Terrain – Track and road.
Map – OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis
Start – Two official car parks and a few large laybys surround the forest.
Refreshments – National Trust Café at Thomas Hardy’s Cottage
Puddletown Forest sits in between the country town of Dorchester and the small village of Puddletown. Originally called Piddletown after the River Piddle that runs through it, it was changed to Puddle due to Queen Victoria taking offence.
The wood itself is divided by the A35, Dorchester to Bournemouth road, but the majority of tracks and woods to explore lay to the south. The region is unsanctioned, so ride at your own risk!
There is no designated ‘route’ within the woods, it is more about exploring. The forest contains miles of footpaths and mountain bike trails that include single tracks, downhill sections and drops that have been built in.
In the woods, many secrets are hidden. It contains an old Roman road, numerous tumuli and other historical features. There are also many swallet holes, caused by the sandy ground having percolated down into the rocks beneath, acting like a sand timer. Although they are perfectly safe, take care when exploring any of these earthworks! Similar swallet holes can be found on the Lawrence of Arabia walk. This is of no surprise, as the two areas were once connected buy a huge stretch of heathland.
This heath, which covered the majority of South Dorset, has not long been gone. There are large patches that still survive and are classified as areas that require protection and come with accompanying titles to ensure this, such as SSSI. Wareham Forest and Studland heath are two clear examples of this.
On the west edge of the woods sits Thomas Hardy’s Cottage. It was his birth place and where he continued to live for 34 years, only moving out to live with his new wife. The landscape surrounding the cottage was of great influence to his writing and where he wrote his poetry and first few novels, including one of his most famous, Far From the Madding Crowd. In Hardy’s day the landscape wouldn’t have been much different to today. However, it would have contained a larger amount of unmanaged, soggy heath. It was this dark, dismal heath that is credited for Hardy’s, often tragic, backgrounds. Although on a summer’s day, it can look far from dark and dismal, even amongst the trees. The cottage is in the ownership of the National Trust and therefore you must pay to enter, but can be viewed from two different gates. The garden and the cottage look very English in its setting with the low small thatched roof surrounded by rose bushes.
On the far east of the woods the small country road is known as the Rhododendron mile. The road is still well within Puddletown Forest with a large section banked by chunky rhododendron bushes. Unfortunately a number of these bushes have been removed to prevent anti-social behaviour and so, it is no longer an actual mile, but has kept that name and, at the right time of year (May/June), it is still a beautiful sight.
Footpaths and byways also take you out of the forest into the Dorset countryside. Nearby is Kingston Maurward Park and Farm, the 15th century Athelhampton House and the National Cycle Network Route 2 runs just to the south of the wood. There is also, for those looking for something different, a Zorbing activity nearby!