Discover the landscape explored by Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, complete with a secret castle, dungeons, deserted village remains and ruins. From her summer home, follow the river upstream to views across the Blackmore Vale to Hambledon Hill. Return to the valley past pockets of woodland in the company of deer and elusive muntjac.
Distance: 4 miles/6km (A longer walk is available)
Time: 2 hours
Total climb: 317 ft
Max height: 441ft
Mum height: 235 ft
Terrain: Track, path and field.
Exertion: Medium. Some mud after rain.
Start: Opposite The Trooper Inn, Stourton Caundle (Grid Ref: ST715148, Postcode: DT102JW, What Three Words: flinches.cove.paramedic).
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil & Sherborne
How to get there: From Sherborne you can either approach from the south via the A3030 and turning off at Bishop’s Caundle or from the north via the A30 and turning off at Milborne Port.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.
Refreshments: The Trooper Inn, Stourton Caundle (Receive a 10% discount as a Tess of the Vale Member) or buy your picnic essentials at nearby Bishop’s Caundle Post Office & Stores, which also has a pub, The White Hart.
Stourton Caundle is a secret, hidden away village in the Blackmore Vale, among a number of other villages that adopt the Caundle name. Its past is chequered with mystery and adventure.
Opposite the small family owned pub, The Trooper Inn (which hosts an annual beer and prosecco festival and has its own campsite) is the old Manor Farm House, a sixteenth century building with many jutting walls and windows. The house was owned by the children’s author, Enid Blyton, and her second husband, from 1956 to 1960. It is where she wrote one of her Famous Five novels – ‘Five Go To Finniston Farm’, its plot resonating within this walk.
With your back to the pub, turn right, over the road bridge and passing the converted chapel on your left. This has some beautifully manicured gardens, worth a peek over the stone wall. Continue on the road and once having passed the red phone box, turn left up the track. Follow it to the left around the bungalows and down the slope. On your right, lakes will appear amongst the trees which are claimed to be some of the remaining landscaping evidence of an old fortified manor (or castle) that existed somewhere in this vicinity. It’s actual location is still unknown.
Make your way past the chickens, approaching the western side of Manor Farm. Turn right, following the track between the barns. The last barn on the right is a 13th century chapel, another bit of evidence from the castle. Its narrow windows giving its history away. It is now used for storage and has lost some of its more defining features. However, some graffiti still exists on the window and door frames that date back to the 17th century. The chapel/barn today is privately owned.
Heading away from the village, staying on the track, keep the river on your right hand side, following it upstream. When track reaches a field, turning it into a grassed route, continue straight ahead and out into an open field. Continue to follow the stream through the next two following fields, with the river still on your right. At the next boundary ignore the tempting footpath down to the river and continue straight on, through the largest of the fields to Knoll Copse. Cross over the stile and walk through the thick boundary edge and turn right keeping to the field boundary once again. After only a short distance, cross over the stone bridge and enter into a smaller enclosed field, boarded by little streams on both sides. In about 200 yards or so, at a dip in the land, is a little track disappearing off to the right. This is the path to take, but it’s worth a little diversion down the opposite side. Amongst the vegetation to the left as you approach the stream, are the ruins of an old river crossing that linked back to the track, forming an old road. On old OS maps are dwellings which are recorded to be in the vicinity too.
Find your way back across the enclosed field, to the track, and follow it up to Woodrow Farm, crossing the little stream. As you climb out of the river valley, on your left, amongst the undergrowth, lies an old ruin surrounded by an old stone wall. Meanwhile, on your right, is a field the is full of random lumps and bumps, suggesting that the ruins, the river crossing and track may have all been part of something bigger, a settlement now disappeared.
On reaching the road cross slightly to your right to go through the first of two silver gates on your left. Enter the next field at Ramillies Farm. Keep to the bottom edge of the two fields as you walk along the top of Plumley wood. Keep your eyes peeled for deer and Muntjac. The wood provides a perfect environment for them and are often seen or, at least, heard.
After walking though a small, well tendered field go through a little gap in the hedge to join a bordered footpath, eventually reaching a nearby house. This can easily become overgrown so prepare yourself for the chance of a little fight. On arrival at the road, take care as it can be a little blind spot as it is particularly narrow for any passing cars. Cross straight over the road and climb over the stile. Bear left across the field, heading diagonally across to the gap between Cockhill Farm and Haddon Lodge. Go over the stile and head for the next stile by the trees. Follow the path that runs along a ménage, over another stile and to a small road.
Once across the road, the path runs parallel to Haddon Lodge’s garden wall. Follow the path and the little stream to the end. Climb over the stile at the gate and continue with the boundary to your left. Ignore both the footpath and the stream when they turn and instead carry on straight ahead. Go over a double stile and continue on into the second field, once again keeping the field boundary to your left. New Leaze Wood (another deer hotspot) will appear ahead of you. Once you reach it, take the little gate on your left hand side. Opening out in front of you will be a panoramic view back down to the Stourton Caundle with Bulbarrow Hill in the distance. Bear right to cross diagonally over the next field heading straight for Rockhill Farm. Skim the right hand side of the wooded pond to arrive at the farm. Head through the farm gate and turn right to the road.
At the road, cross straight over to the stile directly opposite the entrance to Rockhill Farm, Keep the field boundary on your right, to use the break in the hedge on the right to enter the last field. Head for the far right hand corner and and turn left, circling the land to the village.
This area of New Leaze Farm is another site where the fortified manor (or castle) may have been placed. The castle itself has its own mixed history. Originally owned buy the Haddon’s, it was purchased by the Stourton family in the 15th century, leading to the village gaining its name. However, this family had more than it’s fair share of disagreements and divorce, all while rubbing shoulders with the Royals. In 1557 Lord Charles Stourton came into possession of the castle. His mother wanted to remarry but Lord Charles did not like the match. A neighbour, William Hartgill, took his mothers side and Lord Charles interpreted this as a betrayal. So much so that he arranged for his servants to kidnap him and bring him, and his son, John Hartgill, to the castle. An alternate story is that he invited them, and they walked right into their own kidnapping! Lord Charles had them thrown into the dungeon, beaten with clubs and their throats slit. The murder was eventually discovered and Lord Charles, and four of his servants, were taken to the Tower of London and then to Salisbury where they were executed in the Market Square. Prior to this murder, Mary Queen of Scots had sought Lord Charles’ support during the problems of succession between herself and Elizabeth I. Unfortunately, he did not support her as much as she had wished resulting in his plea to her, when asking for a reprieve from the gallows, being ignored.
As you come back to the village road, turn right passing The Retreat and St Peter’s church, the second of which is high up and hidden behind two imposing yew trees. On the opposite side of the road is a beautiful old wall which is has a strange turret like shape at the far end, possibly another part of the old castle landscape or maybe built from its remains? Continue down the road to bring you back to The Trooper and Enid Blyton’s country home.
On completion of the walk it’s interesting to refer back to Enid Blyton’s book – ‘Five Go To Finniston Farm’. The plot involves the Famous Five discovering the story of an old ruined castle (that no longer exists apart from tunnels and a dungeon), an old chapel (that has been tuned into a barn) and treasure! As the story matches up so closely to the real village, maybe it’s worth while searching for the dungeon and treasures too!