The Swan, Sturminster Newton

From the Swan Inn wander through the town and down to the River Stour. Cross the water via Colber Bridge, a Victorian remnant of earlier life, to meet another old bridge that once carried the trains from Bath to Bournemouth. Explore the landscape of two Dorset Poets – William Barnes and Thomas Hardy. Both characters favouring this little section of the Stour Valley and featuring strongly in their work. Return to Sturminster via the crumbling Cutt Mill, with views down the river to Bulbarrow Hill.

Distance: 4 3/4 miles/7km

Time: 2 hours

Total climb: 300 ft

Max height: 275 ft

Min height: 150 ft

Terrain: Track, path, road and field.

Exertion: Easy. Some mud after rain.

Start: The Swan (Grid Ref: ST786142, Postcode DT10 1AR).

Map: Explorer 129 Yeovil and Sherborne

How to get there: From the A357, cross over the bridge into the town. The pub will be on the right.

Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code. No stiles.

Refreshments: The Swan at the start and finish of the walk as well as a number of other options in the town. Nearby is the delicatessen Olives et Al (10% off for members), perfect for picnics!

On leaving the pub, turn right and cross over the road. Take the next left hand turn, opposite the pedestrian street, and follow it down to the end. Much of the centre of the town was laid waste by fire in 1729 but a few 15th and 16th-century houses on its edges managed to survive. Walk though the old kissing gate and make your way down the hill to the River Stour.

At the bottom of the hill you arrive at Colber Bridge, a beautiful Victorian bridge and a popular wild swimming spot in the summer months. As you cross the bridge, on your right are the remains of the old railway bridge from the Somerset and Dorset Railway, the track of which you’ll follow either side on this walk.

From Colber Bridge fork right and enter the next field. Keeping the boundary on your left, continue up the hill and on turning around you can view Sturminster Newton on the hill behind. Slightly to the right of the town sits the two colourful houses of Riverside Villas, one of which was once inhabited by the famous Thomas Hardy. He and his wife Emma Gifford came to live here in 1876 when they were in their mid-thirties and described it as their ‘happiest time’.

The old railway bridge from Colber Bridge

At the top of the hill you join Stalbridge Lane. This is the old Sturminster Newton to Stalbridge Road which crosses the river Divelish. The road lost its use after the development of the turnpikes in the 18th century. Now it is nothing more than part farm track and part muddy route.

At the end of Stalbridge Lane you arrive at Bagber. This is a small scattered village along the country road. The famous Victorian poet William Barnes was born in Bagber at Rushay Farm, now a modern house, situated down the left hand road when you enter the village. Other, more ancient, buildings are clearly seen as you walk along the route. One in particular is Bagber Farmhouse which is on the right, at the end of Stalbridge Lane. William Barnes believed it was haunted!

Carry straight on and take the next right hand turn down a dead end road. Follow it over the old Somerset and Dorset Railway route, now buried in vegetation. On your right you can make out Hinton St Mary’s church on the hill in the distance. Pass a few farm buildings and you arrive at Partridge Farm which was once owned by William Barnes uncle. It was immortalised in many of William Barnes writings, where he speaks highly of the area, in old Dorset dialect.

Just before meeting the farm follow the footpath on the left between the house and farm buildings and follow it back down the hill to the River Stour.

Peeping through the trees as you approach the river is Cutt Mill. You know when you are getting closer to the river as you can hear it before you can see it. It is thought that this location has been the site of a mill since ancient times, recorded in the Domesday book too. It is now no more than a shell, susceptible to major flooding.

At Cutt mill you have a choice of either following the river south on the Stour Valley Way or by taking the higher route of the Hardy Way.

Taking the higher route, walk on up the hill and follow the signpost on the right directing you into the woods. At the top of the hill you skim the village of Hinton St Mary where a remarkable Roman mosaic was discovered by a blacksmith while digging a hole for his wife’s washing line. Now some of the findings are on display in the British Museum, most in storage.

Exit out of the woods and stay walking straight on with the woodland boundary on your right. The view of the river valley opens out in front of you with Bulbarrow Hill in the distance, clearly marked by the communication masts. William Barnes’ Pentridge Farm can be seen on the opposite side of the river on your right.

Cross straight over the field and over a small horse racing track. Meet the woods and then follow them up the hill to approach some barns. Turn right and follow the track to meet a road. Turn left and then right again to take the next footpath. Keeping the woods on your left, travel down the hill and into the trees through a small gate. Exit the woods and Sturminster Newton sits at the top of the hill on the left. Again you have a choice here, you could climb the hill and into the town to return to the pub or keep to the river. Staying on the river route you meet the remains of the old railway bridge which you first saw from Colber Bridge. Walk directly under the arches to return back to Colber bridge.

Head back on the route you started, up the hill and back through the kissing gate. Follow the road into the bustling market town and turn right to return to the pub.

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