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). Parking is limited.
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil & Sherborne
How to get there: From Sherborne you can either approach from the south via the A3030 or from the north via the A30.
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 Caundles. It’s past is chequered with mystery and adventure.
Starting the walk at the small family owned pub, The Trooper Inn (which hosts an annual beer and prosecco festival and has its own campsite), turn so the pub is behind you. You will be facing 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 between the barns approaching the western side of Manor Farm. Once you get to the last barn turn right following the track alongside the edge of the field. At the end of the barns and around to the right, sits 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 itself is actually privately owned so try not to be tempted to snoop!
Heading away from the village, staying on the track, keep the river on your right hand side. The track eventually reaches a field and disappears, but stay at the edge of the field with the river still on your right. Do the same in the next large field. At the next boundary ignore the tempting footpath down to the river on your right 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 you’ll find 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 to the track. This is because if you look closely to the left as you approach the stream, you’ll discover the ruins of an old possible river crossing that may have linked back to the previously mentioned track, forming an old road. Or it could have been another dwelling, a number of buildings are marked in the area on a 1808 map.
Find your way back across the enclosed field, to the track, and follow it along to Woodrow Farm, crossing the little stream. This track must have been important as it’s still is good condition. As you climb out of the river valley, on your left, amongst the undergrowth, lies an old ruin surrounded by an old stone wall. On your right is a field the is full of random lumps and bumps, suggesting that the ruin, the river crossing and the track may have all been part of something bigger. Upon 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, the wood provides a comforting environment for them and are often seen.
After walking though a small, well tendered field go through a little gate and join a bordered footpath, eventually reaching a nearby house. This can easily become overgrown so prepare yourself for the chance of a little fight. Reaching the road, take care as it can be a little blind spot and is particularly narrow for any passing cars. Cross straight over the road and climb over the stile. Walk diagonally across the field, heading 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 by the little stream. Go over the stile at the gate and keep the boundary to your left. Ignore both the footpath and the stream when they turn left 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. Cross diagonally along the next field heading straight for Rockhill Farm. The stile will appear in a gap in the hedge on your right hand side. It’s tricky to see, so if you struggle use the bigger gates to the road.
On reaching the road, cross straight over, ignore the first footpath and instead turn left and take the following footpath on your right. The entrance sits directly opposite the entrance to Rockhill Farm, had you used the bigger gates. Keeping the field boundary on your right, look out for the stile, again if you struggle don’t worry, it’s easier to use the break in the hedge slightly lower. Once in the last field, head for the far right hand corner and exit through the gate.
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!