West to East Chelborough

Circle the hidden landscape of East and West Chelborough. Accessible only down dead end roads, this forgotten area was once powerful. Dominated by two castles both eventually lost, the stone recycled in local farm buildings. Little is known, but swords have been found! It neighbours a secret church. Built in the valley and circled by a stream, the location selected by fairies.

Distance: 7 miles/10km   

Duration: 3 hours

Ability: Easy

Terrain: Path, track, road and field. Some river crossings (small fords).

Total Climb: 450ft

Max Height: 580ft

Min Height: 220ft

Map: OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis

Start Point: (Postcode: DT2 0PY, Grid reference: ST541050, What Three Words: sunroof.clocking.policies.)

How to Get There: From Dorchester, head north on the A37 to Yeovil. After approximately 10 miles, turn off the road towards Evershot. Drive straight through the village and take the second right hand turn. Cross straight over the next road and at the next crossroads, turn right to find an appropriate parking place along White Lane.

Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.

Refreshments: None on route but the nearest pubs are The Fox Inn at Corscombe and the Sheaf of Arrows on the A37.

St Andrew’s Church

Make your way down White Lane, having found a safe parking place. West Chelborough is a small village sitting along a dead end road, reached by very few. The name “Chelborough” may mean ‘Ceola’s hill’ or ‘throat hill’. It is not surprising that the hills around should be mentioned in the name as their influence on this settlement must have been great.

Soon you reach the quaint church of St Andrew at West Chelborough. It has been referred to as one of the prettiest small churches in the whole of Dorset. It is quite squat at first appearance, incorporating many styles and amendments from the 12th century to 1935. The bells were cast here on site in 1272 and are considered to be the oldest in Dorset.

The castle on the hill

Make your way around the church, taking the path on its left hand side. Follow the muddy route up the hill diverting slightly left when reaching a gate. As you follow the path, look to your right and across the valley, through the gaps in vegetation, you can make out the castle earthworks, which you circle and eventually approach, on the walk. It cannot be missed; it rises up to the sky like a volcano, topped by a little OS trig point.

Continue through the woodland and over a small stream via a wooden bridge. This area is high up in the valley of the River Yeo. Therefore there are a number of streams that are tributaries to the River Yeo, which we meet on the walk. Head straight across the next field to find a small metal gate that brings you to another stream. Unfortunately, the bridge is no longer there but some stepping stones on the right hand side help. As you cross don’t forget to notice the old ruined bridge arch on your left, currently strengthened by tree roots.

Curry Hole Lane

Climbing the small hill through the wood, you are now on Curry Hole Lane; keep your eyes peeled for deer! The route must have been an important path, linking the villages of Halstock and West Chelborough. The raised boundary to which is clearly visible on either side. Gradually the route widens and the oak trees line the boundary. On your left, across the valley, is Common Lane. Common Lane is part of the old Harrow Way, an ancient trackway that crossed the south of England from Seaton in Devon, passing Stonehenge, to Dover in Kent. It has been dated by archaeological finds to 600-450BC, but probably in use before then too, and has been described as the oldest road in Britain.

Also discovered across this valley, and split by the ancient Harrow Way, is Halstock Roman villa. Originally an Iron Age farmstead, evidence suggests that this settlement grew throughout the Roman period. A mosaic was discovered in the 19th century but the villagers broke it up and kept the pieces as souvenirs. The Earl of Ilchester sealed the site for its protection. Excavations were later carried out between 1967 until 1991. They discovered considerable quantities of Late Iron Age and Romano British pottery, hypocausts and other mosaics. A redundant golf course now covers half of the rooms and the rest are under pasture.

Continue to follow the track until you meet a road. Turn right, heading towards HFR Racing, but when the drive turns right, continue straight ahead into the next field. Be aware of any horses and make sure you stick to the footpaths, riders can get quite territorial. On your right, in the distance, you can easily make out the earthworks of East Chelborough Castle, topped by the pointy trig point. Head through the next gate into the next field and, with a keen eye, you may notice the very slight raised earthworks ahead. This is a small enclosure, probably Iron Age, but as you approach, the earthworks fade and they disappear, just like a rainbow.

The slightly bumpy ground marking the enclosure.

Head straight ahead, into the trees and through the river to climb the bank on the other side. Walk straight across the next field to Wood Farm and turn left after the barn. When the track turns to the right take the stile on the left cutting across the next field. Keep to the left of the woodland ahead and the stile appears in the bottom corner of the field. Cross over another wooden bridge and start another climb up the hill through a narrow tree tunnel. At the top, you exit onto a cross roads of tracks where the horses race, so take care. Cross straight over, taking the small stile between the hedges. At the end, turn right into the orchard and head down the hill, but keeping tightly to the left, ignoring the track, to reach a gate to the road.

Here you enter Halstock village. Two pubs used to be in the village but now no longer. One was call ‘Ye Quiet Woman’ referencing Saint Juthwara, as Halstock was the site for her martyrdom, featured in the Sherborne Missal (a remarkable illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages – dated 1399 to 1407). She was decapitated by her brother in Judith Field, north of the village, hence why she is quiet! The pub sign had an image of a Saxon lady carrying her head. The beheading of royal wife Anne Boleyn inspired the similarly named Silent Woman at Coldharbour near Wareham.

On the road, turn right and climb all the way up the hill to meet a T junction. At the top of the hill the view to the north east opens up and in the distance you can make out the large town of Yeovil. Turn right on the road, being mindful of traffic and after 200 metres or so, turn left onto the driveway for Lewcombe Manor. Continue to follow the drive all the way to the bottom, passing the manor on your right. Lewcombe church (St James) then appears ahead. Lewcombe consists of only the manor house and church; there are no other physical remains. The church has been recorded since 1218, rebuilt in the sixteenth century and then renovated during the eighteenth century. It stands isolated, circled by the stream, to the north of Lewcombe Manor which is late eighteenth century in date. The landscaping of the manor may have altered the remains of the settlement.

Lewcombe church
The church east window

The small church, is well off the beaten-track, and frequently missed by passers-by, strictly only accessible by this one right of way. Its choice of location is the result of a legend. The story goes that the villagers of East Chelborough decided to build themselves a church on Castle Hill. They began collecting the stone required and commenced with the construction for the day. That evening they retired and in the morning they returned to work. However, on arrival they discovered that all their stones had disappeared. After a long search the stones were discovered in the valley, next to the river. They spent the day carrying the stones back to the original site to start building again. But, the next morning, it had happened again, the stones returning to the same place. This continued for a few days until they realised that no progress was being made. The villagers decided to build the church where the stones were constantly found, here in the woodland, next to the stream. Fairies were blamed. This is not a stand-alone story either. Churches in both Folke, Holnest and Winterborne Whitchurch were also born in the same way.

The grave of Edward St Vincent, the ninth Baron of Digby
The ninth Baron Digby

Lime trees dominate the entrance with a few yews keeping them company. The floor is scattered with 18th and 19th century headstones and richly carpeted according to season, making it a special site at every time of year. Behind the church lie the graves of members from the Digby Family. Above them is an impressive circular window made with vivid colours, the pictures in the glass retelling the tale of a local, Charles Crew, who died at sea aged 52 in 1893.

Lewcombe Manor drive

Return to the Lewcombe Manor drive and make your way back, but turn left over a stile just before reaching the house. Cut across the field, providing you with an alternate view of Lewcombe Manor, all be it fleeting and vegetation dependent.

Cross into the next field and pass the three large pine trees on your right. Head straight across the field and back into woodland. Walk your way through another stream and then up the bank back out to the open fields and scattered oak trees, the large earthworks of the castle becoming more prominent just ahead to your right. On your left you skirt Melbury Park, a large country estate and with strong links to Thomas Hardy. Join onto a track and follow it around and through the woods to Girt Farm. The layout of the land here is full of mystery. The bumps and lumps cannot not all be natural, suggesting much more activity having occurred here in the past. Walk around the old tithe barn and the turn right to head down the hill and towards the castle. Enter into more woodland and cross your final stream. Make your way up the hill, passing clear earthworks on your left, despite being a distance from the first of the two castles. Continue to make your way up the hill, channeled at times, around a busy shed and out onto the road. Turn left to make your way to the castles.

Barn made from Forest Marble

The area consists of two motte and bailey sites. It is thought they were related and that the second, on the western side of the road, was of later construction, making the first its predecessor. Little is known of the area. The western castle has been damaged by historic quarrying and only small excavations have taken place, but swords and other iron relics have been unearthed. Being on the ground and using the LIDAR information, it is clear to see that the actual extent of the earthworks are much larger than those represented on the OS map.

LIDAR coverage with the two Motte and Baileys at the bottom of the picture. The footpath crosses the top, from right to left, joining the road. Data from lidarfinder.com

The settlement must have been largely populated and heavily utilised. It can be suggested that this is what led to the new castle being constructed. Also with better engineering skills, a larger workforce and possibly even more administrative power it could explain why this structure is much more impressive than its predecessor. Alternatively, the eastern settlement, near the river, just got damp and people had to move. The earthworks stretch further to the west, which is missed not only by the LIDAR information but most probably, the full extent, by the OS too, but what does still exist makes it look more like a town than a village.

There is no right of way on the site but a gateway opposite Stake Farm gives you an early view of the works. The rest can only be glimpsed over the hedge. The castle itself is thought to have been constructed from Forest Marble from a nearby quarry and then dismantled and used in buildings nearby. You could even be passing the old stone by Chelborough Manor, Stake Farm (dated 1607) and the barns scattered around. Regardless of all the speculation and sparse evidence, the pure size of the earthworks speak for themselves. Having been eroded for generations, and hacked at by uncaring quarrymen, they still stand proud as if they have never lost their power.

Continue along the road for another 500 metres or so and when you reach a track on your right, cut diagonally across the field, leaving the road behind. Head for the far corner to meet the trees, exit out onto White Lane and turn right. As you stroll back towards your vehicle, don’t forget to look back at the castle as the view reminds you what a commanding location the castle had over its surrounding landscape.

Walk Excerpts

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