Distance: 5 Miles/8km
Time: 2 hours
Total climb: 180ft.
Max height: 280ft.
Min height: 190ft.
Terrain: Track, path and field, can get muddy and wet.
Start: Lydlinch Common, just off the road near the green. (Postcode: DT10 2JA, Grid Reference: ST743135, What Three Words: secondly.unwraps.halt)
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil and Sherborne
How to get there: From Sturminster Newton, head north on the A357. Shortly after entering the Lydlinch, turn left onto Holebrook Lane, parking is in 150 metres or so on the right hand side.
Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.
Refreshments: None on route but nearby are the Trooper Inn, Stourton Caundle (10% off for TotV members), The White Hart, Bishops Caundle or a number of options in Sturminster Newton. Alternatively on the A357 is Olives Et Al, a café and deli (also 10% off for TotV members).
Lydlinch sits in the low lying heart of the Blackmore Vale, still a little wild and untamed. The parish includes Kings Stag to the south and Stock Gaylard to the west while two tributaries of the River Stour, the Caundle Brook and the River Lydden, curve around from the north and east respectively, combining in the north east corner. The village itself is mainly off the main road, down Holebrook Lane, passing cars unaware of what they are missing.
Lydlinch Common is open access land, allowing you to wonder as much as you like. It is full of wildlife and has been identified as a place where nightingales breed. From the parking for the common, take the small grassed track to your right, behind the Old School (built in 1874). It then opens up to a green with a mighty oak, planted to honour the coronation of King Edward II in 1902. Head to the main road and cross straight over at the junction with Holebrook Lane, passing an old wooden barn on your right, raised by staddlestones. Walk straight through the pedestrian gate, over a stile and then through a farm gate. In the next field, turn left to the next gap in the hedge.
On your right, up on the hill, is Thornhill estate. Thornhill House was built by the well-known artist, Sir James Thornhill, in 1730, who painted part of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. A tall obelisk stands in the grounds, erected in 1727, by Thornhill, to commemorate the accession of George II.
Once through bear right, aiming for the far side of the wooden fence where there is a stile. Climb over, and then a second one straight after. Turn left and follow the field boundary all the way around until you meet another gap in the hedge. Once through turn right, following the boundary and then cross over to the left, to break your way through the overgrown border, on the right hand side of the pond, marked by taller trees. Head straight across the next field to meet two more stiles in a narrow gap, with a ditch in between. Fork right across the following field to cross over a small stone bridge and then turn right again, heading for another gap in the hedge. Cut straight across the next field, towards a white house in the distance, where the next hole in the hedge appears and opens out onto the A357.
Standing on the road, the white house is clear to see on your right. Its origin is as an old tollhouse, part of the turnpike road between Blandford and Stalbridge. It has recently undergone a number of renovations, but the 5 sided wings hint at its original architectural purpose. Closer to where you stand is Warr Bridge crossing over the small river of The Caundle Brook. The river is only 13 miles long, rising at the foot of Dogbury hill and its hillfort, emptying into the Lyddon, before meeting the Stour. The bridge is named after a medieval family who were large landowners of the time.
Cross over the road and into the next field and cut straight across to reach the gate at the top. On arrival, if you turn and face where you came from, the obelisk at Thornhill stands high on the hill opposite. Head through the gate and fork slightly right to reach the corner at the far end of the next field. On meeting two gates, go through the left hand option and keep right to travel down the hill towards Stroud Farm, the house of which, dating back to the 17th century, is clear to see on your left.
On arriving at a track follow it straight ahead, passing the farm’s agricultural buildings. When the woodland joins you on your right, on your left is the start of Stock Gaylard Deer Park. Continue through a gate, passing a small stream and rope swing on your right and walk straight ahead in the next field. Head through the gate and fork left, circling the woods that then open back out to the deer park.
The landscape within the fence contains some earthworks that are, at this level, just lumps and bumps in the ground. Nevertheless, they mark the remains of a medieval village of Stock Gaylard. The remains cover about 2 acres, consisting of a roughly rectangular area. The interior is disturbed by later drainage channels but there are remains of closes bounded by low scarps, and at least two well-defined building platforms.
The Georgian Queen Anne house of Stock Gaylard was built in 1720 and sits in a large 1800 acre estate with around 300 acres of oak woodland, 80 acres of common land and the ancient enclosed 80 acre deer park with a small lake. The first licence for this deer park was issued in 1268, making it the oldest deer park in the county. However, evidence for its existence has fleeted in and out of history, on documents and maps. Not only can it claim to be the oldest but it also contains the largest population of fallow deer in Dorset. In June you may see the young fawns and in October you may witness the ruts!
During the 19th century Stock Gaylard was owned by the Yeatman family. Some older farm gates, all over the estate, incorporate the letter Y into their frame, clearly marking the family’s territory. Today the estate promotes wildlife and conservation, offering eco retreats within their sustainable yurts. In the summer the Oak Fair is held in its grounds while the house and gardens are also occasionally open to visitors.
Head across the estate and through a decorative metal gate. As you approach the buildings, the old 14th-century circular dovecote can be seen, made from rubble walls and a tiled roof partly hidden by a parapet. Join onto the tarmac drive and follow it out with the main house on your left. Curve around to the left and the small chapel (of unknown dedication) comes into view, the grand house soon after. Follow the drive up the hill, running parallel to the edge of the deer park, to reach the road.
When you arrive at the A3030, turn right then left, crossing over and down the smaller country lane. Remain on the road for about a mile, bringing you into Kings Stag. On the way you pass few of the old ‘Y’ designed gates and a number of small farms.
The estate’s history involved a lot of hunting and country sports; woodlands and hedgerows were managed to suit this purpose and little has changed since. The medieval landscape has grown into an unspoilt pocket of Dorset and part of the estate has been recognised as so by becoming a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Passing Rodmore Farm on your right, Blackrow Farm on your left as well as the nearby Hydes, Stroud Farm, and Holebrook Green; their settlements contain evidence of medieval farming practices can be seen on air photographs which consist of gently curving furlongs underlying existing field boundaries. It is a landscape that encompasses a mix of medieval hunting practices, agricultural development and historic common land.
As you enter into the village you pass the reading room on your left. This was formally the village’s ‘Mission Room’, built in approximately 1836, keeping its thatched roof and modest and humble design. Shortly after, on the same side of the road, you meet the King’s Stag Memorial Chapel. This was built in 1914 by the Right Rev. Huyshe Yeatman-Biggs, the Bishop of Worcester, in memory of his wife, Lady Barbara Yeatman-Biggs, who died in 1909. The mission room was becoming unsustainable for service and prayer. Other problems such as Stock Gaylard and Lydlinch churchyards being full and no proper parish church encouraged this chapel’s development. It is a simple building constructed of a half-timber oak frame, nestled quietly off the road.
Kings Stag is placed in an area that was once better known as the Vale of the White Hart. Its name alone links it strongly to its medieval hunting past. The legend dates back to King Henry III, or maybe Richard II depending on the story. A White Hart Stag was said to have once roamed free around this land. A glorious and majestic creature, and if you caught a glimpse, it was said to bring blessings upon you and the land. One day, the king was out hunting. His dogs picked up a scent and led him deeper into the woods. When they came to a sudden halt, the king was faced with the white hart, struggling and trapped within a net, hanging from a tree. The Stag’s coat still shining bright white, despite the darkness of the forest. The King was transfixed; he and the mighty beast froze, looking eye to eye. The forest fell silent, the wind blew a gentle breeze and the kings men watched in awe at an epiphany happening. The king, suddenly becoming aware of his surroundings, cut the stag free. It fell to the floor, stood, looked at the king, and ran. The king immediately decreed that it was a royal favourite and was never ever to be harmed.
However, one competitive hunter Thomas (or John – again depending on the story) de la Lynd, believed this was all poppycock and was determined to catch the beast. After many failed attempts, he caught sight and gave chase across the White Hart Vale, from Pulham to Ansty and then back towards Lydlinch. Their eyes met again at the river Lydden, where a gruesome attack took place. Lynd stabbed the stag in the neck with his knife and when he retracted, a golden ring was on the blade. In the moment of distraction the white hart was able to escape in to the woodland, although fatally wounded. Lynd, staring at this magical treasure, noticed that the ring was engraved in Latin. He suddenly knew he had done something terribly wrong and was overwhelmed with a sense of terror and dread.
The king learnt of the event and Lynd was summoned to London, he was charged a substantial fine, sent to the tower and his family ordered to repay the crown forever. Possibly the ancestors are still paying this debt!
As for the inscription, the king had it translated and this is what is said:
When Julius Caesar Landed Here
I was then a little deer
When Julius Caesar Reigned King
Round my neck he placed this ring
Whosoe’er shall Me O’ ertake,
Spare my life For Caesar’s Sake.’
Continue into the village to take the left hand footpath, guiding you between the bungalows. Head through the little gate and fork left on the next field, passing the rear of the memorial chapel and reading room. Head straight over the following field to cross a road and into the next. Again, walk straight over and through a gap on the hedge with the yellow footpath sign on its left hand post. Keep the field boundary to your right, passing Hydes Withy beds to exit into the next field where the track’s terrain turns into artificial grass.
Head to the woodland’s corner opposite and turn left, staying on the track. Pass, the occasionally ripe, Hyde Farm and when the artificial grass turns left, head through the gate ahead to climb up the hill, keeping the boundary on your left. The views open up wide here, all across the Blackmore Vale and Stour Valley, towards Okeford and Ibberton Hill.
At the end of the woodland, walk through the gate on your left and turn right. You join back onto artificial grass for a short distance and when it dives away to the right, continue straight ahead into the field. Fork right and walk towards the bottom corner. Turn left, then right through a gate and walk straight ahead, keeping the boundary on your right. After you pass though the next gap in the hedge, fork left up the hill to meet another ‘Y’ gate leading you out onto a small country road.
Turn left to head back towards Lydlinch village. On your right you pass the Old Manor Farm house. Not that long ago, the building was more useful to cows as a shelter, but has recently been renovated and brought back to life.
Continue along the village road to reach the church on your left. The church of St Thomas Beckett dates back to the 12th century, but has been restored and altered on a number of occasions since. On the south doorway some 17th-century scratched initials and dates still remain as well as some 18th and 19th-century initials inside the porch on the stone seats. The bells are famed for producing a wonderful sound, as told by the Victorian poet William Barnes who grew up in nearby Bagber.
“Vor Lydlinch bells be good vor sound, And liked by all the neighbours round”.
On the western edge of the graveyard two large Yew trees grow, between them, a footpath leading you into Lydlinch common.
Retrace your steps back to the road and turn left to return to your vehicle.