Climb to the ancient hilltops of Hambledon and Hod Hill, the two neighbouring Hillforts with very different stories. The views span right across the Blackmore Vale to Somerset and Wiltshire while presiding over the valley of the mighty River Stour and the old Somerset and Dorset railway at their feet.
Distance – 5 miles (a shorter walk for Hambledon also available)
Duration – 2 hours.
Exertion – Medium.
Terrain – Path, track and field.
Dogs – Be aware of livestock and keep to the countryside code. Few gates, no stiles.
Map – OL Explorer 118 Shaftesbury and Cranbourne Chase
Start – Car park at the bottom of Hod Hill (Postcode: DT11 8PS, Grid Reference: ST853112, What Three Words: bonnet.mailings.harvest)
How to get there: From Blandford, travel north on the A350. After just under 3 miles, turn left signposted for Hanford and Child Okeford. The parking will be on your left in approximately 200 metres.
Hambledon Hill is one of Dorset’s mountains. Although it may not officially be a mountain, it should still be treated as so. It is steep and highly influenced by the elements. It can rise above the mist or it can be hidden within it, it can even have its own weather system. Hambledon towers above the river Stour’s floodplains like a sleeping giant. Surveying miles around and is a prominent landmark. Hod Hill is hidden in the shadow of Hambledon to the south. Lying slightly lower and hidden by trees, it is often overlooked in favour of the larger, older hillfort. However, it is important that it’s not forgotten thanks to its more recent and, in comparison to Hambledon, more modern developments.
Starting at the base of Hod Hill, in a small car park, situated between the two hill forts, the valley is narrow and heavily wooded. Regardless of the time of day, or even season, it feels dark in this little corner of Dorset. Turn right on the road and to the next footpath on your left. Follow the boundary of the wood as the climb up intensifies. The sky grows wider as you approach a barn on your left. When joining a track walk towards the barn passing through a gate to head to Hambledon Hill.
Hambledon Hill is one of the oldest hill forts in the county, dating back 5500 years. It began its life as a Neolithic settlement. Evidence for this is supplied in the form of a circular earthwork, just before you arrive at Hambledon. Hambledon itself is a magnificent sight. It lies high up in the Stour Valley, views spanning right across Dorset and into both Somerset and Wiltshire. The ramparts are massive. It is possible to follow them all around the hill fort, at whatever height you choose.
The circular walk around the fort is approximately one mile. Following it around in a clockwise fashion, it begins with the Stour valley on your left. Hanford school is the first prominent building that appears below you. It is a small private school, old girls including the late Socialite Tara Palmer Tompkinson and social influencer Millie Mackintosh. Further in the distance, before the next hill, the old Somerset and Dorset railway can be traced in the landscape, following the river valley. The village of Child Okeford can be seen as you approach the end of the fort.
Returning back the other side, the Blackmore Vale lies immediately below you stretching to the north west, bordered by Melbury Beacon in the east. The immediate valley also being the location for a few Only Fools and Horses episodes (the most famous being the chandelier episode-filmed in nearby Clayesmore school). There is also stone circle below the fort, all be it more modern than mystical!
After circling the hill, make your way back down the same footpath you arrived but turn left at the OS Trig point. Follow the track down the hill and Iwerne Courtney, aka Shroton, comes into view. To the right of the village lies Ranston. A large country house once owned by Peter William Baker, who was the agent to Lord Portman of Bryanston. He played an instrumental role in the development of the Portman Estate in Marylebone, London. It was Bakers name that was given to Baker Street. Probably one of the most famous literary streets in the world (Sherlock Holmes of course!).
On reaching a stone wall, turn right and follow the track to the road. Cross over to join another footpath and follow the track slightly on your left to arrive at the bottom of Hod Hill. On your left is another country estate, Steepleton House. It is here that claims to be the birthplace of fox hunting. Owners were famed for their kennels and took advantage of Smugglers Lane to the east of the house, giving them access to the perfect hunting grounds of Cranborne Chase. Later generations of the family published books and encouraged it to be considered a sport. A rather controversial opinion today.
Start your climb up to the top of the Hod Hill, nowhere near as hard as the Hambledon climb. Hod is a more regimented shape, it is a lot younger than Hambledon but has proved to have experienced more activity and settlement. The Romans also preferred this hillfort, settling themselves in the far north western corner, clearly defined today by existing earthworks. It was home to 600 men and a 250 strong Calvary unit.
Both of these prominent landforms must have had an impact on the surrounding landscape too. An example being the Roman roads. There are no officially recognised roman roads in the area around Hod Hill, but they must have existed. Two possible ones include routes to firstly Badbury Rings (another Iron Age hill fort with Roman evidence) and secondly to Dorchester (the Roman town of Dunovaria). The routes could include existing footpaths and small roads. The Badbury route being more visible on the Badbury side to Buzbury Rings but disappears when reaching Blandford. The Dorchester route maybe using the current Wessex ridgeway to Bullbarrow Hill, continuing south west through byways to Puddletown and onwards to Dorchester.
Head diagonally across the Roman site, the views opening up in front of you. The white house of Little Hanford being especially prominent. Exit Hod by the far north west corner to follow the hill back down to the car park.
For those with slightly more energy there is a run known as The Dorset Three Peaks or ‘The Stickler’, to include nearby Okeford Hill.