Bere Regis, the Devils Stone and Shitterton

Distance: 5 miles/8km
Time: 2 hours
Total climb: 400ft.
Max height: 370ft.
Min height: 100ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Exertion: Easy.
Start: Free parking on West Street (BH20 7HL) or the town centre car park (Postcode: BH20 7HA, Grid Reference: SY846947).
Map: OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset
How to get there: From Poole/Bournemouth, take the A35 west. When arriving at Bere Regis, turn off the roundabout towards the village and then right to West Street. The car park is on your left.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.
Refreshments: The Royal Oak and the Hall and Woodhouse pub the Drax Arms in Bere Regis.

From the car park, follow the blue sign pointing to the church in the bottom corner. Follow the path around and the church of St John the Baptist is straight ahead of you. Turn right to the road and then left towards the main road. Sticking to the pavement, turn left again to cross the bridge over Bere Stream.

Turn right onto Southbrook and follow the road around to the left. Take the footpath straight ahead of you that runs parallel with the cemetery, taking you out of the concrete and into the forest.

As you head up to Black hill, the track takes a Holloway appearance, suggesting it has been in use for centuries. Ignore the other tempting diversions and continue your climb up the hill to a gate. Now on Black Hill the environment changes dramatically, immediately you are presented with some kind of natural, yet human influenced, Bike Park. This hill is quite steep, but continue straight on forking slightly right to reach the top. The silver birch and gorse dominate the landscape, creating an environment that demands a SSSI status due to its reptiles such as sand lizards that lay their eggs here.

Cross straight over the junction of tracks and the trees begin to thin. As the views enlarge and just before another track joins the path, sits The Devil’s Stone. It’s about 5 feet tall, made of sandstone with an unusual channel in the top that catches the rain and condensation; it looks quite out of place on the sandy floor. Locally it known as five finger stone, due to a child being able to fit their hand into it, although it looks more like a foot shape. The name is local and probably relates to folk tales in which the Devil either challenges or bets he can throw a rock further than somebody else. These stories often relate to upright stones because of their half buried nature, another example being the Agglestone near Studland. It is located next a number of Bronze Age burial mounds, almost invisible in the heath, but may somehow be related. Black Hill sits high above the valley of both the Piddle and Bere Steam, making these barrows visible for miles around, when capped with chalk they would have glowed in the moonlight. The Bere Regis area is particularly rich in Bronze Age activity dated between 1600BC and 1000BC, as well as later Iron Age with nearby Woodbury Hill and Weatherby Castle.  Also a Roman road is in the vicinity adding more weight to the significance of the area and to the location of the Devils Stone.

Head on straight down the hill leaving the heathland behind you. Another Holloway guides you out of the trees and towards Turners Puddle. This little village is only accessible via one small road. It is often described as Dorset’s hidden gem, but it feels more like buried treasure as everything seems to be hiding. On arriving at the village, turn right on the road. Head towards the farm and before talking the bridleway on your left, keep going to the church. The church of the Holy Trinity is built of both flint and limestone rubble. Much of the building dates from c. 1500 but it was restored in the eighteenth century. The top of the tower was rebuilt after a storm in 1758. It has an elegant landscape entrance with a stone wall and stone steps leading to its door. It is now redundant, but maintains the illusion of the rest of the village, hidden behind the trees. The condition of the building has deteriorated and nature has claimed the churchyard as a wildlife haven. In the porch is a little guide that tells the tale about the two church bells which were stolen in the 1950s: ‘they turned up at the gates of the farmhouse, covered in soil, with note inscribed: “Sorry Xmas”.’

An old rector of Turners Puddle church, Rev William Ettrick, hired local Susan Woodrowe to work in the house and garden. A series of misfortunes/unfortunate events suddenly started to happen with the family and livestock, coinciding with her arrival. He blamed her for witchcraft and she was taken away! He had previously publicly claimed to shun witchcraft but, from then on, he was sure of it!

Returning to the bridleway, walk towards the stream to cross over the bridge next to a ford. Follow the track on to meet the crossing over the river Piddle. It is a lovely little shallow area, perfect for paddling and splashing, it even comes with its own rope swing.

Remain on the track to reach Throop. When you arrive at the road, turn right and only 20 metres or so later, turn right onto a bridle path. Cross a stone bridge over the River Piddle for the second time and the river joins you on your walk. Again you meet another little paddling area this time with a few different swings.

Leave the main river behind and follow the path up the hill as you begin your climb to Piddles Wood. On meeting a t- junction, turn left and then right at the next field boundary. Avoid the track that leads to the quarry and stick close to the wood. Don’t be diverted by the smaller tracks as you enter the woodland. Climb the hill and at the top take the left hand signposted bridleway. At the following crossroads, turn right. Now over the brow of the hill the noise of the A35 overwhelms any other natural clamour.

Make your way through Piddles Wood for about a mile or so, the ground often undulating beneath you. On meeting a crossroads, go straight over, heading for the field taking you out of the woods and curving to the left. The first mast of the walk comes into sight as you follow the woodland on your left. On your right the views stretch out towards the Purbeck Hills; the sea being just the other side.

Join another track and turn right to circle the mast. As you walk up the track the second mast comes into view on your left, however this one is trying to hide rather unsuccessfully, under the disguise of a tree. Bere Regis also begins to emerge from in the valley below and gradually the thatches of Shitterton come into view.

Continue straight ahead to reach Black hill for the second time. Go through the gate and you have a choice of taking the path through the wood or exploring your way down the hill through the gorse! Either way, head to the bottom of the hill to find a gate. Head straight on though and you enter your final Holloway of the route. On meeting the next path, turn left and follow it around to the right to bring you to Shitterton.

Shitterton has attracted worldwide attention for its name, which dates back at least a thousand years and means “farmstead on the stream used as an open sewer”. The hamlet includes a collection of historic thatched buildings dating back to the 18th century and earlier. Entering the village and joining the road, turn right. Follow the road around to the left to cross the Bere Stream for the second time. Head up the hill to the main village road and turn right to enter into Bere Regis.

Make your way back to the car park along the main street of the village. Bere Regis was home to the real Turberville family, who were the inspiration for Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. His connection between the landscape and his novels is so entwined; it is hard to distinguish between truth and fantasy. The Turberville’s were lords of the manor from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Through a combination of wasted fortune and unsuccessful relationships, the Turberville name become extinct, now only remembered today through the tragedy created Thomas Hardy. Bere Regis has like, other small towns in Dorset, experienced its unfair amount of fires in the past but in the 1950’s it was hit by a whirlwind. It travelled down West Street destroying every cottage in its path.

Explore the village as much as you like, returning to the car park when ready.

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