Walk along the county boundary that divides Somerset and Dorset. Pass an ancient Manor House that claims to be home to many spirits, which were mostly manufactured by the owner. Meet the source of the River Yeo, a modest overgrown and hidden spot in comparison to its neighbour, the River Stour’s, Greek inspired Palladian lakes. Wander through the ancient landscape and dry chalk valleys to Poyntington and an isolated nature reserve, hidden from the rest of the world.
Duration: 3 hours
Terrain: Path, track, road and field.
Total Climb: 350ft.
Max Height: 550ft.
Min Height: 200ft.
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil and Sherborne
Start Point: Holway Wood (Postcode: DT9 4RZ, Grid reference: ST633203, What Three Words: detained.glitter.menswear.)
How to Get There: From the centre of Sherborne, take the B3145 north. After only 3 miles, take the left hand fork and then turn left again. Enter into the wood and the layby is just down the hill on your left.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Refreshments: The Mitre Inn, Sandford Orcas.
Turning your back to the wood, make your way around the small dilapidated barns and through a gate into a field. Walk on down the hill towards Sandford Orcas, joining a track into the village. Exit by using the farm gate, turn right and then right again onto the village road.
Sandford Orcas is a warm, golden, ham-stone village on the Somerset border. The village was in Somerset until the county border changed in 1896, along with the parishes of Trent and Poyntington. Sandford Orcas lies in a narrow valley, surrounded by hills, reached only by a sunken lane. At the northern end of the village is a gracious Tudor manor house, neighbouring St Nicholas church. Three small streams converge in the village, the name linked to a ‘sandy ford’ that was used during the Saxon period. The ‘Orcas’ is derived from the Norman family of Orescuilz who came to own the village manor in the century after the Battle of Hastings.
Continue along the valley road, the stream sneaking through gardens until it joins you along the road. Shortly, on your left, you come to the Mitre Inn. At only 170 years old it is relatively young for a pub and was originally a cider house. Further along the road you come to The Old School House on your right. This has recently been purchased by the council under a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO), having been left to ruin for the past decade. Now it is slowly coming back to life.
Soon after the Old School House, take the steps that guide you up the bank and into a field. Cut straight across and the southern wing of Sandford Orcas Manor appears on your left. Only two families, the Knoyles and the Medlycotts, have actually occupied the Manor since it was built in the early 1530’s. Little has changed to its appearance and it is therefore an excellent example of a manor house from this period. It sits isolated in the small valley, its gables pointing up into the sky, topped with monkeys, which gives it its slightly eerie appearance. This is, however, balanced out with the golden glow of the ham stone. The house was opened up to the public in the 1970s, playing on a major part of the Manor’s history – ghosts!
There are many stories that are linked to the building and the surrounding landscape, so many that is has gained the title of one of the most haunted houses in England. Containing up to 22 ghosts, they range from kind to downright terrifying. The stories involve a nice lady in a red shawl and a seven-foot tall former footman who took advantage of virgin maidservants, and, wherever he goes the smell of decaying flesh accompanies him. They also include an 18th century farmer who committed suicide by hanging himself from a trap door inside the house, his ghostly form has been seen roaming around the building. A little girl in black who is seen at the foot of the stairs and a wicked priest whom guests have awoken to find bending over their beds holding a black cape with which he appears to be about to smother them. There is also the ghost of a young man who set off to join the navy. But, when he was away, he killed another cadet, was judged insane and sent back to Sandford Orcas Manor where he was locked in a room at the back of the house and was never allowed to leave. He died at the age of 27 and has been buried in a secret passageway behind the Great Chamber. Despite all this the current inhabitant has not experienced any sightings and wonders if they all left with the last tenant! It is also suggested that all of the stories were made up in order to entice more visitors!
Continue uphill, circling the manor to also view the eastern face. Keep the trees and river valley on your left to follow the Macmillan Way. This is a long-distance footpath that links Boston in Lincolnshire to Abbotsbury in Dorset. It covers a distance of 290 miles (470 km) and is promoted to raise money for the charity Macmillan Cancer Relief.
Cross over the small (plank) bridge and continue with the river on your right. On meeting another bridge, cross over and curve around to the left to go through a kissing gate. Turn right and follow the track through the farm buildings to reach the road. Turn right and then take the left hand turn and join onto the larger road. Here you leave Dorset and enter into Somerset, the hedge on your right marking the boundary, and something you will stick to for the next couple of miles. A path joins from your right, meaning you are now following the Monarchs way. This is another long distance route at 625 miles (1006km). It follows the approximate route of King Charles II’s escape after losing the Battle of Worcester. It runs from Worcester, via Bristol, to Yeovil, finishing at Lyme Regis.
Keep following the road, gradually gaining height and circling the western slopes of Poyntington Down. Ignore the road to your left and continue up the hill.
On reaching the next junction, in the shape of a triangle, pass the first road and then look for a layby on your right. A small bridge sits behind it with the road crossing above. It is in the style of a Victorian railway bridge and suggests that the track underneath was probably used for more than just agriculture. The bridleway that travels underneath continues down its own valley to join the B1345, again suggesting that it was probably a popular route. The path clearly marked on a 1888 map.
Continue on the road to meet another junction and turn left. On the corner, head through the gate, marked with a footpath sign, and keep the hedge on your left hand side. The views to the south open wide and the many small dry valleys softly drop down out of sight. When you reach a collection of pine trees cut through the two small gates and then out onto the field, this time with the hedge boundary on your right.
Here you arrive at the ridge of Poyntington Down, or otherwise known as Sheep Slait. The area has had a lot of ancient activity, producing artefacts as early as the Bronze Age. Bronze Age funerals are said to have occurred here associated with linear boundaries and ancient track ways. Just to the north is a larger ringwork enclosure. For its period it is a relatively advanced design suggesting that it could have been occupied by an elite group. Unfortunately, a lot of features have been lost due to agricultural activity.
The path takes you downhill where you arrive at Severn Sisters’ Well, the source of the River Yeo. If anyone is familiar with Stourhead, then they are more likely to be aware of the source of the River Stour; marked with a stone monument, in the large country estate of Stourhead and landscaped into stunning lakes and Greek inspired temples. The source of the River Yeo could not be more different. Hidden amongst brambles and bushes, fenced in barbed wire, it is not easily accessible. But you can hear it! There is no monument, not even a sign, but the water quite clearly and happily collects here before immediately disappearing south, into Dorset. The river then continues through Yeovil and, during the winter months especially, unleashes its power onto the Somerset Levels. The path takes you through a couple of gates, passing the source on your left, to then reach the road.
Cross straight over, walking between the two signs of ‘Somerset’ on your left and ‘Dorset’ on your right. Go through the small wooden gate and up the steep hill. As you climb, remember to glance behind to appreciate the route you have already taken, the source of the Yeo below with Poyntington Down above.
At the top of the hill, continue straight ahead, keeping the boundary on your right. When faced with two gates, take the right hand option, crossing over the border, back into Dorset, now keeping the boundary on your left.
The village of Poyntington sits in the valley below, the manor house, tithe barn, church and court house visible in a line of golden stone amongst the other more modern houses.
When earthworks mark a track to your right, divert off the ridge and follow it down the hill. Join a track and turn right to make your way into the village. When faced with a junction, turn right, the 17th century manor house gardens blocking your route ahead. Not surprisingly, and similar to Sandford Orcas, another stream joins you on your walk. Walk past the gate house and gates to the manor, curving around to the right, passing the tithe barn and road to the church and court house on your left.
Climb on out of the village and up the hill, passing the village hall and a few farm buildings on your way. At the first crossroads, go straight over and repeat at the next. Follow the small narrow road up the last climb to reach the peak and descend into the woods at Holway. This is a nature reserve managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust. It is a mixture of mature woodland, twisted old sweet chestnuts, and recently planted woodland designed to link two older woodland blocks, all containing a plethora of wildlife.
The nature reserve is a narrow strip, split by the road, giving you a choice of routes. This could be a choice of three, either through the woods to the south, the woods to the north or by staying on the road. The small quarry marks the entrance to the right, and some steps to the left lead to an information board. This can help you understand the area and the route to back your vehicle, just a little further down the hill.