A chance to embrace the pioneer spirit in charming frontier-style porched cedar cabins and…
Child Okeford and Hammoon are just two of the mysterious names of the villages around the green meadows of the Stour Valley. Child Okeford, in the shadow of Hambledon Hill, is one of a triumvirate of Okefords. To the south lies pretty Okeford Fitzpaine, and the nearby quarrying village of Shillingstone was known as Shilling Okeford in the days when it boasted the highest maypole in the country. Hammoon sounds faintly exotic or romantic, but in fact the name comes from William de Moion, a Norman nobleman who was rewarded after the Conquest with a section of low-lying meadowland (or ‘hamm’). The family name was later spelt Mohun (which became the ‘moon’ element of Moonfleet, down by Chesil Beach). The hamlet of golden-brown stone buildings that is clustered round the stump of an old cross is still called Hammoon.
There is more to Hammoon than meets the eye. Tucked behind the church, the venerable Manor Farm is particularly appealing, with tiny windows cut into the deep thatch of its roof and the 17th-century addition of a magnificently carved classical porch complete with grand columns. Next door to Manor Farm is the charming little Church of St Paul’s, topped with a weathered, wooden bellcote. Step through the massive oak door into a harmonious interior that is not quite what it seems. Fragments of 13th-century flooring are preserved under the bell tower, but the church is probably another century older. The deeply carved reredos (the screen behind the altar) dates from the late 14th or early 15th century. It was discovered in a builder’s yard in London and was installed here in 1946. Another improvement at that time was the addition of the lovely 16th-century choir stalls, carved with flowing vines and grapes – these came from East Anglia.
There’s one more surprise on this walk. Ham Down Woodland Burial Ground is on the site of a former vineyard. It is a ‘green’ burial place where there are no denominational barriers and no statues. Coffins and memorial plaques are required to be strictly biodegradable, and your loved one’s grave or scattering place can be marked with the planting of a tree (of an appropriate species for the locality) and a flush of spring bulbs.
Leave the car park and walk under the redundant railway bridge and turn immediately left. Go through the gate and follow blue markers up the farm road, passing Bere Marsh Farm. Pass a house on the left and go straight on through a gate.
Just after Bere Marsh Cottage, turn left through a gate, following a sign marked ‘Trailway’. Bear to the right of the burial ground, down a broad, grassy ride. Follow this bridleway (blue markers) straight across the fields for a mile (1.6km) to Hammoon. You will pass Diggers Copse on the right and, initially, the bridleway runs along the line of a former railway on the left. Turn right at a public bridleway sign to go immediately through a galvanised gate. The route is now straight ahead, though you will have to skirt round the field-edges if the fields are planted. After the fifth gate pass Downs Farmhouse. The track becomes a road. Bend left then right to emerge opposite the stump of an ancient cross. Cross over to look at Hammoon’s church and walk up the lane to admire the (private) Manor Farm.
Return to the main road and turn left. After crossing the weir climb a concrete stile on the right. Head across the field bearing right, away from the treeline, to meet the river. Cross a footbridge over a stream at the end of the field and look ahead for a glimpse of the red-brick Fontmell Parva House. Go diagonally right across the field to a gateway in the corner by the river (yellow marker) then bear right along the edge of the field, above the river. Go through another gate and after 400yds (365m) along the right-hand edge of the field, turn left to a line of trees. Follow waymarked directions along the right side of the trees, with self-storage sheds visible behind those to your left.
At the corner of the field go through a gate and down the lane. At the road turn right into Child Okeford (the Saxon Inn is further down here, on the left). At Mulberry House (just past the Bower turning sign) turn right and immediately follow the direction of a white wooden arrow in the grass on the left to access a path between wooden railings. Walk down an enclosed path, behind some houses, to go through a galvanised gate into a field. Continue along the left edge, go through another gate, and head along a path behind hedges.
Emerge at a lane and turn right. Soon turn left at a gate and follow a path between fences, then cross a field to four gates close together, keeping to the right side of a stream. Walk along the left edge of the field, go through a gateway and keep straight on. Go through two more gates then, ignoring a half-left path that leads to a footbridge in a copse, bear diagonally left in line with distant buildings across the field to reach a raised footbridge, high above the water. Cross this concrete bridge and keep straight on towards a bridge in the hedge. Cross over and bear left to the corner of the field, to return to the start.
Field boundaries, grassy tracks, firm road, grassy bridleways
Open farmland, dominated by Hambledon Hill
Some unfriendly stiles
OS Explorer 129 Yeovil & Sherborne
Trailway car park near old brick railway bridge
None on route
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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About the area
Dorset means rugged varied coastlines and high chalk downlands. Squeezed in among the cliffs and set amid some of Britain’s most beautiful scenery is a chain of picturesque villages and seaside towns. Along the coast you’ll find the Lulworth Ranges, which run from Kimmeridge Bay in the east to Lulworth Cove in the west. Together with a stretch of East Devon, this is Britain’s Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, noted for its layers of shale and numerous fossils embedded in the rock. Among the best-known natural landmarks on this stretch of the Dorset coast is Durdle Door, a rocky arch that has been shaped and sculpted to perfection by the elements. The whole area has the unmistakable stamp of prehistory.
Away from Dorset’s magical coastline lies a landscape with a very different character and atmosphere, but one that is no less appealing. Here, winding, hedge-lined country lanes lead beneath lush, green hilltops to snug, sleepy villages hidden from view and the wider world. The people of Dorset are justifiably proud of the achievements of Thomas Hardy, its most famous son, and much of the county is immortalised in his writing.
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