A ramble around Shire Rack and Mistleberry Wood

PUBLISHED: 10:49 25 March 2019

The track into Chase Wood with Handley Common on the left

The track into Chase Wood with Handley Common on the left


This lovely spring walk along the Dorset/Wiltshire border takes in some glorious views accompanied by a chorus of birdsong

Former BBC producer Desmond Hawkins said about historic Cranborne Chase: ‘It is easier here than in most places to make contact with older England and to trace the patterns of history and prehistory. Though time has not stood still on the Chase, its hours have chimed with a slow deliberation that lags behind the sharper pace of modernity’.

With the uplifting songs of countless birds and the overheated discussions of parliaments of rooks, this delightful walk is one to be enjoyed alone or with a walking companion who knows when to be quiet.

We will visit the pretty hamlet of Deanland, cross high fields with extensive views, explore the ancient woodland of Cranborne Chase with plantations of hazel and maple coppice, follow the Wiltshire/Dorset boundary path known as Shire Rack, and discover the unfinished Iron Age hillfort in Mistleberry Wood.

The walk

1. From the car park, go through the footpath-signed kissing-gate into Garston Wood where the birds are in full song in spring. Past the first left turning, continue ascending to another left turning with a right bench. Keep straight on to the facing kissing-gate with red ‘Sixpenny Handley Round Walk’ (SHRW) arrow. Through and out of Garston Wood follow the path into a wide field.

Cross the field to the facing hedge’s right end. Turn left behind the hedge onto the bridleway-arrowed farm with a right field. Follow the track into a second field. Past left Rookery Cottages, the track swings left to some barns, signed ‘Private’. But keep straight on into the bridleway-signed grass track along the field‘s edge, following electricity wires.

Mistleberry Wood hillfort's ditch and bankMistleberry Wood hillfort's ditch and bank

2. Reaching the tracks’ T-junction, with barns left and Upwood House ahead, turn right onto the bridleway-signed fenced track to a gates’ junction. Go straight into the sunken, tree-lined and garlic-edged hollow-way track. Continue. Descending to a right bend, walk straight into the unsigned path down alongside the left hedge. Emerging into Deanland, opposite Kete Cottage, turn left along Dean Lane with lovely cottages and The Barleycorn House which was once the village pub. In ½ mile, with a footpath-gate on the right corner, take the right bridleway-signed sunken and tree-lined rising track. Near the top, see the drove’s cobbled surface, with Sixpenny Handley church tower left, and debating rooks way over to your right.

3. Emerging into a lane with an opposite footpath-stile, turn right. With large valley fields left, reach left Barber’s Close Farm. Right Barber’s Coppice is the home of that parliament of rooks. Past more cottages and farm barns, continue into the fenced grass track with one of several ‘Keep Dogs on Leads’ signs. It’s a bridleway and ‘Hardy Way’ with Handley Common fields left and narrowing towards ‘Rushmore Estates’ Chase Woods. Continue along the woodland track, ascending slowly with incessant bird twittering. In ¼ mile, at a crossing with a right-corner SHRW and bridleway arrow-post with bridleway and SHRW arrows, turn right onto the rising grass track with left pines.

4. At the top, follow the right bend, ignoring the sharp-left turn. Follow the ‘Footpath Only’ wide grass track. This is Shire Rack. The left coppice, then pine wood, are in Wiltshire. During the next two miles, you may notice eroded remnants of the flint and turf boundary ditch and bank. Keep straight on, ignoring all side shoots. After a crossing, pass a deciduous larch and descend to a forest track with a backward ‘Footpath Only’ notice and a multiple arrow post opposite. Cross the track and ascend the red SHRW arrowed valley-side path. Continue straight up through coppice and reach a fenced left field. Keep straight on with Wiltshire field and woods views, and West Chase Farm’s white house, left. Notice increasing amounts of butchers’ broom, offspring of the spiky bushes used along Shire Rack. Descend to West Chase Farm’s drive, cottages and footpath entrance left.

5. Cross over to the bridleway-track but take the instant-right narrow footpath and SHRW path on the right corner. Ascend steeply between the right fence and left (Wiltshire) wood’s edge. Through the top wood, continue alongside a left field. In another 300-plus yards, Mistleberry Wood’s hillfort’s bank, ditch and pits are in the trees to your right. Continue along the meandering path alongside the left field to the footpath and bridleway T-junction with Garston Wood‘s gate facing. Turn left to the bridleway-gate, but don’t go through. Turn right onto the SHRW-path along Garston Wood’s deer fence, with the flinty bank of Shire Rack left. Finally, down to the Bowerchalke road, arrowed back ‘footpath’, turn right along Garston Wood’s fence-path back to the car park where you started.

The sunken track towards DeanlandThe sunken track towards Deanland

Distance: 5 miles/8 km

Time: 3½ hours

Exertion: Fairly gentle. Lots of level walking

Start: RSPB’s Garston Wood Nature Reserve car park on Bowerchalke road from Sixpenny Handley (Grid Ref: SU003195)

Public Transport: None

Dogs: On leads where there is livestock and in accordance with specific notices encountered on the walk and The Countryside Code.

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