Dorset walk with Edward Griffiths around Holt Heath
PUBLISHED: 14:54 19 March 2014 | UPDATED: 14:54 19 March 2014
Edward Griffiths enjoys an easy stroll on an ancient heath in East Dorset which is frequented by buzzards and flights of curlews
Distance: 5 miles (8 km)
Time: 3½ hours
Exertion: Easy. Some muddy patches after rain. No stiles
Start: Lay-by with Fire Access gate on south side of Holt Road, 2 miles east of Three Legged Cross (Grid Ref: SU051045)
Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195
Public Transport: None
Dogs: On leads near roads and during ground-nesting season on the heath
Refreshments: Old Inn at Holt, Cross Keys at Mannington and Barley Mow at Broom Hill for lunches and bar meals
For thousands of years, the area east and north-east of Wimborne Minster was ancient heathland, but these days only about 15% of this original area still remains. Holt Heath, within hailing distance of Ferndown, West Moors and Verwood, is a valuable remnant of this ancient landscape. Holt Heath is part of the vast Kingston Lacy estate, and its 400 hectares are an important wildlife habitat, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a National Nature Reserve. Historically, this whole area was grazed by livestock and, when this stopped, wild plants and animal species went into decline or disappeared altogether. As a result the National Trust has reintroduced grazing cattle and ponies to Holt Heath to reduce the scrub and control the dominant coarser grasses, allowing the rare plants and animals to flourish once more.
This lovely walk explores the open heath and woodland, following paths and tracks which have crossed or passed around the heath, to avoid the worst excesses of prolonged rainfall, for hundreds of years. So this is a good walk to do in view of the long wet winter we have had. Look out for buzzards and flights of curlews.
1 From the Fire Access gate and the Holt Heath information board, walk 50 yards west to the road-crossing bridleway. Turn left (south) on the bridleway-track across open heath with far ranging views. Just after a right pond, reach the National Trust Walk 12 ‘Point 2’ crossing. Turn right down the bridleway-track past pines and birches, later along the left fence. Entering Whitesheet Wood, ignore the right turning and all other side tracks. Reaching the facing 1½ National Trust (NT) bridleway-gates, enter Whitesheet Car Park area.
2 Turn left and follow the gravel track, past right turns into parking areas, to the Holt Heath sign and barrier-gate. Through the gate, follow the track, through another 1½ NT-gates, and along the right fence, leaving the wood on a probably muddy path. Down to right 1½ gates, go through and follow the left-fenced track, ignoring any right turnings back to the woods and a left turning as the fence ends. Continue across the heath for ½ mile to meet a major gravel forest track. The OS Map shows this as woodland, but it’s actually open heath now. Turn left along the main track.
3 In ¼ mile, turn right at a five-ways junction. With trees on your left, continue to 1½ gates onto the bridleway-drive with stables opposite. Turn left, passing yards and houses. Arriving at the facing timber yard buildings, go through left double-gates and turn right through the timber yard onto the, probably damp, fenced track under trees to a ditch-bridge and half-gate (Number 36) into deciduous woods. Follow the track, straight, then meandering out onto the heath as a narrower path, slightly elevated above boggy heath. Under electricity stanchion cables, go through facing 1½ NT bridleway-gates (35).
4 Then, past the ‘Castleman Trailway West Moors ½’ sign, go through facing 1½ footpath-gates onto the beech-hedged drive. Keep straight on, under pylon wires, past left NT-gates 34 and on through trees and passing a reverse Castleman Trailway board. Turn left onto the footpath-arrowed track, passing right kennels, with heath left. Back under pylon wires, pass right bungalows and left NT-gates 33. Continue along the drive and past left NT-gates 32. In another 250 yards, the drive turns sharp right. Go straight on through the NT half-gate with a left footpath. Keep straight on along the bridleway through trees with right ditch and fence and left heath.
5 Through holly trees, emerge under stanchion cables at a low bridleway-post. Go straight onto the sandy heathland track, bending right at the left pond and continuing around sweeping right curve, Then meander generally north to ‘Point 5’ where your track bends left, becoming roughly parallel with the Holt road. Ignore right turnings, pass ‘Point 4’ and a right and left turn. At an open grass area, the track bends left, but keep straight on to cross ‘Forest View House’ track onto the bridleway-signed track under trees with paddocks either side.
6 Reaching the tracks’ T-junction, turn left away from the road. In 50 yards, at the ‘NT Walk12’ post, turn sharp right onto the track. The track bends right and left, then descends with Holt road right, to the low ‘Point 3’ bridleway-post. Turn left onto the heath again. Follow this track for ¼ mile to meet ‘Point 2’ bridleway crossing. Does it look familiar? This is where you came from the lay-by. Turn right for ¼ mile on the bridleway-track back to the road where you started.