From the centre of Blandford, travel by foot, wheel or hoof over the meadows and out of town. Cross over the old railway and up the hill, where many Roman treasures have been discovered. Make your way through the ancient landscape of Little Down, skimming the estate of Inside Park, its manor having burnt to the ground. Travel along the humble track of Lady Caroline’s Drive to reach the peak of the hill. Return to Blandford via the woods and chalkland landscape, looking down upon the town.
Distance: 7.5 Miles/12km
Time: 3 hours walk/ 2 hours bike
Total climb: 375ft.
Max height: 450ft.
Min height: 100ft.
Terrain: Track, path and road, can get muddy and wet.
Start: The Crown Hotel, West Street, Blandford Forum. (Postcode: DT11 7AJ, Grid Reference: ST883062, What Three Words: alien.influence.electric)
Map: OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis.
How to get there: The Crown Hotel is placed on the western edge of the main town centre of Blandford. Leaving the market Place on West Street, the hotel is 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: The Crown Hotel at the start and finish.
Blandford is situated on the edge AONB that is Cranborne Chase. It lies low on a large bend in the river Stour, the river crossing having had a huge influence on its name and development as it has been a fording point since Anglo-Saxon times. By the 13th century it had become a bustling town with a livestock market serving the nearby Blackmore Vale and its many dairy farms. In the 18th century Blandford was one of several lace-making centres in the county, famed for its quality. In the 17th and 18th centuries Blandford became the malting and brewing epi-centre for Hall and Woodhouse.
In 1731 on the 4th June Blandford experienced a devastating fire that destroyed over 90% of the town. The fire began on a site that is now The King’s Arms pub. It was brought back to life thanks to money from the king and the hard work of two architect brothers, John and William Bastard. The result of which gives the town a strong, predominantly Georgian appearance. The parish church of St Peter and St Paul was built between 1732 and 1739 and, outside of London, it is one of the few Georgian churches in the country. The Pump House dates from 1760, the inscription on its rear wall states its purpose is “… to prevent by a timely Supply of Water, (with God’s Blessing) the fatal Consequences of FIRE hereafter”.
The Crown (as a pub – not as a building) can claim to be one of the oldest pubs in the county, the first record dating back to 1465. However, it could even be older than that due to its geographical relationship with Blandford Bridge, built in the 13th century. The original site would have originally been much closer to the river (the course having changed over time) and the pub had its own wharf. The combination of this easy access to transport and the safe distance, yet reasonably close proximity to the sea, made it perfect for smuggling activity! Richard Rodgers, who owned Bryanston and was the sheriff of Dorset in the 16th century, took full advantage of this spot, even with Sir Walter Raleigh at his side, while Queen Elizabeth I turned a blind eye!
The turnpike road between Salisbury and Dorchester was developed in 1756. It passed directly through the town which meant the arrival of a new coaching era. This increased the town’s prosperity especially for The Crown. The main London to Exeter route provided the pub with regular trade and the pub took full advantage of this with its own set of coaches; even branching out to railway station pickups when the railway arrived in the 1860s. The pub has been owned by the Pitt family, the family of both the William Pitts who became Prime ministers, as well as the Portman family who once owned nearby Bryanston. Today it is part of the fabric of the Hall and Woodhouse Brewery.
From The Crown, turn right on the road and then left into the car park. Head for the right hand corner to cross the blue Mortain Bridge, over the River Stour and above one of the rivers original fording points. Further downstream is the black Preetz Bridge, both of which are named after Blandford’s twin towns in France and Germany respectively.
Follow the path around to the left, passing the Hall and Woodhouse Brewery on your right. Skim the wildlife rich water meadows running parallel to the Stour to Preetz Bridge. Remains of the old ruined Somerset and Dorset Railway Bridge can be seen on the opposite side of the banks. Turn right, staying on the tarmac track and then left. Follow it around to the right to join a road.
Head straight up and over the first roundabout. At the second turn left. It can get busy here so for the brave remain on the road, but for others it may be best to dismount and cross the Badger Roundabout on foot. Head straight over towards Charlton Marshall and after about 300 metres, turn right onto Ward’s Drove.
Follow it all the way up the hill, crossing the old Somerset and Dorset railway path via another old bridge. The terrain changes to track as you make your way up the slopes. In this area, back in 1833, evidence of Romano-British activity was found. They included a treasure trove of goodies such as coins of the period from Maximian to Honorius, brooches, tweezers, ‘spear-heads’, a small glass vessel and a bronze figurine.
When you meet the A354, cross straight over onto the old drive to Inside Park, passing South Lodge on your right.
Inside Park is the estate of an 18th-century country house that burned down in 1941. It lies in a sheltered, sloping dry valley containing superb tree specimens – notably cedars and walnuts. A dog graveyard dating back to the early 1700’s is set under a large Cedar of Lebanon. Today it is a popular campsite. Continue to follow the track, white caravans appearing on the scene ahead, until you are guided to your left up a small incline. Make your way up the hill, passing Maggot clump on your right. The name is most likely to refer to the magpie in old Dorset dialect rather than a wood that’s full of something less attractive.
As you approach Little Down you enter a landscape full of earthworks. First a large cross dike borders the woodland ahead, yet buried in trees. The evidence discovered and analysed so far suggests an occupation area and trackway all associated with a Celtic field system. This first large earthwork, runs all the way to the A354, where the development of the road has damaged it. However, it shows activity on the OS map of 1811 with it being used as a track. Nearby is Combs Ditch an earthwork of Neolithic origin but used up to the medieval period, also possibly associated with these hidden remains.
When you arrive at the next woodland and back onto open field, you cross another dike, again most of it hidden in the wood or erased by the agriculture. Keep left and head straight down to the next gate. Turn right to cut straight across the following field, the terrain probably the hardest section of the whole ride. At the top turn right, keeping the field boundary on your left. The views open up to the North, East and South, Charborough Tower framed by the trees on the horizon to your far right is a clear landmark.
Enter into the woods via a small enticing gap, the path becoming firm once again, and remaining so for the rest of the route. Work your way through the coppiced hazel and oak woodland to then meet Lady Caroline’s Drive.
There have been three prominent Lady Caroline’s associated with Dorset, all of whom were the Ladys of Milton Abbey; Lady Caroline Sackville, the daughter of the 1st Duke of Dorset who died in 1775, Lady Caroline Damer, who died in 1829 and Lady Caroline Hambro who moved to the house in 1852. This route would have been a straight forward path from Milton Abbey to Blandford and was apparently a favourite of Lady Caroline Hambro. When the family bought the estate they committed themselves to making the Milton Abbas a beautiful place, the family also giving their name to the village pub, The Hambro Arms.
Join onto a paved road leading to Fair Mile Road. At the junction turn left and after about 400 metres, turn right into the woods. Here you are at the peak of the ride, meaning it’s pretty much all downhill back to Blandford.
Travel straight through the trees and soon after the woodland drops away and you climb up the hill to Quarleston. Turn right onto the farmyard and once you have passed the barns, turn left into the field. Cut diagonally across slowly heading down hill, passing a ruined chimney stack of an old cottage on your right.
Head straight through the gate and into deep woodland. Fork left and cross straight over any diverting tracks. When you exit the woods continue straight ahead, keeping the boundary on your right. Join onto a track and follow it all the way down to Lower Bryanston Farm. Head through the gate and turn almost immediately right on to the tarmac drive leading out of the farm.
When you meet the road, turn left and then left again at the next junction. Pass Bryanston at the roundabout, marked by the gates designed by James Wyatt in 1778. The Portman estate owned the property for over 600 years but suffered due to death duties resulting in the house being put up for sale. It has been a private school since the 1920’s.
Head straight over roundabout to cross the River Stour via the Blandford Bridge. The bridge dates from 1268, but was extensively restored in 1726, constructed from Portland stone and includes 6 arches. The story goes that during the great fire of Blandford, leapers were kept under the arches, out of harm’s way but at a safe distance distance from people.
Follow the road into the town, passing the meadows on your left to bring you directly back to The Crown.