Distance: 6 miles/8km
Time: 2 hours
Total climb: 520ft
Max height: 475 ft
Min height: 180 ft
Terrain: Track, path, field and road.
Exertion: Easy. Can be muddy and slippy, regardless of the weather.
Start: Haydon, St Catharine Parish church (Grid ref: ST670158, Postcode: DT9 5JB)
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil and Sherborne
How to get there: From the A30 turn off at Milborne Port to head to Goathill. Stay on the same road for about 1 mile to reach St Catharine Church on your left.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code. There are no stiles on the walk.
Refreshments: None on the direct route but plenty are available in the town of Sherborne.
The best place to park is next to St Catharine’s Church. It is a redundant church and privately owned so there is no public access, but it’s a wide part of the road. From the church walk towards the gates of Sherborne Estate. Head on through and follow the road until it splits and take the left hand fork. On reaching some large agricultural buildings, take the footpath that disappears behind the buildings and into the forest. Follow the path around and pass through a large metal kissing gate to enter the deer park.
The view opens up in front of you and Sherborne Castle can be seen below you through scattered oak trees. There is a high chance of seeing herds of deer as soon as you enter the park. Head down the hill to enter into woodland again and on your left appears the old keepers cottage. A lovely small thatched building that you wouldn’t be surprised to see in a fairytale.
Once past the cottage, continue straight to exit the park through another large metal kissing gate. Follow the bordered track for as far as you can see. Sherborne castle comes more clearly into view on your right, across the flat fields. The castle itself was built by Sir Walter Raleigh during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first. Originally she had bequeathed him the old Sherborne castle, which we encounter later on the walk. Sir Walter Raleigh, with great encouragement from his wife, decided that the old castle was not suitable for his family due to the constant renovations. So he decided to build the new castle on the site of the old hunting lodge. Gradually the old castle deteriorated and the new castle stole its name. Sir Walter Raleigh fell out of favour at court and after his execution in 1618, the property was seized by King James I. It was then passed on to Robert Carr, who died only 27 years later. Sherborne castle was then passed to the Digby Family who still own it today. The Old Castle is managed by English Heritage.
Once past the grounds you skim Sherborne town. The path takes you diagonally across the hillside to eventually meet the road. Cross straight over, keeping to the left hand side and then cross again, just before the railway, to enter through a metal gate into the river meadows, known as Purlieu Meadow. On your left sits the river Yeo. Its source is not to far north east of Sherborne, so it is little more than a big stream. However it is also the culprit of huge flooding further downsteam covering most of the Somerset levels, often seen on the news. Also the hill the path has just come down is geographically significant. All the rivers to the north of this hill, Sherborne side, flow into the Bristol Channel. In comparison those with their source on the south side of the hill travel to the English Channel.
Alongside the river on your right is the main London to Exeter railway. Follow it to the road and pass through another kissing gate. Turn left and staying on the pavement follow it over the railway and to the next junction. Cross straight over again and turn right to start heading out of Sherborne. On your right is Castletown, it is a small settlement that surrounded the original Sherborne castle and still contains some beautiful buildings such as Raleigh’s Lodge. It is worth a little diversion down Castletown Street and over the railway bridge, to admire the buildings and the gothic style church of St Mary Magdalene.
Back on the main road out of Sherborne, you pass the old Victorian water mill that saved many lives after the river Yeo contaminated the local system. Stay on the pavement until you meet a road turning left. Turn off the main road and head straight over the smaller road to join a track opposite taking you steeply up the hill. Pass the garage on your left and continue straight on to join a bridleway. Once you have gained some height, turn around to appreciate the view back to the old castle. Its large gate tower is the most prominent but in the summer months can be hidden in the foliage.
Follow the bridleway up the hill to join the A30. Cross the road and continue down another track with a house on your right hand side. When the paths fork, take the permissive path on your right. This follows the gradient of the hill until you tun 90 degrees and are faced with a drop into the village of Oborne.
On meeting the road turn right and head back to the A30. Turn right, cross over and turn left passing St Cuthburt old chancel (built in 1533) on your right. Once used by monks from Sherborne Abbey, it is now hidden in almost plain site from the busy A30.
Head to the railway and walk under its small archway to enter into the field. Diagonally cut across to reach another kissing gate and straight across to meet another farm gate. Then head up the hill to enter the woods. Again follow the gradient of the hill through the woods to exit out to face two large imposing stone gate posts and an extensive stone wall.
This marks the entrance back into Sherborne estate. Now hidden among the trees and only seen by those that live here, walk here or annually visit the Sherborne Fair from the north east. The stone pillars would have once faced a very different view. Crossing in front of these gates is Pinford Lane, it is an old medieval road that once connected Sherborne, passing right in front of the old castle via Castleton Street, to Shaftesbury and on to London. It would have been a busy route and any passing traffic would have seen these stone towers. The rest of this ancient route is hard to follow, not only because of its age but because of agricultural and other human intervention on the land. The rather dominating position of the A30 can also distract you from the it’s original path.
Adding more evidence to this ancient track, Roman remains have been found including coins, pottery, brooches and beads.
Head to Pinford Farm and turn right into a field, crossing the River Yeo via a footbridge. Climb up the other side and through another large kissing gate, taking you back into the deer park. Continue straight up the hill – probably the hardest part of the walk. Pass some farm buildings on your right and walk around to the left to another gate out of the park. Cut straight across the field and back to the same road you started on to return through the original gates and back to your vehicle.