharp left with fine views to Shaftesbury and Duncliffe Hill. In 100 yards, take the right double footpath-arrowed gate into the field. Cross to the nearest hedge stile/gate. Through, bear ¼-right to the second of two hedge gaps. Through into the field, walk down to the bottom right corner. Over the footpath-stile into trees, go left to another stile. Over this, walk to the footpath-bridge under an old willow. Over this, bear right to the farmyard footpath-gate. Through this, cross the yard. Past the left farmhouse, cross the drive to 1½ wooden footpath-gates. Through these, follow the tractor track to the footpath-gate. Through this, keep straight on, rising past a solitary chestnut tree, to the left hedge’s footpath kissing-gate onto the railway track.

4 Very carefully, cross the track to the kissing-gate into King’s Court Palace field. Walk straight through King’s Court’s earthworks to the two-way pointer and gate into King’s Court Road. Continue to the B3081 Shaftesbury road. Cross and turn right. Take the left arrowed-footpath through houses to a turning-circle. Bear left. Past no-entry symbols posts, continue to blue barriers. Through these, turn right across the parking area into left-bending Wren Place (unsigned). At the end, past left wire-fence gates, walk straight down to the level grass path with left drainage ditches and right water-meadow plants. Ascend past left school grounds, with River Lodden below right, to the footpath kissing-gate.

5 Through, cross to 1½ gates/stile. Over the stile, follow the fenced path to the bridge/stile into another meadow. Cross to the Lodden tributary’s footpath-bridge. Over, cross to the trough and footpath-stile under a large oak. Over, cross to the hedge footpath-stile opposite the left house. Over, turn right along the lane to the B3092 with Madjeston House on the corner. Turn left, walking quickly, to the right ‘Eccliffe’ and ‘Kington Magna’ turning. Along here, immediately before right Madjeston Farmhouse, take the walled footpath, continuing through cow parsley into a wildflower area. Cross a footbridge and Irish Ford bridge. Through the footpath-gate into the field, turn left to the footpath-stiles or the gateway.

6 Through into the next field, follow the wildly-meandering left edge for about ½-mile, along the Lodden, then the Stour with Withy Wood opposite. Reaching a footpath-stile and footbridge, continue along the Stour and round left to another footbridge before the pumping station. Over, turn right. Under the railway bridge into a level field with ‘Public Footpath’ and right River Stour, follow the well-used path to the far left corner. Through the gap, go right through kissing-gates to Le Neubourg Way. Cross into the signed footpath. Past Chantry Ford cottage and over the footbridge, emerge into Town Square, pass The Phoenix Inn, turn right to High Street where you started.

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