Dorset walks: Ibberton Hill and Winterborne Houghton
PUBLISHED: 14:51 16 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:51 16 January 2014
Edward Griffiths enjoys an exhilarating ramble over the chalk hills and through the ancient woodland of this beautiful part of mid Dorset
Distance: 6¼ miles (10 km)
Time: 4½ hours
Exertion: Fairly strenuous with 650ft (200m) total ascent. Some mud after rain.
Start: Ibberton Hill parking area - posts too narrow for camper vans (Grid Ref: ST792072)
Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194
Public Transport: None
Dogs: On leads in fields in fields with livestock and in the Exmoor ponies’ valley
Refreshments: The Royal Oak in Okeford Fitzpaine for lunches and bar meals
This exhilarating ramble, over chalk hills, along wide open valleys and through ancient woods, is perfect for burning off those festive season pounds. We start at the top of Ibberton Hill because that’s where the early sun is. It doesn’t get into Winterborne Houghton (pronounced Howton) until later and, in Heath Bottom valley, the midwinter sun never shines at all. Here, you may come across some sturdy Exmoor ponies. If they follow you too closely, don’t worry a quiet ‘shoo!’ usually sends them back to their browsing.
Winterborne Houghton is a quiet village tucked away in a pleasant valley road. St Andrew’s Church is worth a visit, and there are some lovely thatched cottages scattered along the lane. You can enjoy a brisk walk on some of the tracks and the road through Winterborne Houghton, but slow down for the ascents on flinty and grassy tracks. It’s fairly strenuous, but the fantastic views at the top will richly reward for your efforts.
1 Take the unsigned, hedged track away from the road. Through 1½ gates, follow this track for ½ mile, with fine left views on the way. After passing a right gate, the track becomes grassier. Go through the end bridleway half-gate and another gate into the high field. Follow the usually-clear track straight on, as the left fence veers away. Already, there are super views. Past a right wood, continue on the track down the ridge crest, and pass the left end of another wood on the right valley’s flank.
2 From here, follow the descending track against the fence above the right valley. Under electricity wires, pass a bridleway-sign and go through twin-gates onto the farm track. Along here, pass a left bridleway half-gate and a ‘Private’ right track. Continue along the main track for ¼ mile. At a left bridleway half-gate, take the right bridleway-signed track, fenced half-way up, then clear up an enormous field. Continue up and across to a bridleway T-junction. Turn right along the track above the left valley. In ¼ mile, turn left at the bridleway-post. Follow the grass track down into the valley and continue alongside the right wood up the other side. You’re still in this enormous field.
3 Through the end bridleway-signed half-gate, cross the road to the opposite bridleway half-gate. Follow the fenced path to the half-gate into another valley field. Follow the grass track against the right hedge across and through the gate, then up and over the large field, with fabulous long-distance views, to the corner half-gate. Past the right opening, follow the right fence down the field, through a gate and down the next field. Past the right kissing-gate before a barn, go through the half-gate onto a short track down to the road with a bridleway-sign opposite. Turn right and walk through Winterborne Houghton, stopping to visit St Andrew’s Church.
4 Past the right ‘Bulbarrow’ turning, continue for another ½ mile to a facing narrow bridleway and a right bend. Go round the bend. Follow the bridleway-arrowed rising lane for ‘Higher Houghton Stables’ with left views to Park Woods and the lovely valley. The lane becomes hedged before passing some right cottages, left Higher Houghton Farm, Cobb Cottage and the stables. Here, keep straight on into the bridleway-track. After passing a thatched cottage and sheds, the bridleway-signed track bends right-left up into trees. Through two gates, follow the track into the wide valley, through another gate and along the slowly-ascending valley floor.
5 There are woods away to either side and ancient oaks and coppice alongside the track where the winter sun never shines. Probably after meeting the Exmoor ponies, go through the end half-gates and continue up the woodland track. At the other end, emerge out of the sun-less darkness and into the light. Follow the fenced path up to the bridleway T-junction. Turn right, still fenced, to a gravel area. Cross to the bridleway-post, then cross the road to the bridleway half-gate into a high field with fabulous views now you’re up on top again.
6 Follow the right fence over the field, passing a water-tank, with the beautiful country you’ve just explored away to your right. Through the corner bridleway half-gate, follow the fenced track to 1½ gates onto the farm track. Through the next bridleway-gate, cross the gated concrete yard past left barns and continue into the hedged track. Before the end 1½ gates, there are wonderful views over the Blackmore Vale. Reaching the road, turn right, signed for ‘Ibberton Hill’. Follow the road, enjoying the amazing views, back to the parking area where you started. n