Dorset walk around Rawlsbury Hill Fort and Bingham’s Melcombe
PUBLISHED: 10:45 21 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:11 05 October 2017
Edward Griffiths enjoys a walk between two historic sites, a Grade I listed country house dating from the 16th century and an Iron Age hill fort with panoramic views
Beautiful Bingham’s Melcombe House is an architectural historian’s dream, given six pages and thirteen photographs in the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments Dorset Volume ‘Central Part 2’, so there‘s not enough room here to tell you all about it. What I can tell is that this Grade I listed property that dates from the 16th century is still a private home, so please respect the owners’ privacy as you pass through the estate. Rawlsbury Hill Fort is a four-acre Iron Age fort with two banks and ditches 780ft above sea level. Between these two historic sites, this walk takes you over chalk ridges with fine views of rolling countryside, forested hills and deep valleys, and passes through several lovely villages including Hilton with its church’s rare dole table and sundial, Melcombe Bingham and Ansty.
• Distance: 6¼ miles (10 km)
• Time: 5 hours
• Exertion: Quite strenuous. Two steep ascents and several stiles. Mud after rain.
• Start: Triangular parking area west of twin masts on Bulbarrow Hill (Grid Ref: ST775057)
• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194
• Public Transport: None but Damory Coaches 311 goes to Melcombe Bingham (on Point 4) from Dorchester - except Sundays
• Dogs: On leads in fields with livestock and on roads
• Refreshments: The Fox at Ansty for lunches and bar meals
1 From the triangle, walk along the ‘Ansty’ lane. Down to the T-junction, double-back left for ‘Bulbarrow and Blandford‘. In about 200 yards, at the right bend, take the right bridleway-gate into a long track with left hedge and right fenced field. Go through the first of four gates in the long ridge fields, keeping the hedge left. Through the end bridleway half-gate, turn right at a multi-arrowed post. Follow the right hedged track down with lovely views on the way. Becoming Tarmac at a right thatched cottage, continue down into Hilton. Emerging from ‘The Knapp’, cross the Milton Abbas road to All Saints’ Church.
2 Into the churchyard, follow the path up past the dole table and round behind the west tower. Follow the paved path to the gate onto a track. Cross another track to the ‘Aller’ bridleway-signed field. Follow the right hedge up to the ‘bridleway and footpath’ half-gate. Through, walk half right up the footpath through the woods to the top fence-stile. Into the long field, cross to the hedge-stile left of wooden fencing. Over, cross the road to the two-way footpath stile by a gate. Into another high field, bear half-right down to the gate/stile into a steep woodland track to a crossing track. Turn left down through the woods, becoming sunken with hart’s tongue ferns. Continue down to emerge at a lane’s bend. Turn right.
3 In 75 yards, on the right bend, take the left footpath-signed kissing-gate into a field. Turn left, along the right pond fence, to Bingham’s Melcombe footpath-bridge over Devil’s Brook. Then, continue along the grass track with St Andrew’s church left and the Dower House right. After the church, continue along the gravel drive. Past the left drive, follow the right wall around a right corner. Pass the left ‘Private’ drive and take the instant left footpath-stile in the hedge. Over, turn half-right. Past a footpath-post. ascend the field diagonally to the footpath-post outside the top wood. Walk through to the footpath-stile. Over, follow the left fence with Melcombe Bingham ahead.
4 At the fence’s end footpath-arrow, cross the field diagonally right to the gate onto a track between cottages. Emerge at the ‘Bingham’s Melcombe’ sign. Turn right through Melcombe Bingham, passing the left ‘Melcombe Park Farm’ turning and the Old Brewery Hall. Well past The Fox Inn, take the left footpath-signed stile 100 yards after the de-restricted speed sign. Bear half-right over to the hedge-stile and continue across the second field to the footpath-stile in the right hedge onto the road. Turn left. At the left bend, turn right for ‘Pleck Lane’. Past right ‘Brightsmead’ lane, turn left for ‘Pleck’.
5 Past left cottages, follow the hedged lane, soon with glimpses of Rawlsbury Hill-fort against the forward right skyline. After more cottages, the lane narrows and rises slowly to Rawlsbury Farm. Walk straight through, past the farmhouse and barns, to the far side enclosed track. Down to a gated area with right and left ponds, go over the bridge and through the left of two facing gates, bridleway arrowed. Nearing Rawlsbury Hill Fort, walk up the field to the facing deep hedge’s gateway. Through into a steeper field, go straight up at first before swinging right, even steeper, to the ‘Wessex Ridgeway’ gate. Through, continue ascending, at first keeping the fort’s banks and ditches left.
6 Reaching the ditches and banks of the hill fort, ignore the left fork but follow the top of the outer bank. Through a bridleway half-gate in the ditch, follow the path below the left ‘cross’ and above Bulbarrow Hill’s valley head. Fork left up to the two-way ‘Wessex Ridgeway Okeford Hill 3½’ half-gate onto the road. Turn right up the hill, passing the left ‘Woolland’ turning, back to the starting triangle.