In the village of the pigs, discover the old railway, now overtaken by trees, to clamber stiles, cross plank bridges and circle gnarly oaks in the narrow valleys of tributaries of the River Hooke. Climb to the top of Wynford Wood to gain wide open views across the Dorset countryside and down to the ancient estate of Wynford Eagle. Skim the village and the early 17th century Manor House; the gabled stone entrance adorned with a stone eagle, which has witnessed both murder and fraud. Make your way back over the hill to the tiny hamlet of Toller Fratrum, a place rich with history as well as a place saving history. After visiting its secretive chapel, that hides 1000 year old treasure, return to Toller Porcorum following the medieval trackways, past ancient woodland and stepping over babbling brooks.
Duration: 2 hours
Terrain: Path, track and field.
Total Climb: 600ft
Max Height: 625ft
Min Height: 340ft
Map: OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis
Start Point: The Village Hall, Toller Porcorum (Postcode: DT2 0DT, Grid reference: SY561979, What Three Words: carry.explained.ghosts.)
How to Get There: From Dorchester, head north out of the town and onto the A37. After about 3 miles, turn off toward Frampton onto the A356. Drive straight through Maiden Newton, pass the turning for Toller Fratrum and then turn left towards Toller Porcorum. Continue through the village and turn right at the church. Turn left onto Church Mead and the village hall is straight ahead.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Refreshments: None on route. The nearest pub being The Chalk and Cheese in Maiden Newton or The Fox and Hounds in Cattistock.
Toller Porcorum is a small village nestling in the valley of the River Hooke. It is situated within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the South Wessex Downs Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) and the South Wessex Downs Natural Area. With the construction of the Village Hall, archaeological evidence of a medieval settlement and earthworks were discovered, suggesting that an older village surrounded the church. The area is dominated by the River Hooke and its many tributaries. The source is at Toller Whelme and travels through the villages and hamlets of Hooke, Kingcombe, Toller Porcorum and Toller Fratrum to join the River Frome at Maiden Newton, a course of roughly 6 miles. The river was formerly called the River Toller, hence the names of the villages. However, the name was replaced by a feature in the river’s course: “Hooke” is a derivation of hoc, Old English for ‘sharp bend in a stream’. It is suggested that the village got the name first and then it was transferred to the river. The steep valleys are host to a number of tributaries that fill the River Hooke, some of which we cross twice on the walk. ‘Porcorum’ is Latin for ‘of the pigs’, and either comes from the large number of pigs that were farmed here, or possibly from the presence of wild boar, which were hunted by King John around Powerstock Forest. Even recently some escaped from a nearby farm and bred in the surrounding woodland adding weight to the suitably named Porcorum, or sometimes called Swine Toller.
The Maiden Newton to Bridport railway branch line opened in 1857. It was of great benefit to the village as it opened up a market for their local products, such as cheese and butter, to London. The railway line was closed down in 1975 but there are ambitions to create an accessible community railway along the route. There has been a succession of schools in the village. The first school was opened in 1772, for the poor children of Toller Porcorum, it then moved in 1875 to the far end of School Lane, but that was also superseded and closed in 1980. The only pub, The Swan, closed in the 1990’s
From the car park walk alongside the village hall to pass the old railway route on your right. The ground dramatically drops down to the old cutting, now a sunken trench of trees. When you reach the road, turn right. Cross over the railway bridge and pass Frogmore Lane on your left and the old school on your right.
Just after the school take the stile on your left, through a small gap in the hedge and out into the field. Fork slightly right and continue to the next boundary. Cut straight across the next field in the same direction. Head over the stile, fork left and head down the hill to a double stile. The ground turns slightly marshy as you meet your first river crossing. Head slightly right and cross the stream via a plank bridge.
From the river start the climb up the hill, heading to the right. A small lonely waymarked post helps guide your way. On reaching a gate, don’t forget to turn around and appreciate the growing view behind you. Frogmore Farm sits in the near distance, an Edwardian farmhouse and a self-catering holiday home. Toller Porcorum and St Andrews Church are also visible through the trees.
Cross the field to the opposite boundary and then turn left to climb the hill. Cut the corner slightly when you reach the top to turn left, keeping the boundary on your right. On the other side of the hedge is Ferndown Farm, another self-catering property. Follow the boundary across the hill to meet a gate. Head on through to enter into woodland. Time this walk to the right season, and you will be accompanied by a bounty of bluebells.
The track must have been important at some time in history as the boundaries are marked with heavy trunks that were, at some point in their life, managed into hedges. Make your way along the track, minding out for boggy patches, low flying branches and a few more gates.
Continue to follow the track as it turns left and down the hill. When you meet a footpath signpost, marking a crossroads of paths, turn right and through a metal kissing gate. Head straight down the hill to meet another stile. Cross over and down the hill to the second stream, crossing it using another narrow plank bridge. Turn left and head through a farm gate, beginning the steep climb up the hill to Wynford.
Make your way through a small gap in the hedge leading to another stile. Climb over and turn right to follow the faint path through the trees. Keep on climbing, aiming for the top ridge. Wynford Wood sits on your right, occasional steep slopes drop away from you, one with a large random boulder sitting at the bottom.
On reaching the trees, the worst of the climb is over. You are greeted by another footpath signpost at the top. Continue straight ahead (with a slight dog leg), keeping the boundary on your left. When a small dip in the ground appears on your left, turn right to cut across the field.
Pass the trees and earthworks, persevered and unploughed, on your left as you descend the steep hill. The small village road is clear to see so head to the second farm gate to join it, passing the village sign for Wynford Eagle. On the road, turn left to pass the houses on your right. You have the option here to continue on to visit the small, almost redundant, church of St Lawrence. Although built in the relatively recent year of 1840, it incorporates an early 15th century building.
Wynford Eagle is only a tiny hamlet, however Roman remains have been found here including five coins, one of Nerva, one of Trajan and three of Hadrian. A mosaic pavement with a dolphin, guilloche borders and foliage was uncovered in 1935 which has led to it being identified as a villa site.
Opposite the last house, take the bridleway back up the hill. The manor house slowly comes into view on you right. The manor house (now Manor Farm and not to be confused with Wynford House) was a rebuild of a previous manor in 1630 by William Sydenham and is a fine example of early 17th-century architecture. A stone eagle perches on the central gable above the main entrance. After the Conquest the land was granted to Guilbert de Aquila (Latin for ‘eagle’), which explains the village’s name and the manor house’s adornment. The name Wynford refers to the nearby stream, a Celtic name meaning white or bright, combined with a crossing.
Wynford was for many years the seat of the Puritan Sydenham family. William Sydenham lived a happy life with his wife, Mary, and 10 children. However, tragedy was to befall on the family when he was taken prisoner at Exeter on 4 September 1643 and in August of the following year Mary was murdered on the doorstep of the Manor House by Royalist troops. Francis Sydenham was determined to avenge his mother’s slaying and with sixty of his soldiers charged at the Royalists and beat them all the way to back to Dorchester where he singled out Major Williams, who he blamed for the murder, shot him and trampled him under his horse.
The family lost the property in scandalous circumstances. The last Sydenham owner, William’s son – also William – died in Dorchester prison in 1709, having concocted a plan to save his finances. Unfortunately the plan did not work and the reputation of the family was ruined. The estate was later acquired by the Best family, originally of Somerset, for whom the title of Baron Wynford was created in 1829. The same family remain the principal landowners.
As you continue to follow the track up the hill, the emptiness of the surrounding landscape becomes clear. Large agricultural fields cover the slopes only to be interrupted by pockets of woodland and sporadic circular and linear earthworks. Maiden Newton can be viewed on your right from this height, its roofs and church tower cushioned by the surrounding hills.
When the track ends continue straight ahead into the next field. When you meet a hedge, walk along the left side, keeping the boundary on your right. When you reach the corner of the field, head through the small wooden gate and across the next field, forking slightly right. Walk on down to meet a metal farm gate, slightly hidden by the sloping ground and rough vegetation. Join the track and follow it around and down the hill to enter into Toller Fratrum.
Toller Fratrum is a very small village down a dead end road, Dorset County Council’s latest (2013) estimate of the population of the parish was a mere 10. The addition Fratrum is Latin for brothers and refers to the mediaeval ownership of the manor by the Knights Hospitaller. The knights would have been buried nearby, though no trace of their burial ground is visible. It is often referred to as Little Toller. Within the village is the independent publication company Little Toller Books, an excellent resource, especially for Dorset history!
Turn right on the road and then take the next left, circling the old Rectory. Ahead of you is the 16th-century farm house, Little Toller Farm. When you reach the first barn, turn right to discover St Basils Church. The church of Saint Basil was rebuilt in the 19th century but on the site of an ancient one. Records suggest that it was once much larger, with a ring of two bells in the tower and tombs in the chancel. It contains an unusual Norman font, dating from the 12th century, nearly 1000 years old! Carved with archaic figures, one figure shows St Michael carrying a cross and leading souls from Hell, another shows grotesque monsters attacking a man, who stands beside a Golden Calf. Another depicts Moses saving the Israelites at the Battle of Amalekites. You can also make out a monster with one head and two bodies, and a man carrying a staff. Many of the figures have their arms upstretched towards the heavens. The font is a stunning piece of stonemasonry having survived so many generations.
Also in the church, behind the altar, is an 11th century relief of Saint Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet with her hair (over 1000 years old!). There is even an opportunity here to purchase a book about the village, the church, the font and relief, published by Little Toller Books.
From the church retrace your steps back to where you joined the road from the footpath, but continue straight on, passing under the remains of an old bridge. This is actually a trough that carried water from Wynford Eagle, via the woods and following the contours, to a pond at the farm. The pond provided water for a waterwheel housed in the big barn. The wheel, in turn, drove the corn cracker, which bruised oats for the sheep and horses and provided power for the sheep shearers. The pond, during the winter months, became a playground for local children to skate.
Head down the hill, crossing another stream and when the track splits, take the right hand fork. Follow the route up the hill, keeping the boundary tightly to your left. On meeting a stream, the bridge seems to have disappeared, but once you’ve descended the bank, large stones help you across.
Pass the large, smooth, teletubbie-like hill on your left to meet a stile in the right hand corner of the field. Once over, turn immediately left to enter another field, once again keeping the boundary on your left. At the bottom of the field, turn left to meet the opposite end of Frogmore Lane. Turn tightly right, head through a metal kissing gate and cut straight across two fields, over a bridge and to a gate leading to the old railway.
Turn right, walk briefly along the railway, and then turn left. Walk diagonally across the meadow to meet the village road. Turn left and ahead of you is the old Swan Pub. It closed down in 1999 and has been converted into a private dwelling, although it is clearly recognisable, due to its mosaic swan adorning the side of the building.
Continue through the village and the red phone box on the left marks the old road to the railway station site. It is possible to cut through this way to reach Frogmore Lane to return back to the village hall. However, if you remain on the village road, you pass the Georgian house opposite the entrance to the churchyard. This building was the home of the celebrated Pre-Raphaelite painter, William Holman Hunt. Rumour has it that he used the door of St Andrews Church in his painting ‘Light of the World’, which is hung in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
Remain on the main village road, passing the St Andrew’s church on your right. After the next houses the railway bridge comes back into sight, turn right to return to your vehicle.