The small, quiet village of Leigh has a suspicious and mysterious past. Today it is home to a modern village Hall hosting popular events. A few hundred years ago, the village used to be host to witches. The Miz Maze, now nothing but lumps and bumps in the landscape, was where the last witch to be executed was arrested, dancing in the rings in the moonlight. Nearby is the medieval Castle sitting at the top of a hill, on private land, hidden within trees, its stories never to be told, until maybe one day….
Distance: 4 miles/6 km
Time: 2 hours
Total climb: 180ft.
Max height: 350ft.
Min height: 200ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Start: Leigh Village Hall (Postcode: DT9 6HL, Grid reference: ST619085).
Map: OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis
How to get there: From Sherborne take the A352 south to Dorchester. As you approach Longburton, take the road on the right, signposted to Leigh, and continue for approximately 4 miles. On reaching a T junction, turn right and continue on into the village. When you reach the cross, turn left and the Village Hall car park is shortly on your left.
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 White Hart in Yetminster and The Chetnole Inn in Chetnole. However, Chrissie’s Kitchen, opposite the church, does supply marmalades, jams and chutneys!
Leigh (pronounced Lie) is a small village, with no pub, just 5 miles south of Sherborne. It is surrounded by up to 50 miles of footpaths and bridleways, making their way in and out the village and across the hills around. The parish council have set up their own walk, The Annie Sinnott Walk, which was created in memory of Annie Sinnott, the founder and director of the Old Village Care Home in Leigh. The route is unique in the fact that all stiles and gates have been replaced with self-closing gates, allowing the route to be more accessible. The 15th century parish church is dedicated to St Andrew, the patron saint of farm workers and the village contains a number of ancient cottages alongside a collection of architecturally sensitive modern homes.
Parking in the village hall car park, turn left to walk westwards through the village. You soon arrive at the church on your right. Look out for the local black cat, a suitable companion on this walk that heavily involves witches!
Continue along the village road and after passing the second road on your left, take the next footpath on your right. Go past Fudges on your left, with its mullioned windows and old oak door, making your way through Frampton Farm. Cross over the stile and head to the left hand corner. Climb another stile cross over a small river and through a little woodland to exit back out into the fields. Keep the river on your right hand side as you make your way through the following fields, scattered with orchards and sheep.
Cross over a small wooden bridge to meet a gate then turn right on to Church Lane. Church Lane would have been the old route to Yetminster. St Andrew was previously a chapel of this neighbouring village and it was not until 1847 that Leigh became its own parish. The 15th century church was restored in 1854, probably motivated by the newly independent villagers. This track would have been one of the main highways between the two settlements. In less dry months the track can become a stream, so waterproof footwear may be needed!
When the lane turns to the left and the vegetation becomes impassable, leave the track and walk alongside on newly generated footpath, which runs parallel. The signs help to guide you out.
Continue to follow the path back down into the village. On meeting the road turn right until you arrive at the village cross. The shaft dates from the 15th century, eroded into uneven shapes by the generations of children climbing the stone. It also has a 19th century cross on the top. but looks just as aged. The cross may have been erected to commemorate the creation of the new parish. Adding weight to this theory is that it sits on the junction that leads to Yetminster. It is thought one figure carved into the stone, is probably St. George and the dragon, but now eroded beyond confirmation. A second is of a man in a short tunic.
Take the track opposite the cross, towards Illes Farm. Just before reaching the barn, take the metal gate on your right to then guide you through the various buildings without confusion. Head on down to the river and then work your way around Lower Totnell Farm. As you climb the hill to Upper Totnell, remember to look behind you to appreciate the growing views westwards. When you pass through a field boundary divert slightly left to reach a stile. Enter into small woodland and exit out onto the road. Turn right and remain on the road for about quarter of a mile. Half way to your next track you meet a junction at Totnell corner, turn left, keeping the village of Leigh in the valley on your right.
Pass two semi-detached houses on your right and take the next right hand track which is Long Bridge Drove. The fact that this section, and Bolters Drove, is a BOAT (Byway open to all traffic) suggests that it was an important route historically. As you progress down the track, The Castle appears on your left, hidden amongst the trees at the top of the hill. Further down the track are the earth works of Gudgins Banks. Both of which we know little about, but this track is a big clue in both their cultural importance. There are no historical records of The Castle. The physical remains however, do suggest the previous existence of a castle. The earthworks consist of a ditch and bank enclosing about 9 acres. Gudgin’s Banks consist of a bank rising about 4½ ft. above a ditch on the western side. The bank extends intermittently for about 200 yards following a stream. It also continues for a short distance on the opposite side of the stream. Its purpose is unknown but it is thought to be of medieval origin, possibly associated with the castle, as a defensive structure.
Follow the track to use the bridge over the ford. When the trees begin to thin out, take the next track on your right, Bolters Drove. Follow it down to the next road and turn right. Just before the bridge take the stile on you left and side. When in the field, to follow the footpaths accurately, keep the boundary on your right to meet a gate, then turn to face back up the hill to reach the next small gate in the hedge. This section of the walk is part of the Anne Sinnott walk and therefore the gates are all self-closing rather than any rickety stiles.
Keep the next boundary on you left, still climbing to reach the next pair of gates. In this next field, turn left to wander up to the Miz Maze. The Miz Maze is a relic of an ancient turf maze. Very few survive in the country, the best examples being at Breamore, in Hampshire; the other is on top of St Catherine’s Hill, overlooking the city of Winchester, Hampshire. It is of uncertain origin but is thought to have been used for rituals and as a meeting place. There used to be several of these labyrinths in Dorset, including Pimperne, where the map of which is up on the parish church, yet, this is the only one where traces still remain. There is little evidence except for small disturbances in the grass surface which can be felt underfoot, the pattern of the maze no longer possible to be reconstructed. The best view is as you approach as the earthworks are slightly raised in comparison to the horizon of the rest of the field.
The date of the monument is not known but it may have been constructed as early as the 13th or 14th century when turf mazes were popular in England and northern Europe. Nevertheless, there are documents that still exist from 1650–1664 that state that the Miz Maze was where local witches used to meet. The local name of Witch’s Corner on the nearby road could also be relevant. One of the last witches to be burned in England was reputed to have been arrested at a conference here in the 17th century and then executed at Maumbury Rings in Dorchester. Between 1649 and 1659 maze games were one of the activities either discouraged or outlawed by the Puritan dominated Republic. Hutchins, in 1774, reported that it had been the custom for the young men of the village to clean out and repair the maze, scouring out the trenches and trimming the banks every six or seven years. But, even by the time he was writing, the site had begun to be neglected. In 1879 the famous Dorset dialect poet William Barnes presented the Dorset Field Club with a paper claiming the use to be related to witches. In truth, we are never to know the real stories of what activities occurred here.
The views are widespread. To the east is the Castle behind which are two hill forts, the further being Dungeon Hill and the closer promontory, with a mast to mark the spot is Dogbury Hill fort. To the north the views stretch out to Somerset and the south towards the hills of the Giant and The Cross and Hand.
Head back down the hill, and to the right hand corner to reach the next gate. Continue downhill, passing White Farm House on your right. Take the next gate and cross the farmhouse drove to wrap around the building. Cut straight across the next few fields, the signs and silver gates highlighting your path.
Leigh Village Hall and the Village Green are located in the heart of the village. The green is available for anyone to enjoy, with parking possible at the village hall. The village hall itself is a host to much entertainment, even international stars such as Iceland’s Beggi Smari! It is here you reach the playground of the green, leading you straight back to the village hall.