From the hamlet of Stoford, surrounded by a selection of medieval buildings, cross over the stream to enter into Dorset. Climb the hills, marked with landowners natural and manmade decoration, to the mysterious village of Ryme Intrinseca, accompanied with legends of a golden table taken during the reformation and buried somewhere in the open countryside. Pass the ancient house of Clifton Maybank, where Anne Boleyn’s lover died and is now a just shadow of its former self. Return via the railway and river, with bridges and an aqueduct hidden in the valley.
Distance: 6.5 miles/10 km
Duration: 3 hours
Terrain: Path, track and field.
Total Climb: 123ft
Max Height: 227ft
Min Height: 120ft
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil and Sherborne
Start Point: Silver Street in Stoford (Postcode BA22 9UF, Grid reference: ST566133, What Three Words: smashes.wiped.parade.)
How to Get There: From Dorchester, take the A37 North. After approximately 17 miles, turn right, signposted for Yeovil Junction Station. Continue into Stoford and the small triangle of Sliver Street will appear on your left hand side.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Refreshments: The Royal Oak in Stoford.
Stoford is a small village, so small that is actually part of the parish of Barwick. It sits just on the western side of Sutton Bingham stream, which marks the border of two counties; Somerset to the north and west and Dorset to the south and east. The name is Saxon in origin, the combination of ‘stowe’ meaning a meeting place and ‘ford’ the crossing of a river.
Beginning the walk facing the pub, turn left to walk across the green towards the impressive thatched house called the Guildhall, dating back to 1361. Follow the main village road to then turn right, heading for Stoford Bridge. The bridge was built in the 17th century, narrow in today’s measurements but, perfect for a horse and carriage. The bridge marks the county border, so you are now in Dorset.
Continue straight up the road, the small footpath marked on the OS map seems to have disappeared so, instead, head for the next track on your right leading to Cowpool Farm. Follow the track though the buildings and all the way to the end, taking you through a metal gate and into a field. Cut diagonally across heading for the far right hand corner where it meets Clifton Wood.
As you gain height, don’t forget to turn around and appreciate the growing views behind. The villages of Stoford and Barwick can be seen nestling in the valley, and for keen eyes, on the slopes above Barwick, you can make out The Rose Tower, which is one of the four Barwick follies. These were built in 1770 by the landowner John Newman. They have no purpose and are therefore true follies. However, they do mark all four points of the compass; The Fish Tower to the north, The Rose Tower to the west, The Obelisk to the south and Jack the Treacle Eater to the east.
On reaching the wood, turn right though a gate and follow the boundary of the forest. On your right another element in the landscape is highlighted, the A37. The gentle hum of the traffic being in constant competition with the animals of the forest. Walk straight through the next gate and begin a climb up the hill, the tower of All Saints church in Closworth can just be seen over the brow. As you reach the top you leave Clifton Wood behind and pass an old stone trough at the peak. Keep to the left and follow a track through the woods.
When the trees disappear, and you’ve ducked the pylons, you find yourself on a track leading to Frankham Farm. This farm is known for its well tendered gardens that are occasionally open for the National Gardens Charity. This track alone supports the farm’s reputation; it is less of a farm track and more like a manor house drive. Enter the farmyard through a gate, passing the farm house on your left. Join the drive, once again well tendered and full of colour, to bring you out onto a country road. Turn left to head to the village of Ryme Intrinseca. As you stroll along the route, the trees occasionally break ahead giving you a view out to the east. The flat valley lies below and Lillington Hill rises at the horizon. Sitting on its left, and slightly lower, is Honeycombe Wood which in turn sits next to the Dorchester to Sherborne road.
Stay on the small road for nearly half a mile to then enter into the village. Ryme Intrinseca marks the far western edge of the Blackmore Vale. The name is so unique it adds to the mystery of the settlement. Ryme refers to its geographical location; Ryme being a derivative of “Rima”, meaning rim, border or ridge. The Intrinseca history lies within one ancient family owning a number of estates. These include Ryme Intrinseca as well as Long Bredy and Langton Herring in south Dorset, although at the time, the former two were also called Ryme. In the 15th century the names were Latinised into Ryme Intrinseca and Ryme Extrinseca, in order to distinguish between them. One given the prefix “In” (maybe in-land) and the other “Out” (closer to the sea). However, over the many generations, the place name Ryme Extrinseca faded and finally disappeared completely.
When you meet a white signpost, follow the road around to the left, deeper into the village. Ryme is full of beautiful buildings, the street scene probably still recognisable to those who lived here centuries ago. Many of the older barns have been brought back into life and some remain shabby and aged but still loved. Wooden doors, of no formal measurements, still stand, unopened for years, while fresh ivy occasionally climbs the walls.
Pass Chutters Barn and the Old Post Office on your left. The impressive 17th century oak door on your right is the entrance to the Old Court House accompanied by its mullion windows made from the consistently used local Ham stone. You then you meet the church of St. Hippolytus. The building dates back to the 13th century and is dedicated to the patron saint of prison guards and officers and one of only two churches dedicated to him in England (the second in Hertfordshire). The tower has a projecting 17th century stairway which makes its appearance seem a little unorthodox. The path way to the church is bordered by trimmed yew bushes, in keeping with the tidy, managed landscapes passed through so far.
Continue along the road to pass the telephone box, now book exchange, that’s nicely placed between two ancient doorways. On your left is the Old School House, its school hall window giving away its original purpose. Take the footpath that runs alongside the Old School and divert slightly right, following the little wooden footpath sign, and then left through a tree tunnel. Go over the stile, into a small field, turn left and follow it down the hill, keeping the boundary tight to your side.
The landscape of Ryme Intrinseca has a legend involved with it too. On one of the hills surrounding the village is a hidden well and at the bottom is a golden table. The church is said to have once owned a table that went missing after the reformation, so maybe there is a possibility to this legend being partly true.
At the bottom of the hill, head over the little bridge, turn left over another stile and then turn right, up the hill. Cross another stile then shortly turn right, marked with a second wooden footpath sign, crossing the field boundary. The views once again open up looking toward Lillington Hill and Honeycombe Wood and over the villages of Beer Hacket and Thornford, as well as a railway.
Keep the hedge to your left and then divert slightly right to meet a metal gate leading you into woodland, following the footpath around to the right. This is a beautiful part of the walk. It is reputed to be an old monastic route, linking the villages of Ryme and Bradford Abbas to Sherborne. The river meanders through the trees, with the footpath following suit. When you arrive at a tree with a waymarked sign pointing straight ahead, turn left through a metal gate and into a field.
Head for the right hand side of the pylon to then cross through the field boundary directly under the cables. Join onto a track and walk straight on through Clifton Farm. Continue along the farm’s drive to reach a small country road. Follow the road ahead to meet Clifton Maybank.
Compared to the previously well tamed landscape passed through already, this shabby exterior hides a varied history. The first recording dates back to the Domesday Book when it was referred to as ‘Clistone’, the owner being William Malbank, where the name Maybank derives.
In the 15th century the house was the property of the Horsey family. Sir John Horsey was successful and substantially increased the family’s wealth and power, while rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. The poet Sir Thomas Wyatt (who was in love with Anne Boleyn and invented the sonnet) died at the house when stricken with fever while travelling through Sherborne in 1542 and Sir John died four years later in 1546. His oldest son, Sir John Horsey, made Clifton Maybank his principal residence and began a major (and expensive) rebuilding process on the house, using the local Ham stone. A stone font was engraved with his and his wife Edith Philip’s initials and placed above the door. When he died, in 1564, he had amassed a huge estate of 18,000 acres in both Dorset and Somerset; Clifton Maybank parish was only 1300 acres of this.
The family added a handsome gatehouse at around 1600, but after this time the family’s fortunes began to decline and, by the mid 1600’s, they had left and it was being used as a farmhouse. In 1786 the house was dismantled and pieces were sold off. Edward Phelips of Montacute (just over the border in Somerset) attended the sale of the building and purchased a corridor, the porch, the engraved stone font as well as numerous other elements. All of which have been integrated into the current house.
The Gatehouse was sold off in 1800 to Lord Paulet of Hinton St George for his own park. It was dismantled brick by brick but sadly has never been re built. By 1811, Samuel Lewis, who was the editor and publisher of topographical dictionaries and maps of the Great Britain, wrote Clifton Maybank had “been in ruins for a century”. Today all that is left of the great house is the east wing, the house and grounds slowly having been restored since the late 19th century.
Pass the drive on your right and walk past the cottage on your left. Continue up the hill and keep your eyes peeled for a stile in the hedge on your right. Climb over and walk straight on, slightly forking to the left. Pass through the avenue of trees, which lead down to the western wing of the house, and head to the far left hand corner of the field. Climb over the stile and cut across the next field to reach the railway, although not in sight, the trains can be clearly heard. Turn left to follow along a narrow footpath. The station appears on your right with a railway turntable in the foreground.
Clifton Maybank used to have its own station here, but closed in 1937. The site is now used for the Yeovil Railway centre. On meeting another track, which disappears under a bridge, take the lower path on your left. Here you pass a forgotten area of the station, with numerous ruins and railway supports peeking through overgrown bushes.
Continue to follow to the river path, which isn’t marked on the OS map, to then meet the aqueduct. It may be quite hidden if the trees are in full leaf. It is a strange structure to encounter along this small steam. Its concrete construction pushes any theory of ancient use out the window, but even its purpose for modern use is debatable.
Climb on up the bank to meet another field and turn right. Keep to the river to then arrive at a hole in the hedge bringing you back out onto the road. Turn right and cross back over Stoford Bridge and into Somerset. Turn left at the next junction to return to your vehicle.