The 1994 film The Madness of King George did much to remind the world of a monarch whose identity had been obscured by time. In the Dorset town of Weymouth, however, he has never been forgotten. Weymouth is a trading port with a proximity to France that had left it vulnerable to raids. The town found new life in the 18th century as a base for trade with the Americas and the shipping of convicts to Australia. The 1780s saw the emergence of the cult of sea bathing (even seawater drinking), and Weymouth joined in. A royal visit in 1789, however, was to rocket the little town to the top rank of seaside resorts.
Rumours of George III’s mental instability were threatening to destabilise the country. Accordingly, it was decided that the King should go on a short and highly visible tour, to enable his subjects to see how much better he was. Weymouth was picked, and a six-day journey commenced for the royal party, which consisted of the King, the Queen and three princesses. It was a great build-up and, by the time they reached Weymouth, the crowds were ecstatic, with bunting, mayoral receptions and gunships firing salutes. The King responded with a short walkabout on his very first evening and the declaration that he ‘never saw a sight so pleasing’.
Any hopes that the King might have had of a quiet dip in the sea, however, were dashed a week later by the strength of local enthusiasm for the royal visitor. Even as his royal-crested bathing hut was being wheeled into the sea, a band hidden in a nearby bathing machine were waiting to burst into a loyal song as soon as the regal body hit the water. George III spent ten weeks here on his first visit, enjoying day trips to Lulworth, Milton Abbey and St Aldhelm’s Head, and sailing off Portland. The royal family returned two years later for a holiday and then returned every year until 1805. In 1808 John Rainier arranged for a symbol of the town’s loyalty and gratitude for the royal attention to be carved into the chalk downs above Osmington. A silhouette of the King on horseback was created, 324ft (99m) high, riding away from the town. Once clearly visible from Weymouth, Portland and ships out at sea, today the chalk figure is weathered and grey, but otherwise in very good condition.
From Osmington church walk down the village street of pretty thatched cottages. At the junction keep on down Church Lane. Opposite The Cartshed turn left up a steep flight of steps. The path then bears right and undulates through the trees. Cross a stile and continue straight along the hedge to the end of a field.
Cross a stile and turn right down through a hedge gap, and immediately climb a stile on the left. Slant down the field to a stile in the far bottom corner, meanwhile looking to your right to see the White Horse. Turn left, crossing a farm track, and go through a gate by a stile. Cross the next field to its far bottom corner, beside the River Jordan. Cross a stile and an earth ditch (parish boundary). Continue along the bottoms of two fields, next to the largely hidden river. Cross a track to a gate, and through it follow a track ahead, which bends right to cross the river. At once go through a small gate on the left. Continue towards Sutton Poyntz, taking a gate and then a path to the village street.
Turn right, passing the Mill House and the tall, red-brick mill on your left. Pass the village pond and just after the Springhead pub on the right, turn left along Mission Hall Lane and then right up a track past Springfield Cottage. Go through a gate with a pumping station on the right, and continue ahead. After the next gate, carry on along the track to just below the entrance to steep Spring Bottom Combe.
Cross a stile by a gate and turn left up a raking, grassy track. It passes a beacon erected in 2005 for the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. At the top of the steep slope, go through a gate and bear right beside a phone wire up to a hedge, and turn right along the scarp top. (From here you’ll follow signs ‘South Dorset Ridgeway’ back to Osmington.) Along the green track you pass numerous tumuli, or prehistoric burial mounds, with great views along the valley and down to Weymouth Bay and Portland. Through a gate at the head of Spring Bottom Combe, keep ahead to pass a tumulus with a dew pond, and take a narrow gate on the left to join a track signposted for Osmington. Soon this passes a trig point. Go through a gate and keep straight on, with a good view to strip lynchets (terraces) on the hillside ahead.
After the next gate bear down to the right, signed ‘Osmington’. The track leads down the hill, through a gate – look back to see the White Horse again. Follow the lane back up through the village to your car.
Farm and village lanes, woodland paths, field paths
Sheltered green valley behind coastline and chalky ridge of White Horse Hill
On leads when passing livestock
OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck & South Dorset
Roadside parking on Church Lane in Osmington, just off A353
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.