Distance: 5 miles, 8km
Time: 2 hours
Total climb: 525ft
Max height: 380ft
Min height: 170ft
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Exertion: Medium. The two climbs, out of Tolpuddle and up to the fort, can be quite a challenge.
Start: The Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree (Postcode DT2 7EX).
Map: OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset
How to get there: From Dorchester take the A35 eastwards and turn off at Puddletown. Head towards Athelhampton, taking you on to Tolpuddle. From Bournemouth, travel through Bere Regis on the A35 and take the next turning on your left off the dual carriageway, turn right to shortly enter Tolpuddle. The Martyrs tree is in the centre of the village to the east of St Johns Church.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.
Refreshments: The Martyrs Inn, Tolpuddle.
You are not able to visit Tolpuddle and ignore its culture created by the Tolpuddle Martyrs. However, there are other locations on this walk that deserve just as much attention.
Tolpuddle is a pretty little village that appears to have a unity, a bond, that undoubtedly has been driven by its past. It is well kept and is clearly proud of its history, being the setting of an annual march, famous faces also joining and gracing its tarmacked roads. Tolpuddle is home to the Tolpuddle Martyrs – 6 men who were tried and sentenced to deportation to Australia for forming a friendly society, a trade union, against the gradual lowering of agricultural wages. George Loveless arranged a meeting, the first of many, to unite his local farmers against the unfair treatment. The precise location of this meeting was under the sycamore tree which is celebrated today. Although the original has perished another one has been planted and grown to become a hefty memorial in itself. Creating a union was not illegal, but an old 18th century law made taking a secret oath illegal. It was this oath, which all participants swore by, that led to the charge and subsequent deportation of the individuals. They became popular heroes back in England causing a successful political march leading to their pardons.
Once parked up sensibly on the road, the tree can be visited and is in the company of a memorial shelter. From the tree continue down the road, away from the church to pass the pub on your left, Continue straight ahead to visit the Methodist chapel where George Loveless was the preacher. Although just a simple looking barn now, it has received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund to become a contemplation area. Retrace your steps on the right hand side of the road and you pass number 55 Main Street – Martyrs Cottage. This is the cottage of Thomas Satchell where the fateful oath was sworn.
Once back at the pub, turn right to head up the hill, the first of the climbs. Follow the lane to the top to cross over the A35. Pass a gate on your right side, which you will later exit through, and follow the hill down to the farm. When the route forks take the left hand track, keeping the woodland on your right.
When out of the woods, the big skies appear. As you look to your right a lonely wind turbine appears with a horizon, defined by the Purbeck hills. Further round you can glimpse the shimmer of passing cars back on the A35. On your left is a bounty of blackberry bushes, providing a great snack if you’re there at the right time of year. When they drop away, and you go through a gate the tower at Warren hill marks the highest spot to your left. Weatherby Fort is on your right, completely hidden by trees, its lowest rampart, which guarded its western flanks, is just about visible.
Follow the track into woodland and down a hill. Go through a gate and you enter into a bumpy field. All these bumps are important historically. They mark the location of an old deserted medieval village. Its official name and reason for desertion are unknown; theories suggest the movement of the population towards the road, the canalisation of the small river that runs through the field or even the plague. Nevertheless, the footprints of life litter this area, busting out the ground as if they don’t want to be forgotten.
Head to the far corner and go through a gate. On your left, hidden amongst the bushes, is the old mill, now just a barn. It was this industry that gave the village of Milbourne St Andrew it’s name. At the next little junction take the stile on your right to enter another field, keeping the boundary on your left. Once over the next stile, turn left to head towards Weatherby Castle. Keep the fence on your left as you climb the hill and when reaching the first rampart turn right towards the fort and wrap yourself around the rampart on your left. The entrance to the fort will be on your right.
Weatherby Castle, anciently known as Bindogladia, is an Iron Age hillfort with signs of occupation in the centre. From afar it looks nothing more than simple woodland capping a small hill, but on closer inspection it is a beautiful example of a defensive hill fort, its ramparts still an effort to navigate. It was built in the 3rd century BC, by the Durotriges, the local tribe that also build Maiden Castle, and, like Maiden Castle, evidence shows that the fort was abandoned in AD43, shortly after the Roman arrival. Its location is right next to an important Roman road (travelling from London to Exeter), this must have had a dramatic effect on the residents of Bindogladia.
Almost as soon as you enter the wood, and winding your way along the footpath, you are faced with a dramatic and unexpected site of an obelisk. Despite its towering height of 60ft, it is not visible outside of the fort, completely hidden and overpowered but its neighbouring trees. A copper ball sits at the top and now, stained green, it almost looks like the world. At the base is the inscription EMP 1761, it is suspected to be Edmund Morton Pleydell – the owner of Milborne House in Milborne St Andrew at the time. The obelisk would have been visible from the house, before all the trees grew. Although the Manor no longer exists, the present farmhouse stands on its site and probably incorporates part of the original building. The obelisk, of no real purpose, was stabilised in 1990 but it still demonstrates the miraculous feat of nature covering mankind’s old forgotten footsteps.
To leave the fort, continue on the same footpath, worn into the woods. Cross over the final rampart and turn left. As the earthworks curve around to the left, take the small track that guides you down the hill on your right. On entering a field, turn left and head to the bottom corner to meet a stile. When over the stile, you are on a small narrow country road, be aware of traffic as they will be struggling with each other as well as you. Turn right and follow it for about half a mile where it curves around to the right.
You are now on the old Roman road that connected Badbury Rings to Dorchester. This Roman road is one of the finest Roman roads in Britain. Stretching from Exeter to London it also includes the famous Ackling dike on Cranborne Chase, a prominent section in the landscape. Other excellent existing examples include Piddle wood just to the west, where recently, on removal of some trees, the huge expanse of the raised road was visible. The roads themselves were built to a high standard (survival rate alone supports this), combining a raised causeway surfaced with flints and flanked either side with ditches to help with drainage. The flints were gradually removed over time for local building. This particular section would have incorporated a ford as a crossing over the small river that runs from Milborne St Andrew to Bere Regis, now a small bridge. It must have also been an important junction at one time. To the north it leads to a Romano British settlement (which was unearthed with the development of Bladen Dairy in Milborne St Andrew) as well as a villa discovered in Dewlish. To the south is led people or troops straight to the coast.
Follow the Roman road straight ahead of you, passing through the farm and a newly developed barn on your right. Stay on the track tracing the same steps as the Roman soldiers did many generations ago. On entering a little woodland and before reaching the gate, you can almost make out the shape of the old road, with lower ground either side of where you stand on the causeway. Although both ditches are now overgrown with not just weeds but also 100 years old oak trees.
Head through the gate and you can see your path ahead of you taking you back to the A35. On approaching the road, turn off the Roman road, which has disappeared under the 1997-9 development of the carriageway, and onto a small track that runs parallel. Continue to the end where you meet the lane you started on. Turn left and over the bridge to begin you descent back into Tolpuddle. When meeting the main village road, either dive off to the Martyrs Inn on your left or turn right to return to your vehicle.