Dogbury Hillfort is relatively unknown. Hidden in the depths of North Dorset, buried under a forest of oak and beech, accessible only by those who know it is there; it is a little marvel. To approach the remote fort, the route takes you past an ancient park pale and the exceptional Minterne House gardens. The views include the Cerne valley and the Blackmore Vale. The one and only major climb on the route, proving to be well worth it.
Distance: 3 miles
Time: 1.5 hours
Total climb: 380ft.
Max height: 800ft.
Min height: 475 ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Start: Layby/Pull-in off the top Sherborne to Dorchester road, near Buckland Newton (Postcode: DT2 7TW, Grid Reference: ST674045, What Three Words: obviously.friction.filed).
Map: OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis
How to get there: From Sherborne, take the A352 to Dorchester. After passing through the village of Middlemarsh, take the road straight ahead rather than continuing on the main road around the corner. Drive on up the hill and after passing the turning to Buckland, on your left, the pull in will be on your right.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.
Refreshments: None on route. Nearby are The Gaggle of Geese in Buckland Newton and The Hunters Moon in Middlemarsh.
From the parking spot, follow the track that runs away from the road. On your right, clearly defined amongst the vegetation, is a large earthwork that runs parallel with the track. This is the old, possibly medieval, park pale, a boundary between estates. Its purpose is unknown and at first thought could be linked to Minterne house, but it encloses an area, roughly 150 acres in size, away from the estate. Nevertheless, it must have had an important role due to such a large extent of it still being so visible today.
Continue along the track, for about half a mile. The woodland thins out and you meet a bend in the track. On your right is the gate you will return to, on your left are the views down to the Cerne valley. This section also overlaps with the Cerne Abbas walk.
Praised for its exotic gardens, Minterne House’s architectural beauty is visible at the bottom of the valley. The gardens were populated by Victorian adventurers, exploring new worlds and retuning with many varied species. Not something that would be recommended today. During this period landscape architecture was becoming more popular, especially with the fashionable designer Capability Brown, spreading his green fingers across the country. He often came to Dorset and although he never designed the gardens, Minterne was highly influenced by him through social association. His concept was that everything should look natural, despite being manmade! He shied away from avenues and straight lines and instead embraced the natural chaos of nature. Minterne is a true example of this. However to really appreciate the chaos of nature, just look around. The views are expansive. The Cerne Valley disappears to the south, joining to the Piddle valley in the distance. On your right is the Vale of Blackmore. Although the trees hide the majority of the views, it is still possible to appreciate that you are standing on a high ridgeway between the two valleys. Making it all the more a prominent site for a hillfort.
Both Minterne and Dogbury Hill have claim to fames. The area of Minterne and Dogbury Hill was the setting for Thomas Hardy’s novel, The Woodlanders, Minterne House being referred to as Great Hintock House. The 1990s TV film of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles was made on Dogbury Hill.
Continue along the track and when the mast comes into view you are arriving at the earthworks. The track has unfortunately done some damage to the archaeology, however, either side the lumps and bumps slowly become more prominent. The OS map marks two clear lines of earthworks, but that does not relate to that on the ground at all. The ancient Oaks, the fat beech trunks and the overgrown coppiced hazel camouflage the environment, but train your eye in and the earthworks are everywhere. The forest does nothing but to entice you deeper. The atmosphere is thick with history as if the previous residents left only recently and with one kick of the foot you may unearth some treasure! It is easy to get distracted by something shimmering through the leaves and branches, so be careful not to lose the track!
On leaving the hill fort, the hills rise up the other side of the valley and in front of you only two houses are visible, the closest being an old school with its small bell tower raised above the roof. On your left the earthworks continue as you descend the hill.
When you leave the trees, the geographical layout of the spur is clear. Take the bridleway through a gate on your right and circle some more defensive earthworks. The view to the north, including the Blackmore Vale and south Somerset, opens out on your left. Dogbury Hill is one of the highest in Dorset and its spur links a number of valleys. The source of the River Cerne rises in the shadow of Dogbury Hill; it then meets the Piddle to reach the sea via Poole Harbour. On the other side of Dogbury is the source of the Caundle Brook, near Clinger Farm, the chief tributary of the Lydden and then the Stour and on to the English Channel.
Follow the grass track, keeping the ever steeper ramparts of the hill fort on your right. The path is clearly signposted. Head through a farm gate then straight across the next field onto woodland. Again signs notify you on any turnings, especially exiting out of the wood and into a field. Go over a cattle grid and turn right. Head towards Lyons Head, the small clock tower rising above the hedge helps you identify its location. Head through a tunnel of trees, through a gate then another small gate to cross a river; this particular stream heading for the River Stour. Walk through the farm and after passing the last barn on your right, turn to the right to take the track up the hill, the biggest climb of the walk.
On making it to the top, take a well-earned break by having a sit down and a chance to really appreciate the views that have appeared behind you. As Dogbury sits at the top of the hill, on your right and on the next peak, hidden by woodland, is Dungeon Hill, another hill fort. We can only imagine the activity, social, political and economic that must have existed between these two sites. Although we will never know, it is still a joy to sit between them. Carry on up the last bit of the hill to meet a gate and returning to the view over Minterne House. Turn left at the track to follow your own footsteps back to your vehicle.