Distance – 5.75 Miles/9 km
Time – 2.5 hours
Total climb – 350ft
Max height – 250ft
Min height – 110ft
Terrain – Track, path, road and field.
Exertion – Easy
Start – Lay-by on the eastern edge of the village next to the village hall, helpfully marked by a post box. (Grid ref: SU033075, Postcode: BH21 7JA).
Map – OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury and Cranborne Chase.
How to get there – Follow signs to Horton from either the A31 Poole to Southampton road or the B3078 Wimborne to Salisbury road.
Dogs – On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code. A number of stiles to cross, some may require lifting your dog over.
Refreshments – None on route. To the north of the village, on the B3078, is the popular Horton Inn.
Walking towards the village, staying on the pavement, head to the old town pump on the opposite side of the road. It is instantly recognisable thanks to its unique design. Cross the road and head over the stile into your first field. Immediately you enter into a landscape of historical significance. It is the location of the old Horton Abbey. Abbey House is on your right hand side and is said to be remnants of the abbey itself. The hollow ahead of you is alleged to be haunted by a monk who once lived in the Abbey.
Also on your right hand side you can make out the parish church tower of St Wolfrida, named after a Saxon priestess from the abbey. The church tower is said to have been designed by John Vanbrugh, who was working on nearby Eastbury House, in Tarrant Gunville. Both the building of the tower and the development of Eastbury House match in date (early 18th century) strengthen this argument. Vanbrugh is especially famous for designing Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard – both used in screen adaptations of Queen Victoria.
Head past the trees, over another stile and continue up the hill. Skirt the deep hollow, not only to save effort, but to avoid disturbing any other invisible monks! The tower looms above you, but walk away from it, heading to the far left hand corner of the field. Once over the next stile, turn right on the track to head for the tower. As you approach it, you soon see a small gate that allows you access.
The Sturt family owned the manor at Horton and it was Lord Humphrey Sturt, MP for Dorset 1754 to 86, who built Horton tower. It is a triangular folly, made from brick. It contains 6 storeys and is 140ft high. At the time of its construction it was the tallest secular building in Britain. The reason for its existence was for Humphrey to watch the hunts when he became too old to ride. However, he was 25 in 1750, when it was built, so maybe it was just for fun too, and because he could. They were hugely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries so maybe it was purely to impress.
Over time it fell into disrepair, but other uses have been found for it. For a short while it was open to the public and it was also featured in a 1960’s Thomas Hardy film, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’. It is currently being used as a telecommunications mast which helps to fund its upkeep.
On leaving the tower, turn right on the path, retracing your previous footsteps, but this time head straight on towards the woods. Horton sits in a unique location geographically. To the North West sits Cranborne Chase with its chalk grassland and historic landscape. To the South East is the New Forest, dominated by sandy soil and heathland and also an association with medieval hunting. In the distance the buildings of Bournemouth’s skyline can be seen and occasionally even a new plane leaving Hurn Airport. Horton has these two chalky and sandy environments merging together. As you leave the chalky fields and muddy paths, you enter into Ferndown forest. The track is easy to follow here and the pine wood cocoons you on your way. Every now and then the sandy floor is exposed and any gap in the forest is quickly filled with gorse as the heath tries to take back its territory.
Follow the path straight through the forest. On meeting your first track, turn left. Pass straight through a cross roads and at the large meeting of tracks, you arrive at Wigbeth lake. This is situated below you through the trees on your left. Shortly after, and keeping your eyes peeled for it, take the bridleway forking right which diverts you away from the hardened track. You exit out of Ferndown Forest and skim the eastern edge of Horton wood, arriving back to the main road.
Be careful on this section of the route. There is no pavement and it is a road that has been known to tempt speed. Thankfully you are not on it for long. Turn right, cross over the bridge and take the small road on the left. Follow the road along, passing a campsite on your left and a number of private driveways. Eventually you reach Knobs Crook where you divert right to start heading up the hill. The soft terrain combined with steepness, probably makes this the hardest part of the walk.
Knobs Crook is a location for some ancient history. A Roman burial was unearthed nearby containing many treasures, clearly meant for someone of importance. A Roman pot of coins was also discovered on one of the nearby lanes. A tumulus sits at the top of the hill, all of which suggest it has been a well-used area for thousands of years.
At the top of the hill you are able to look down towards Monmouth’s Ash on your right. The Monmouth Rebellion occurred when James Scott, aka The 1st Duke of Monmouth, landed at Lyme Regis. He claimed his right to the throne and, to realise that, had to overthrow King James II. However, he was unsuccessful. He was beaten at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. The Duke escaped, via Woodyates on Cranborne Chase, to get to the port at Poole, disguising himself as a lowly shepherd. When his horses grew tired he continued on foot across the Chase eventually seeking refuge in a ditch, under a large ash tree in a field of tall beans. The ditch was/is the boundary marker between the parishes of Horton and Woodlands. Unfortunately his suspicious activities caught the eye of a local woman who alerted the authorities. They then searched the area, eventually discovering the ‘wanna be’ King under the ash tree. The tree has long since gone, but has been replaced by another and sits down in the valley on your right near Monmouth Farm. When searching for it you are faced with a number of trees, all looking similar. However, in the valley, you can clearly make out a ditch supporting the local legend.
Follow the path through the forest of silver birch to come out at David’s Cross, where 6 paths collide. Take a sharp left, circling the tumulus that’s hidden amongst the gorse bushes. Make your way up the hill, keeping the barbed wire fence on your right, to reach the highest part of the walk. The silver birch die away and once again heath and sand dominate, in a tree-sparse area. On your left sits an old quarried hole filled with water, attracting birds and other wildlife. In the summer months, snakes and lizards would be quite at home here.
Follow the path down the other side of the hill. At the bottom, where you meet a small building in the opposite field, take the right hand path that guides you to The Remedy Oak golf course. It is a very smart, exclusive golf course named after the ancient oak tree ‘The Remedy Oak’. The Remedy Oak tree, it is believed, was where the young King Edward VI sat and touched sick people with ‘The Kings Evil’. The Kings evil was a medieval term that meant that he could heal them with the power of touch. The tree therefore gained notoriety for its powers of healing and magic as it had also been touched by the King. It is still possible to see today, in the parish of Woodlands, although in some need of healing itself.
Follow the path through the course, taking the left hand route when it forks. Keeping to the road, join onto the main golf course vehicular entrance and follow it out towards Woodlands. Woodlands was once part of the Shaftesbury estate, their family seat being St Giles House just to the north. They are one of Dorset’s longest serving families and one of the early Earls of Shaftesbury is said to haunt these lanes. He travels along them in his horse drawn carriage and on seeing visitors, stops and asks them to step inside!
On reaching the Manor, at the end of the drive, make your way around the security gate, squeezing past the pillar on the right hand side. On your left, where Woodlands Manor gates sit, is a smaller, black pedestrian gate. The route is difficult to follow as it is not clearly marked, but once through the gate, follow the road around, over the small bridge and back up the hill on the other side. The manor farm house is a grade II* listed building and is particularly picturesque, best admired by turning around as you climb the hill.
At the next farm, the footpath signage continues to be poor. Follow the path around and on passing a small bungalow on your right, go through the gate on your right hand side. Head diagonally across the field where two stiles help to redefine your route. Climb them both and into the next field leading you to your last village of Haythorne. At the bottom of the field turn right to come to the road though the village. Turn left and follow the road up a small incline. Keep your eyes peeled for the next footpath marked by a wooded footpath sign on your right. This takes you into the woods and then to a straight footpath back to the village of Horton. On your left, in the distance, you can make out Horton Tower.
Exit out onto the road next to Horton Vineyard, turn left and past the village hall on your right. At the main road, turn left to arrive back at your vehicle.