The Bull, Sturminster Newton

Distance: 3 1/2miles/5km

Time: 1.5 hours

Total climb: 260 ft

Max height: 400 ft

Min height: 160 ft

Terrain: Track, path, road and field.

Exertion: Easy. Some mud after rain.

Start: The Bull (Grid Ref: ST785136, Postcode DT10 2BS).

How to get there: The pub sits on the opposite side of the road to the bridge on the A357.

Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.

From the pub, immediately turn left to start walking up the small country road towards Broad Oak. It’s a bit of a climb but best to get the hardest bit of the walk out the way first.

As you climb up the hill, on your right is the remains of Sturminster Newton Castle. It sits on private land, so unfortunately is not allowed to be explored. It was given as a gift from Henry VIII to his sixth wife Katherine Parr in 1543. The ruins have not changed much in 100 years. It is thought that there was once an Iron Age hill-fort that the castle sits on the edge of. The site most likely having been reoccupied from the late Saxon period. Although no-one knows exactly where, legend has it that there is a well near the castle, in which is a hidden wealth of treasure! Also a large object made of solid gold is also said to be buried in a nearby tunnel!

As you continue up the hill you enter Broad Oak, a small pretty village with houses varied in age either side of the small road.

When the road splits, take the left hand fork. Keep your eyes peeled through the trees, as your height now provides you with good views back to Sturminster Newton.

When you reach a farm on your right, turn left into a small car park and enter into Piddles wood. Piddles wood is a SSSI, dominated by oak woodland and coppiced hazel. The paths can be quite muddy having been churned up by many users. However, in drier months is a good place for bike rides.

Keep to the tracks and follow the signs to Fiddleford Mill (not Fiddleford!). The last bit of the walk takes you down the steepest bit before then meeting the A357.

On meeting the road, turn right and cross straight over, onto a small country lane. Fiddleford Mill is worth a little diversion. Owned by English heritage, it is free to visit. It is one of three mills along the Stour in this area including Cutt Mill and Sturminster Mill, both further upstream. None of which are working but all possible to explore. Fiddleford Mill was once a hiding place for liquor, spices and other contraband for smugglers in the area.

Back on the route, follow the road around to the left to pass Fiddleford manor. This is privately owned but is one of the oldest buildings in Dorset.

Make your way though the old barns and onto the bridge across the river. This spot is a popular fishing and wild swimming area. Here you have a choice to either to turn left and  follow the  river upstream via the Stour Valley Way back to Sturminster, or, by turning right and following the river downstream to join the old Somerset and Dorset railway-now the Dorset trailway.

Once on the trailway turn left. The Somerset and Dorset railway, that originally stretched from Bath to Poole, is now an accessible trailway. It currently connects Sturminster Newton to Blandford but there are plans/hopes to expand.

The trailway brings you back into the town via a large car park. Walk to the top of the car park and take the footpath that is opposite the vehicular access. You exit out into the oldest part of the town. Turn left and walk down the hill. You pass the old Sunday school gates on your right, the interior, now residential properties.

Continue down the road as it appears to shrink and becomes quite narrow. Look out for all the characterful properties, spanning hundreds of years-brick, cob, thatch and tiled all intermingled. Also look out for one wall in particular. Fossils, animals, insects, rocks and treasure have all been built into it. Even a skull.

Follow the road around (passing the exit of the footpath had you taken the Stour Valley Way route) and it turns into a footpath leading you to the church. Walk straight on though the graveyard, to exit out onto another small road. Continue to walk straight on through to meet the main road into town. Turn left to head down the hill to the bridge.

As you approach the bridge Sturminster Newton Mill is visible on your right hand side. The bridge itself was built in 1500 and recorded as being one of finest in Dorset. It has 6 arches and immortalised by the poem ‘On Sturminster Bridge’ by Thomas Hardy who, for a short while, lived in the town. However, this poem could also be relating to Colber Bridge on the other side of Sturminster, but is just as relevant on this spot.

On Sturminster Bridge
Reticulations creep upon the slack stream’s face
When the wind skims irritably past,
The current clucks smartly into each hollow place
That years of flood have scrabbled in the pier’s sodden base;
The floating-lily leaves rot fast.
On a roof stand the swallows ranged in wistful waiting rows,
Till they arrow off and drop like stones
Among the eyot-withies at whose foot the river flows;
And beneath the roof is she who in the dark world shows
As a lattice-gleam when midnight moans.

Crossing the bridge, directly in front of you is the location of the castle. Be mindful of traffic and cross the road to return to the pub.

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