Sir Walter Raleigh was an adventurer-cum-privateer, navigator, courtier and poet. His lasting legacies include tobacco and potatoes. A Devon man, born in 1552, he came to the attention of Queen Elizabeth I. Consequently he sailed off to the Americas to claim new lands for her and to plunder Spanish treasure ships along the way. By the time he returned, in 1587, his light at court was being outshone by the youthful 2nd Earl of Essex.
Raleigh, then around 40, fell madly in love with the much younger Elizabeth Throckmorton, the Queen’s maid of honour. She became pregnant and they married in secret. When the Queen found out, she was furious and imprisoned them both in the Tower of London briefly, before banishing them from her sight. Raleigh had earlier acquired the Norman castle at Sherborne, formerly owned by the Bishop of Salisbury. He moved there with Elizabeth and their child, but the old castle proved inadequate. In 1594 he built a new, fashionably square house with corner towers on the opposite riverbank. He constructed water gardens and a bowling green, planted exotic trees brought back from his travels and entertained London friends. It is said he loved Sherborne ‘above all his possessions, of all places on earth’. But he went to sea again, this time to explore the coast of Trinidad and the Orinoco River, joining in the Sack of Cadiz in 1596. His role as Governor of Jersey in the Channel Islands also took him away from home in 1600. In 1603, perceived as a threat to the new monarch after the death of Elizabeth, Raleigh was sentenced to death. This was commuted to life imprisonment and, after 13 years in the Tower (which he spent writing poetry and compiling a history of the world), he was released to return to the Orinoco in search of gold, now accompanied by his son, Wat. Despite explicit instructions from James I not to attack the Spanish (except in self-defence), some men under Raleigh’s command near the Orinoco did just that. Furthermore, his son was killed in the skirmish. On his return, Raleigh had to carry the can – the 1603 treason charge was revived. On 19 October 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh ate a hearty breakfast and took tobacco.
Cavalier and poetic to the last, he refused a blindfold and asked to see the executioner’s axe, saying, ‘This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all Diseases’. His body was buried in nearby St Margaret’s, Westminster. As was then the custom, his wife was given his embalmed head. The head was finally buried next to the rest of him. Since Sir Walter’s time, Sherborne Castle has been enlarged and modified. Today it is a charming mansion in a lakeside setting, ringed by woods and parkland.
With the church on your left, walk down the road and out of Haydon. At the junction continue ahead, signposted ‘Bishop’s Caundle’. At the minor junction cross the stile, and continue straight ahead. Turn right, up the field-edge, towards Alweston. Cross a stile by a fingerpost and bear diagonally left over the field (if there’s a potato crop, or similar, in the field you’ll have to skirt around it). Cross a stile in the corner, go down a path and keep straight on down the road, which curves round past a restored pump to meet the A3030.
Turn right, and in 30yds (27m) turn left over a stile in the hedge. Go straight over the field to a gap. Bear diagonally right over the next field to cross a stile just to the right of where power lines leave the field. Continue straight ahead to the left of the hedge, crossing several stiles and footbridges. Continue along the wall towards Folke church. Cross two stiles, go through a gate, and turn right up the lane into the village, passing the church entrance and a raised pavement on your right. At the junction keep left, by a postbox, then follow the lane as it bends round to the left.
Follow the road as it bends left by Pleck Cottage, then turn right up a green lane signed as a bridleway. Follow this for a mile (1.6km), gently ascending. It becomes broader, reaching the main road.
Turn left, then right through the gate alongside The Lodge, up a track. This leads down through woods, with the park wall to your right. Where the drive sweeps right by a cottage, keep straight on, down a track, to pass sports fields on your left. Continue through trees, cross a road and go through a kissing gate by a lodge onto a tarmac path. Follow this down a steep valley (formed by centuries of foot erosion) to the main road. Take the path immediately right, through a metal kissing gate, and walk around the slope and above the castle gateway.
Pass through a gate into Sherborne Park. Follow the grassy track straight ahead, downhill. Go through a kissing gate and straight ahead on an estate track, with views of the castle. The track runs through a wooden gate to a thatched lodge, and up the hill.
At the top keep right, through another gate into woods. Follow the track round. Keep straight on to a concrete path and pass a huge farm shed on your left. Follow the access lane ahead, past a weighbridge, and straight on at the junction. Descend through the lodge gate and straight on to return to your car.
Country lanes, green lane, field paths, estate tracks
Gentle hills and dairy villages south of Sherborne, open parkland, woodland
Some road walking; on leads in the Deer Park
OS Explorer 129 Yeovil & Sherborne
On road by church, Haydon village, 2 miles (3.2km) southeast of Sherborne
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
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.