Warmwell, Moigne Down and Owermoigne

A deserted village with nothing but earthworks to another that still has the homes in shell like form, almost creating a ghost village. Climb Moign Down to the trig point where a number of UFO sightings have been reported, some by reputable sources! Travel back through Owermoigne, home to the oldest inhabited building in Dorset while others were constructed from the Spanish Armada’s downfall. Return to Warmwell via the wild woods and permissive paths.

Distance: 6 miles/5km, although shorter routes possible by cutting corners (see map).
Time: 3 hours
Total climb: 350ft.
Max height: 450ft.
Min height: 160ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Exertion: Medium.
Start: Opposite the old Post office. (Postcode DT2 8HQ, Grid Reference: SY753859, What Three Words: )
Map: Explorer OL15 Purbeck & South Dorset
How to get there: From Dorchester, take the A352 to Broadmayne. Stay on the road for approximately 4 miles until you reach a roundabout. Take the first exit and enter into the village of Warmwell. Follow it around a tight left hand turn and the parking spot is on your right hand side.

Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code. This is also horse country, be aware when entering fields and your dog being free.
Refreshments: None on route.

Warmwell is a small village that contains a number of historic buildings, including a Jacobean manor house (Warmwell House), a mill, an old school and (from May 1937) it housed the RAF Station Warmwell airfield; now a holiday site, a caravan park and number of other small businesses. The church strengthens this link with a number of RAF servicemen, and prisoners of war, buried in the graveyard, maintained by the War Graves Commission. Warmwell is placed near the source of a small brook which flows north-wards to join a tributary of the Frome, eventually leading to Poole Harbour. This does make the route quite marshy in places, even in the summer months. Also in the parish is a strip of important heathland, once part of a much larger stretch that covered the majority of the Isle of Purbeck to Dorchester. The name of the village is derived quite literally from a warm well, sheltered from the coastal breezes, this may have been so. The old Warmwell Cross has now unnaturally grown into a roundabout where the two roads A352 and the A353 intersect, crossing the A352 twice on this walk.

The downside to Warmwell is the B road that runs through it. It is a busy route, used by all types of traffic and the pavement is intermittent, meaning extra caution is advised.

From the parking spot and facing the road, you have your first bit of traffic to contend with. Turn left and follow it to the corner, where the pavement appears. Remain on this for approximately 20 metres or so, then cross over to enter the yard on the other side of the road. Turn left, keeping the large barn on your right and follow it around the corner. Head straight up the yard to the track, turn left and then take the footpath through the gate on your right. Here you enter a field that is full of earthworks. Although, at eye height, they are hard to make out, underneath the grass you walk upon lie the foundations of the old medieval village of Warmwell. Go straight up to the top to cross a small stile and then through another gate to join the track. (This footpath was closed at time of writing, but still possible to cut across the earthworks to the track). Follow this track around the farm buildings to end up facing west and towards the church, the tower of which soon becomes clear above the tree tops.

You soon reach the B road again. Cut straight across and walk onto the drive for Warmwell House. The church and graveyard sit on your left hand side. Opposite the church is a small kissing gate that gives you access to the field. Go on through but ignore the stile ahead and fork left to an alternate stile towards the woods. Mind out for any curious horses that may want to greet you.

On your left, Warmwell House comes into view. The present house was built in the first half of the 1600’s, probably by Sir John Trenchard who inherited the property in 1618, and is of an unusual triangular design.

John Sadler came into possession of the Manor and Warmwell House in 1662. It is said that he died ‘having been much disordered in his senses’. To many of his family and peers he spoke utter nonsense. However, as he lay ill in bed in 1661, with his wife at his bedside, along with the local minister and a servant, he began to foretell the future. The events he foresaw were the Plague, the Great Fire of London and the Monmouth Rebellion, all of which came true. His own house, Salisbury Court, was then burnt down in the Great Fire of London at which point he retired to Warmwell and remained there to live out his days.

Currently Warmwell House is a venue for weddings, receptions, family gatherings or private events.

Pass over another couple of stiles to reach the woodland and keeping it tightly on your right, climb on up the hill. Once at the top, you are at a crossroads of paths, soon to be returned to later on the walk. Take the stile on your right, waymarked clearly for authenticity. Follow the track and ahead you will see the rise of the hill you will soon be climbing, framed by an avenue of trees.

The track turns into a path and then opens into a field with the busy A352 below you. Cut diagonally across the field to reach a gate and carefully cross the duel carriageway to Watercombe Farm. Stay on the main drive and cut through the farm to reach the farm house with an impressive thatched roof. Watercombe is only a small hamlet, consisting of mainly farm buildings and has a dog training business.

Turn left and follow the track up the hill. You leave the buildings and trees behind you as you climb up the muddy but stony hill, shortly diving back down into a wooded valley. Here you pass and old ruin of a house, its chimney standing high above the ivy cladded wall, still with its window frames blowing open in the wind. However, this is soon forgotten as you pass the next collection of ruined buildings. Although a new barn is currently in construction, the other buildings surprise you. Mainly consisting of gable walls and stone foundations it almost looks like a ghost village.

Continue to follow the track up the hill, no longer surrounded by horses but cows. On reaching the top, it is worth an extra climb to the trig point on Moigne Down for a view of the sea. Turn right then right again into a muddy field. Turn left to walk up to a gate then right to reach the Trig point. A small slither of Weymouth bay comes into view ahead with the white Edwardian seafront of Weymouth clearly marking its territory. Portland peeps over the hills to the south.

Moigne Down has its own story to tell. As recorded in the Dorset Evening Echo on the 27th October 1967, an unidentified flying object had been spotted. A local man, who also happened to be a former administration officer with B.O.A.C.’s Comet fleet, made the sighting. He said that the evening was clear, when suddenly he “saw a very fine ‘con trail very high in the sky over the Portland area. This disappeared and then into view, descending at a very high rate from the same area came a craft which slowed to level out about a quarter of a mile to the south of me and at about 200-300ft’’. He added that the craft’s shape on descent consisted of a central-circular chamber with a leading fuselage at the front and three separate fuselages together at the rear. That same night two policemen in Dorset chased a huge, illuminate object that flew through the skies in the resemblance of a cross, they said that UFO was made ‘of a translucent material’ with shadows spread along the bottoms of the fuselages and centre chamber. A number of other sightings were also reported. The official statement claimed that the locals were all dreaming!

Retrace your steps to the track that brought you up from the ghost village and continue straight ahead. Climb up to the stile and once at the peak, almost the entire Isle of Purbeck comes into view. What is astonishing about this view is that despite covering such a large area, there are so few buildings visible (Bovington Camp is the clearest but ignore that and focus to your right instead!).The amount of trees is vast. Only a selection of large country houses, including Warmwell House, are visible. On a clear day you can even make out Poole Harbour, the blue water amongst the green trees contrast clearly.

Carry on straight down the hill to cross the A352 for the second time. Join onto a track and at the next corner you pass West Barn, nothing more now than some old stone walls and leaky barns. Climb up the hill to enter into woodland and down into the village of Owermoigne.

Owermoigne has been settled since Roman times. Its name suggests a remoter past, ‘Ower’ being a corruption of the Celtic word ‘ogrodrust’, referring to gaps in the chalk hills funnelling winds off the sea. The second part of the name is manorial, from the Le Moigne family who were Lords of the Manor here for three centuries after the Normal Conquest. Moigne Court, which is not visible from the footpath, was built in 1267 and is the oldest inhabited house in Dorset. It is built from the local Purbeck stone and partly from the Somerset Ham Hill stone and its surroundings are littered with earthworks. The main building itself is surrounded by a rectangular moat, albeit in earthwork form.

Pass the village hall on your left and exit out onto the main road through the village. Turn left and head to the church. The rectory of which has a rather dubious past. Its 16th century construction incorporated beams salvaged from the wreck of a Spanish Galleon after the failure of the great Armada of 1588. Seeking refuge in Ringstead Bay, the ship was plundered by the local inhabitants who shamefully showed no care for the crew.

Many villages in Dorset can claim a link to Thomas Hardy and Owermoigne is no different. Generations of ancestors of the writer lived in Owermoigne and their christenings, weddings and burials are recorded in the parish registers, which date from 1569. This coastal village, hidden in the hills, with its smuggling history must have inspired him to write “The Desperate Preacher”, set in ‘Nether-Moynton’ – Owermoigne. Its plot involved the misadventures of a Wesleyan Minister who gets caught up with a gang of smugglers lead by his alluring landlady and even permits the contraband to be hidden in the Church tower.

Take the track opposite the church signposted for the village hall. When the road bends to the left, take the small steps on your right, out of the village. Cross straight over the next field and follow the woodland on your right. Enter into a small coppice; following the many trails within. Climb the stile out and you return to the crossroads of footpaths. Either you can retrace your steps or continue your adventure around the woodland.

If continuing, cross the field to the wood, then keeping it on your left walk all the way to the end. Turn left, as guided by the permissive path sign, and then right to the next gate. Turn left again, hugging the woodland. This area can get boggy so it helps to keep to the sides! Continue to keep the boundary to your left and it brings you back into the village. Warmwell House’s garden wall looms above you on your left as you return to your vehicle.

Leave a Reply