Dorset walk around Leigh and Hilfield
PUBLISHED: 12:21 07 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:21 07 May 2014
Edward Griffiths enjoys an early spring walk through the beautiful Blackmore Vale
Distance: 6½ miles (10.5 km)
Time: 5 hours
Exertion: Overall, not too strenuous but some fields can appear fairly steep. Expect mud on some tracks and through Hermitage Woods.
Start: Leigh Village Hall in Chetnole Road, parking is permitted (Grid Ref: ST620086)
Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194
Public Transport: Damory Coaches 212 Yeovil to Dorchester. Not Sundays
Dogs: On leads in fields with livestock and on roads
Refreshments: Chetnole Inn, Chetnole and the White Hart, Yetminster for lunches and bar meals. There is also the Bridge Garage Shop in Leigh.
Ah, Blackmore Vale in early spring. You can almost hear the cattle, having over wintered in their cosy barns, sighing with anticipation of being let out into Thomas Hardy’s ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’ to graze the lush green grass again. Of course, for the grass to be this lush, it has to have rain, and that means some of Blackmore Vale’s footpaths and bridleways tend to be somewhat muddier than other parts of Dorset. That being said, your compensation for any muddy tracks you meet will be ancient woodland with its inevitable bird-song and maybe the odd deer, glorious countryside and wide views over pastureland to nearby Batcombe Hill, Telegraph Hill and Gore Hill at 265 metres. There is also easy country lane walking, there are some historic stone cottages to admire in Leigh and there are superb views from the lovely little church in Hilfield.
1 Leaving the Village Hall, walk east to the road junction with surrounding historic stone cottages and its 15th-century cross. Keep straight on, pass right Miz Maze, cross the river bridge and take the right Batcombe road. Pass left Club Corner Cottages and follow the hedged lane, over the bridge, past right and left footpaths and left Riverside Farm. Pass a left gated track and right Hunts Bridge Farm, a right lane before a left bend and a right thatched farmhouse. Down now, with wide field views, pass a right turn and left footpath. In 100 yards, take the wide, hedged left bridleway-signed track before the cottage.
2 Through the far gate, bear half-right across the wide field, passing 50 yards left of the solitary oak, to the bridleway half-gate under trees in the far corner. Through the next gate, follow the right hedge. In 100 yards, go between two right oaks into the adjacent field and follow the left hedge to the corner bridleway-gate. Through, continue up the left hedge to the bridleway-signed gate onto Hilfield Lane opposite Paper Hill Copse. Turn right. Down the hedged lane and up to the tree-lined T-junction. Turn left for ‘Hilfield’. Enjoy the gentle downhill stroll with views to the Batcombe Hill range. Past Knapp Farm, start ascending, passing a right footpath. Over the top, descend slowly, with Hilfield Church forward left across the fields.
3 Down to the T-junction, turn left for ‘Hermitage’, passing Church Farm. Visit St Nicholas’ Church on the right, and continue along the hedged lane, meandering to and through Manor Farm. Passing under a big old oak, continue to the only right cottage. Only 100 yards after this, take the right footpath-stile. Over this, aim half-left across the field, well away from the farmhouse, to the hedge’s footpath-gate. Through, turn right to the paddock stile and cross to the hedge gate. Through, bear ¼ left up the field, bearing away from the drive’s trees, to the fenced enclosure’s stile. Cross to the second stile and cross the field to twin footpath-stiles under an ash. Over, follow the fenced path between houses to the road.
4 Cross to the footpath kissing-gate into the field. Cross to the far left corner’s footpath-stiles. Over these, continue to the far corner footpath-stile onto the lane with right School House and a bridleway and footpath junction pointer. Cross into the gated bridleway-track running along the inside edge of Hermitage Wood. This becomes quite wet, but press on, picking your way through adjacent scrubby bushes on drier ground. Pass a left gate and a right turn, and eventually reach a facing bridleway half-gate into a field. Follow the field’s right edge, then becoming enclosed for 250 yards. Go through the left bridleway half-gate into the field and bear half-left across to the facing hedge, following it left and round to the bridleway half-gate near the far corner.
5 Through, cross the field half-right to the gated bridge. Over this, ascend slightly right to the hedge’s bridleway half-gate into the enclosed path. Follow the hedge down into the corner and turn right along the second side with the left narrow wood. In 200 yards, find the narrow left path through the wood to the gated stream-bridge. Over this, follow the right trees and hedge up the field to the bridleway-gate onto a hedged track. Arriving at Totnell Corner T-junction, cross straight into the ‘Leigh ½’ road and stroll down the hill. Past left Batcombe road and Miz Maze, and right Bridge Garage Shop, continue to Leigh Cross and fork left back to the Village Hall.