Distance: 8.75 Miles/14km
Time: 4 hours
Total climb: 820ft.
Max height: 720ft.
Min height: 210ft.
Terrain: Track, path and field.
Start: Park in the centre of the village, just off the road on the green. (Postcode: DT2 9HN, Grid Reference: SY587890, What Three Words: newly.aboard.regress)
Map: OL15 Explorer Purbeck and South Dorset
How to get there: From Dorchester, head west on the A35. After passing through Winterborne Abbas (and past the Nine Stones and Lodge) take the next left. Stay on the same road for just over 1 mile. On entering the village, parking is on your left hand side, after the octagonal shelter.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.
Little Bredy – pronounced “Briddy” is a small village sited at the head of the valley of the small River Bride, surrounded by wooded chalk hills of the Dorset Downs. The words ‘Bride’ and ‘Bredy’ derive from the Celtic word for a torrential, gushing stream. The addition of ‘Little’ distinguishes it from the larger neighbouring village of Long Bredy.
The area around Little Bredy is rich with evidence of ancient human activity. North and east of the village the density of ancient barrows matches the area around Stonehenge. One mile north of the village is a group of over 40 Bronze Age round barrows of various sizes, known as Winterbourne Poor Lot Barrows. South of the village are the earthworks of Old Warren (or Danes’ Camp), which has been suggested to be an Iron Age hill fort. It is also suggested that it was once used as a ‘burgh’ by Alfred the Great, but abandoned in favour of what is now Bridport (hence its second name – Dane’s Camp)
Little Bredy was owned by Cerne Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, and the land was sold to Philip Vanwilder. The estate then passed to the Freke family and then Sir Robert Meller (or Mellor). It was Meller who built Bridehead House in the early 17th century. In 1730 the estate was bought by the Meech family who in 1797 sold it to wealthy banker Robert Williams. The house still remains in private ownership, of the same family today. In the churchyard is a memorial to Frederic Wallis, Bishop of Wellington, New Zealand, who married into the Williams family. It is made from wood of a tree sent specially from New Zealand.
The village is very quiet; part of the village is banned for cars creating a tranquil, timeworn feeling to the place. The cottages in the village are timber framed or stone, mostly thatched (including the village hall, which was once the school), thanks to changes by the Williams family in the 19th century. The whole place seems protected from the rest of the world, the old stone gateposts of Bridehead marking the village entrance to the west, enforces this divide physically too.
From the car parking spot, walk down the hill on the private road. Turn left when you get to the old school/village hall, onto a footpath heading for the church of St Michael and All Angels. Unless visiting the church, keep right to enter into the grounds of Bridehead.
The manor house, although not visible from here, but is later on the walk, was changed out of all recognition in the 19th century by architects Peter Frederick Robinson, and subsequently Benjamin Ferrey, for Robert Williams. Benjamin Ferrey created modern Little Bredy as an estate village, (like at Moor Crichel and Milton Abbas) and transformed the church by putting a spire on top of the 14th-century tower. Since then its layout and character has remained unchanged, as shown by the OS map of 1886 and a series of watercolours painted by Henry Joseph Moule in 1884-6.
As part of the garden design the River Bride was dammed, near its source, to create a lake. The river tumbles down the waterfall to travel along a 6 mile stretch, dropping a total of 200ft, reaching the sea at Burton Bradstock. The waterfall has been made famous thanks to the ITV television series Broadchurch (2013-2017), the show’s producers turning the grounds into a major crime scene. The downside for the present owners is that although the waterfall is open to the public (at the owners discretion, donations accepted), fans of the drama have accidentally wandered across their private lawns.
Once past the church, the waterfall appears across the landscaped lawn to the right. Head straight down to meet the cascade and then turn right following the river into the village. Pass a number of cottages, lining the river bank, and at the road, turn right. Pass your vehicle and turn right at the junction. Follow the road through the village; pass the almost ruined, yet grand, barn on your right and the old school house on your left. When the road splits, take the left hand lane, heading up hill.
The original driveway to Bridehead once swayed across the country for a couple of miles. It began on the A35 flanked by The Lodge (built in 1837) and Nine Stone Wood, within which lies The Nine Stones, a prehistoric stone circle. These nine stones are visible from the road as you pass by in the car, hidden at the bottom of the wood, protected by Victorian iron railings. From the A35 the drive continues to a second lodge, called Big Wood Lodge (built in 1872). Crossing the road, the drive kinks sharply at White Hill Barn and continues to Bridehead. The drive is no longer used and today only exists as hidden tracks, hedges or slight earthworks.
As you climb the hill, depending on the leaf size, it is possible to see the old track of the driveway, now buried in the woodland on your right. At the top of the hill you meet White Hill Barn, some ruins of which appear covered in ivy and slightly hidden off the road.
At the junction, follow the signpost guiding you to the left, along a bridleway, high up on the ridge. Glancing behind, you can see Hardy’s Monument standing proudly on the high peak, looking across the low valley and out to sea. As you make your way along the track, the Winterborne Poor Lot Barrows appear on your right hand side, mainly, and unusually, down in the valley. Gradually more appear along the path, including linear cross dikes. The dikes and barrows date from the Bronze Age (c.3000BC-800BC), all thought to be related to each other and believed to contain evidence relating to the monuments and the landscape in which it was constructed – treasure!
To the south, between the gaps in the hills, the sea appears. Golden Cap, the highest point of the south coast, raises its peak above its neighbouring surroundings; while the few trees that grow here, only slightly inland, still exhibit the classic signs of been highly influenced by the strong coastal winds.
Remain on the ridge and pass through two farm gates, keeping the field boundary on your left. When you reach the third farm gate, with a large barrow sitting quietly nearby, turn left and make your way straight down Whatcombe Hill.
Heading down the steep slope you can see Tenants Hill ahead, soon to be climbed. As you descend you approach Bellamont House. This is a relatively new building, constructed from concrete blocks in the 1990s and designed to look like a castle. Opposite the house, across its drive, is a simple barn. However it has an impressive façade, again, like the house, to look like a castle. The land has been in the family for generations, but the present owner, Antony Coote Sykes, who built the present building, says the idea of the design dates back to the 18th century when landowners didn’t like looking out on to ugly farm buildings, so they made them like temples and castles to make the landscape more interesting.
Follow the drive out through Bellamont’s gates and straight over the road. Pass through a small wooden gate and onto to a narrow footpath heading towards Kingston Russell House. Kingston has a simple translation to Kings Town; Russell takes its name from the Russell family who were granted the manor for their service to the King. John Russell of Kingston Russell, who died in 1224, was the Constable of Sherborne Castle and Governor of Corfe Castle.
Kingston Russell house, which is not open to the public, at some point around the 1640s, came into the possession of the Michel family who left during the 1760s when they let the estate. It was let to the family of Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, 1st Baronet and Nelson’s flag captain who was born here on 5 April 1769 (and who Hardy’s Monument is dedicated to). A small chapel dedicated to St. James once stood nearby, reputed to have been built by the Russells but became ruined and by the 19th century only the walls remained. By the turn of the twentieth century, the house was also in a dilapidated condition and the estate was sold in 1913 to George Gribble. He and his wife Norah Royds had the house restored and new gardens laid out in 1913. Their son Julian Royds Gribble won the Victoria Cross in the First World War, but died in a prisoner of war camp in 1918; in his memory the village hall was constructed as a gift to the village. Stories have also been told of a herd of ghostly horses, which, along with their coachman, a footman and four passengers, all appear without their heads on the driveway to Kingston Russell House.
Follow the path to a gate and curve around to the left. A narrow footpath takes you alongside a small stream; eventually bringing you out to a driveway. Cross over the river on the left by either using the bridge or the ford and follow the tree lined drive to a road.
Continue straight ahead and when you reach the footpath sign, turn left to enter the field via a small gate. Fork slightly left to reach a stile taking you up to a lake. The path follows the raised border of the lake, in time arriving at a track. Turn left and head straight across the next field. This area is often highly populated with cows, so move slow and don’t run! Head to the following gate and straight across the next field. Turn tightly right to start the big climb up Tenants Hill. Go through the next boundary and head straight up to a track and turn left. When the track continues to follow the valley, divert off to the right, only to be faced with a huge steep climb!
Make your way up, passing a lonely old, dead oak tree, to reach the enclosure and medieval dew pond (marked as ‘hut circle’ on the OS map). The field containing these earthworks is access land meaning you can wander as you like. An earthen bank connects the entrance of the enclosure to the dew pond. Looking east the earthworks on Old Warren are clearly visible; the suggestions if it being an Iron Age Hillfort (Danes Camp) certainly suit its appearance with a singular rampart circling its slopes. However, as the site and the hillfort lie on exposed outcrops, much of them have been eroded and worn away. Both sites are yet to be excavated.
From the earthworks, continue in the same direction meeting another gate. Head straight on through and continue into the next field to arrive at the Stone circle.
Kingston Russell Stone Circle, also known as the Gorwell Circle, is the largest of the stone circles in Dorset and dates back to late Neolithic or early Bronze Age period, at least some 5,000 years ago, much older than the previously passed earthworks. There are only four known ancient stone circles in Dorset (the other three being Rempstone-in the Purbecks, the Nine Stones and Hampton Down. There is possibly a fifth called Littlemayne, near Dorchester. Modern versions include Black Down near Hardy’s Monument and another at Hambledon Hill.). All eighteen of the stones here have ‘fallen’ and lie flat in an oval. None of the stones have been shaped in any way, but the tallest lies to the north of the site and is clearly significant. The circle’s importance is reinforced by the surrounding landscape, sitting on the route of a key causeway for Neolithic man. It also connects with the Grey Mare and her Colts, the nearby Hampton Down Stone Circle, (both of which we approach later) and the Hellstone Barrow. The fact that five footpaths still collide here today can indicate that its power still ripples into our present day.
Head to the left hand corner of the field where the paths converge and continue straight ahead with the field boundary on your right, blocking any sea view. After about half a mile, take the small stile in the hedge on your right, follow the field boundary to a gate and turn left to discover the Grey Mare and her Colts. The Grey Mare and her Colts dates from the Early and Middle Neolithic periods (3400-2400 BC), predating not only the previous earthworks but also the stone circle by at least 1000 years, showing that this area had been a focus for community ceremonies for continuous millennia. The tomb was partially excavated in the early nineteenth century and found to contain human bones and several pottery fragments. Although now in ruins, the monument is still an impressive site on the landscape, a megalithic chamber which was capped by a large slab of sarsen stone that has now slipped and blocked the chamber.
Retrace your steps back to the track and turn right. Follow it to a small road and continue straight ahead to Hampton Down Stone circle. Pass the track on your left, the terrain changing to tarmac, and turn right at the next road. After about 50 metres or so, take the footpath on your left and follow it just below the ridge of the hill. The route takes you through a small patch of gorse before entering a large, lush field. When you reach its far boundary the stone circle, unloved and hidden, lies low on your right hand side. It dates to the same period as the Kingston Russell circle, so must have been related. Excavation took place in the early 20th century although shone little light on its purpose.
Once again retrace your steps back to the road and to the aforementioned track. The views stretch over towards Abbotsbury, the small sanctuary of St Catherine’s Chapel can be seen standing proudly on her own hill. Chesil Beach is also visible and Lyme Bay beyond.
When meeting the turning to Gorwell Farm, turn right to head down the hill. Just before reaching the farm, turn left, though a gate and into a field. The possible Iron Age hill fort of Old Wadden is clear on your left.
Hug the woodland until you begin your descent back into Little Bredy. On your right is the Valley of Stones, a National Nature Reserve. It consists of a large number of sarsen stones strewn across the landscape, some possibly arranged into circles. This haphazard arrangement, and distance from source, was created during the last Ice Age as they were forced down the hill from the ridge.
Continue to follow the track through Bolter’s Mead, with the standard estate landscape of scattered sycamore, ash and beech trees. When the track turns to the right you get your first glimpse of Bridehead. Follow the path through a gate to the cricket pitch and past the right hand side of the cricket pavilion, the pitch itself immortalised in the paintings of David Inshaw.
On the road, turn left, cutting through the old route of Bridehead’s drive. Follow the small country lane, passing numerous buildings associated with the Bridehead estate to bring you back into Little Bredy; the octagon shelter and your vehicle will soon to appear.