Stourton and Purse Caundle

  • Distance – 8 miles (A shorter walk is avaliable)
  • Duration – 2 1/2hours.
  • Exertion – Easy
  • Terrain – path and track. Can be wet underfoot.
  • Dogs – Be aware of livestock and keep to the countryside code. Deer present too.
  • Map – OS Explorer 129 – Yeovil and Sherborne
  • Start – Opposite the Trooper (parking limited) Postcode: DT10 2JW
  • Refreshments – The Trooper Inn, Stourton Caundle. (Receive a 10% discount as a Tess of the Vale member).

With the pub behind you, turn right up the hill. Stourton Caundle is only a small village but it has a large history. On the left is the old manor farmhouse and a small converted chapel. Opposite the chapel is the old school. As you wander between the houses, the old stone walls stand out with a few smaller bungalows having replaced the original buildings. Opposite the small road arriving from your right is an old barn, the door still used for notices. Continue straight ahead, passing the church on your right and on your left is another old stone wall. The shape of it is quite unusual, a slight turret like structure reaching out into the road. It is around this area where the old manor (or castle) possibly once stood.

After the church take the left signposted footpath, through a metal gate and into a field. Cut straight across the field to small gap taking you through the hedge. Turn left as if heading back into the village, as you do this you circle the possible castle location. Stourton Castle comes with its own legends. One previous owner, Lord Charles Stourton, was known for being short tempered. He got into an argument with a neighbour. As an apology, he invited the neighbour and his son to dinner at the castle (some say the neighbour was not there by his own will). Their host was not as hospitable as they expected. They were thrown into the dungeon and tortured until they were finally killed and their bodies hidden underground. The murder was exposed and he was arrested along with 4 servants. He was kept in the Tower of London and executed in Salisbury. But, surprisingly, his peerage still allowed him to be buried in Salisbury cathedral. There are no surface remains of this building, now having faded into history, but maybe the dungeons still exist!

After passing through the next hedge turn right and then left after the next boundary, zig zagging your way through the fields. Cut diagonally across the next field and then follow the left hand boundary until you reach the next hedge. Turn right and continue straight on, passing over a stile through some trees. As the next scene opens wide, continue straight on up, but refrain from gaining too much height as you then drop back down to the left to cross a small stream via a wooden bridge. Again climb straight on up to enter the next field.

This field seems to harbour some mystery. As it drops down to meet a river on your left, there also sits a collection of trees circling a pond. The ground itself rises and falls in random places hinting at old foundations, now buried and forgotten, maybe even representing a long disappeared settlement. As you walk on through, you meet a track that follows the northern boundary.

The northern track to Woodrow Farm

On reaching the track turn right reaching a farm and out onto a small country road. Turn right and then left to go through another farm gate and into a field. Continue to stay at the same gradient with thick forest, dropping away from you on your left. This woodland is full of wildlife, deer are often seen, and, on rare occasions, it is possible to catch sight of the elusive muntjac.

On arriving at the next road, turn left and follow it down the steep hill to reach the houses. Turn right to enter a field and go straight across. Here you arrive in the rear gardens of Frith House. Walk past the lakes and around to the left. Enter the next field and head for the opposite boundary. This route was originally the old road to London from Sherborne. It is now nothing more than a field boundary but it can partly be followed on an OS map and on Google satellite, incorporating tracks and existing roads.

The Old London Road

Cut through the farm and enter into Purse Caundle, a beautiful little village with a stunning Elizabethan manor, built in the shape of an E, to honour the original Queen Elizabeth. It was also the location of the Hollywood production of Far From The Madding Crowd starring Carey Mulligan filmed here in Purse Caundle in 2014.

Turn right at the road and follow it past the Elizabethan manor on your left. Look out for the impressive oriel window protruding from the building over the road. Also as you pass its drive, look out for the giant stone boar! Take the next turning on your left and pass through the farm buildings. Head through a gate and up the hill, forking slightly to your right.

Purse Caundle Manor House window

You then enter a forest, the fence marking the boundary between Somerset and Dorset. Head down the slope to meet a circle of yew trees. Yew trees were regarded, in pagan tradition, to be the path to the underworld, via their roots. When the Christians came to spread the word of Christianity, they tried to integrate themselves within the existing religious beliefs. This is why in many church yards you will find yew trees. It was a way in which the two religions could be combined. A place for worship of Christian beliefs and, in the same sacred ground, the pagan symbol of the yew tree. Before the churches were there, it would be under the yew tree that people would gather. Possibly this circle had some spiritual traditions associated with it at one time.

Circle of yew trees

Head through the wood, following the central track. The woodland is full of wildlife: badgers, foxes, deer and the elusive muntjacs!

A muntjac

As you near the end of the wood, the path takes you slightly down to the right, entering back into Dorset, to then join the road. Turn left and go through the next gate on your right to enter a field. Follow it down along the valley to reach another road. A small ruin marks the spot, hidden in the vegetation on your right.

Head straight on, ignoring the corners of the road and up the hill, past a house and barn. Take the next stile on the corner to your right. Climb on up the steep hill to cross the boundary to the next field. Here, at the top of the hill, you begin the descent back into Stourton Caundle. You are in good company too as you join a small stream making its way to Manor Farm. Geographically this hill is important: it marks the catchment of The River Stour. Ahead, you face the Stour Valley, where water is collected and transported to the English Channel via Christchurch. Behind is the catchment of the River Yeo, carrying its own water to the Bristol Channel via the famous, often flooded, Somerset Levels.

As you approach the river, and cross the stream, you enter a small, enclosed field marked by water either side. On your left is a track that returns to the lumps and bumps of the earlier field. Also hidden amongst the trees on the left of the track is another ruin, quite clearly a home, once upon a time. On your right, directly opposite the track, amongst the wild vegetation sits a small, crumbling brick structure. This could suggest that this route was more actively used in the past and maybe this was an original river crossing, a modest bridge, linked to these other anomalies in the landscape.

The old river crossing

Continue to follow the footpath parallel to the river as it continues downstream, keeping it on your left hand side. As you approach the farm look out for the lakes on your left and the old chapel, part of the original castle, that appears ahead of you. Both the chapel and the lakes mark another possible location for the mysterious castle. Divert slightly right to avoid the barns and turn left onto the farm track. Pass the manor on your right and over the bridge crossing the stream. Follow the track around to the road and turn right to return to the pub.

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