Dorset walk: Sydling St Nicholas and Ridge Hill
PUBLISHED: 11:40 03 January 2017
Edward Griffiths enjoys this bracing walk across chalk downland and is rewarded with magnificent vistas across the county
The chalk hills either side of Sydling St Nicholas rise to over 700ft in several places and the rainwater that filters down through the chalk feeds the substantial stream called Sydling Water. Even after seasonal downpours, the fast-draining hills above the village are a pleasure to climb. This lovely walk takes us over Shearplace Hill into Pond Bottom and up onto the Sydling Drove ridge, known as Ridge Hill, to enjoy a wonderful stroll with far-reaching views over delightful hills and dales.
• Distance: 4¼ miles (6.75 km)
• Time: 4 hours
• Terrain: Quite strenuous with three significant ascents and undulating downs and field paths. Some puddles after rain
• Start: The old chestnut tree near the village cross, park thoughtfully nearby (Grid Ref ST632994).
• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194
• Public Transport: None. First 213 no longer runs to Sydling
• Dogs: On leads as sheep graze the downs and the fields all year
• Refreshments: The Greyhound Inn, Sydling St Nicholas for bar meals, lunch or coffee
1. Walk down Dorchester Road passing the Village Hall. In 100 yards, take the signed footpath after the first left house. Over the Sydling Water footbridge and through the kissing-gate, walk up the field to the corner stile. Over onto a concrete track, turn right for ‘Huish’. Continue into the drive and along the grass track to the bridleway-gate into the hillside field. Through, follow the right hedge to the corner bridleway-gate. Through, cross the field with the right brook to the next bridleway-gate. Through, go down the thatched cottage’s drive, through the bridleway-gate and along the track past left barns. Follow the track, bending right and crossing the brook. Before twin-left cottages, take the left gated track with the left flint wall. Past Huish Farm’s left stone barns, through two more gates and the barn-yard, take the twin-gated, hedged chalk track, rising past right twin-cottages.
2. In 300 yards, through the bridleway-gate, bend left at the corrugated-iron roofed low stone barn and start a long ascent on the hedged concrete track. Stop often to admire the views back to Sydling St Nicholas and over the valley to Combe Hill. Reaching the top of Shearplace Hill, with bridleway-gates right and left, the diagonal bridleway across the right field shown on the O.S. map has been replaced by a better ‘Open Access’ route, so continue down the fenced track and through the gate into the field with the ‘Open Access’ information board. Continue down the track with the right fence, bending right into ‘Pond Bottom’ valley. After masses of left gorse, and as a corrugated-iron barn appears ahead, fork left on the grass track, aiming to continue behind ‘Raynard‘s Copse‘, the right wood. On the way up, all around are archetypal rolling hills and valleys, woods, sheep and deer.
3. Through the top corner half-gate onto Ridge Hill downs, go right, veering away from the right fence, aiming up to the top corner clump of trees. Arriving there, go through the 1½ bridleway-gates and walk along the left wood’s edge to the signpost at ‘The Turning Point’. Here five ancient tracks still meet from Dorchester, Sydling St Nicholas, Godmanstone, Frampton and Cerne Abbas as in the days of packhorses, pilgrims to Cerne Abbey, and other travellers. Now, double back to the 1½ gates. Back through onto the downs, follow the right hedge to the bridleway arrow-post and veer left to the facing hedge’s bridleway half-gate. Through, follow the left hedge up the field for 300 yards to the left ‘Higher City Farm 1½’ bridleway half-gate. Through, follow the right hedge to the gate leaving the ‘Access Land’.
4. In the next field, pass the ‘Sydling Drove’ pointer and enjoy the magnificent views over miles of fields, valleys and hills. Through the next gate, follow the track against the right hedge up the field and, passing into another field, start levelling out. The maximum height on this walk is in the right field at 223 metre (725 feet) and Higher City Farm now appears ahead. About ¼ mile before the farm, just past a four-way arrow-post, turn left onto the green track over the field. Descend into the steep valley, and follow the right hedge up the other side and over the top of Eastfield Hill into another field. Descend against the right hedge, with the Sydling valley, church and village straight ahead.
5. Through another bridleway-gate, follow the grass path down the steep field. Go through the next bridleway-gate and continue down the grass track. Through another hedge-gate onto the sunken, hedged bridleway chalk track, continue down, through 1½ gates and down to the ‘Huish’ concrete track where you came out of your first field earlier. Turn right for ‘Sydling St Nicholas’, emerging into Church Hill View at the village green. Follow the lane anti-clockwise around the green and down to the Sydling bridge. Leave East Street opposite the chestnut tree where you started.