Explore the landscape of Nether Compton, a hidden corner of North Dorset. From the golden village, that rose from the ashes, head up to the hills for views over the counties of both Somerset and Dorset. Return to the valley to discover the ancient Holloways carved deep into the sandy stone by centuries of footsteps, hooves and cartwheels. Uncover a Tudor secret dug into the rock, guarded by a gate and inhabited by wildlife. Skim past the manor house, which pioneered the future of butterfly conservation, to arrive back at the village through woods, fields and country lanes.
Distance: 3.5 Miles/6km
Time: 1½ hours
Total climb: 380ft.
Max height: 440ft.
Min height: 140ft.
Terrain: Track, path, and field.
Start: Park in the village, the road is wide both before and after the church, near The Green.
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil and Sherborne
How to get there: From the A30, between Yeovil and Sherborne, turn north off the dual carriageway about a mile and a half from either of the two towns. Follow the narrow road for about half a mile, down the hill to enter the village.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.
Refreshments: The Griffin’s Head pub in Nether Compton.
Nether Compton is a village approximately half way between Sherborne, in Dorset, and Yeovil in Somerset, with views over both counties. It is a village that has literally risen out of the ashes as it is rumoured that the majority of the settlement was burnt to the ground by William The Conqueror, requiring most to be rebuilt. However, today it consists of properties endorsed by the 19th century owner of nearby Compton House J.R.P. Goodden. The similar timber framed architectural design continues all through the area, heightened by the golden glow of the local Ham stone, used in the construction of most of the buildings.
As you approach the space to park, do not miss out on viewing some of these impressive properties. The Sheriff’s Lodge, although not directly on the footpath route, is a beautiful building and easy to spot. Built in 1889 on Colonel John R.P. Goodden’s request and architect Evelyn Hellicar design, it sits on the eastern edge of the village guarding one of the old entrances to Compton Estate. Nearby is a large stone wall with the ancient wooden gate still defending whatever secrets sit behind. Another building is the old school. Built in 1883, it is placed just further up the road from the church, identified by its small turreted frontage. On the green itself is another beautiful building, similar in design to the Sheriff’s Lodge. The exterior shows evidence of village activity including damage from cricket balls! Currently it is being used as a B&B.
Nether Compton has some Hollywood links too as it was the childhood home of BAFTA Award winning actress Kristin Scott Thomas and her younger sister, Serena Scott Thomas, also an actress.
The village road leads to nowhere else and therefore the village avoids passing traffic. The nearby busy A30 just adding a quiet hum. However, deep in the valley, the village does have an ‘away from the world’ feel, tucked into the spurs and surrounded by low hills and little streams.
Parking opposite the Green, where the road is wide, you are welcomed by the village immediately. It is quite easy to imagine the lines of school children departing their family homes and venturing along the street to start their day. The Church of St Nicholas sits on the southern end of the green, and is another building that benefited from Goodden’s touch, inside of which is full size marble effigy of the man himself. The west tower houses five bells: one from the 15th century which is inscribed “Sit Semper Sine Ve Qui Michi Dicit Ave” translated to ‘May those be without woe for praying to Ava (Maria)’.
To start the walk, facing the green, turn left to head to the Griffin Pub. When the road splits, take the right hand route and walk all the way to the end, marked by Folly Cottage. When the road turns into track, continue straight ahead ignoring any diverting footpaths. This area of north-west Dorset is a forgotten corner and because of that it is a timeless landscape. Woods and fields are linked by narrow, winding lanes enclosed by high grassy banks or walls of local golden stone. In spring and summer they provide a plethora of ferns, wild flowers, grasses and leafy trees. The deeply gauged ancient tracks and Holloways are some of the best preserved in Dorset.
Continue to follow the track, climbing gently, with the view of Yeovil and Somerset growing on your left. When the incline steepens, you meet a gate, turn sharply right to join a track and climb the hill. This track takes you through the woods but despite your height on this section of the walk the view is limited, not only because of the vegetation but also due to the plateau of the hill. The sky becomes wide and the landscape below almost disappears, strengthening the ‘away from the world’ feeling.
On meeting the next track at a T-junction, turn left to follow the ridge of the hill, the valley steeply dropping away from you on your right.
Shortly you arrive at Tuckers Cross, a crossroads of tracks, which would have at one time been a busy spot but now just used by farm traffic and hunting kestrels. Continue straight over to meet another track and turn right. On your left the view south over Dorset appears. Here you can see Sherborne Hill in the near distance, the ridge of which takes you westwards towards further peaks of Leigh’s Miz Maze, Leigh’s Castle and also the hillforts of Dogbury and Dungeon.
The track begins to take you back down into the valley. On meeting a farm, follow the footpath rather than bridleway, taking you right into a field. Skim the farm on your left and pass through a gate into another field. Head to a stile ahead of you, taking you into a small woodland to then join another track. Turn left bringing you back down to the village road.
Here you are now in the small hamlet of Stallen. Turn left and follow the road for approximately 500 metres. On reaching Stallen Farm, take the track, heading up a small hill on your right. The tracks in this section are dominated by the geology. The sandy stone has been eroded away deep into the woodland. Small caves have appeared, badgers probably claiming each one as their own. The sandy walls are also occasionally decorated by passing visitors wanting to leave their mark; all be it temporary, thanks to these quickly disappearing surfaces.
At the top of the hill, ignore the turning left and continue straight ahead, walking though some of the most sunken parts of the route. After passing another track on your right, keep your eyes open as a small bit of history is embedded in the rock. On the corner to this right hand track is a small bricked wall with an iron gate and recess inside. If you’re brave enough to explore, you’ll need a torch as it extends deeper than expected, with even another room! It is known as a Tiddy Cave, dating back to Elizabethan times. As this small village is so close to Sherborne, and it’s Sir Walter Raleigh links, it was an area that experimented with potato growing. These caves were simply known as storage places, a cool atmosphere to prevent the potatoes from turning green and poisonous. In other words a Tudor fridge. Modern day flytipping of the same goods, definitely less attractive!
Continue on the same path, again ignoring any diversions, most of which are cordoned off as private property. You now enter into the grounds of Compton House. Join a small tarmac road and turn left, passing a large lake on your right. Historically, Nether Compton and its neighbour, Over Compton, were part of a large estate owned by the manor of Sherborne. From 1736 until 2003, it was in the ownership of only one family – the Goodden family.
The house itself looks deceivingly older than it actually is. The footpath runs right in front of the building enabling you to truly appreciate its glory. It was modelled on nearby Montacute and built from same ham stone, but, the original house was badly damaged by fire in 1827 and its replacement is from the 1840s. In the Second World War it was requisitioned as design offices for the Westland aircraft company. The company is still in business in neighbouring Yeovil but under the management of Leonardo, becoming the company’s helicopter division.
The last owner was Robert Goodden, born 1940. He had a passion for butterflies from a young age, specialising in rearing silkworms. He even provided the silk which was used in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation robe; his last commission was silk for Princess Diana’s wedding dress. He opened a butterfly farm known as World Life and later he began the British Butterfly Conservation society, now the charity Butterfly Conservation. Sadly this all came to an end and in 2003 the house was sold. It has since been converted into flats.
Walk right in front of the house and circle the chapel. Keeping the boundary on your right, continue straight ahead until you are guided through a small woodland. On emerging the other side, continue straight ahead toward the village. When you meet the houses, turn left to the a road. Turn right and head to the next junction. Turn right again bringing you back to the green and to your vehicle.