Starting at Mark Hix’s The Fox Inn, wander around the small village of Corscombe, along ancient Holloways and over old stone bridges. Follow trickling streams through the medieval landscape once controlled by Sherborne Abbey and the monks that lived at The Grange. Visit the mysterious, prehistoric stones, giant megaliths standing proud in a lush green valley, sitting on one of the oldest routes in Britain, their purpose unknown. Explore the enchanted woodland, with views across sloping spurs that inspired an award winning musical artist. Pass a country estate with ancestral connections to Harvard University, a legacy that still exists today. Skim one of the highest peaks in the county to return to the 400 year old pub at the heart of the peaceful village.
Distance: 4.5 miles/7km (an extra mile to the stones, and an extra 1.5 miles to Urless Farm). See map at bottom of page.
Duration: 2-3 hours
Max Height: 620ft.
Min Height: 310ft.
Total climb: 540ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field. Can get boggy, regardless of season.
Map: OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis
Start Point: The Fox inn, Corscombe. (Postcode: DT2 0PD, Grid Reference: ST525052, What Three Words: unrated.requires.sentences).
How to Get There: From Dorchester, head north west on the A37. Once through Grimstone, take the next left onto the A356 to Crewkerne. Follow the same road for about 10 miles to turn right signposted to Corscombe and Halstock, just after Toller Down. Stay on the narrow lane for about a mile, all the way down to the village to arrive at the river and Fox Inn, parking, and overflow parking, on the right hand side.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Refreshments: The Fox Inn (10% off for Tess of the Vale members).
Corscombe is a village surrounded by woodland and chalk hills, hidden in the peaceful north-western corner of Dorset, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. It sits on the high ground, just north west of Toller Down, one of the highest hills in the county. The little lanes, which have been used for centuries, carve their way through the hills into Holloways. Despite its small size the village’s history is rich and varied, the evidence scattered in the surrounding landscape, stone buildings and even the music charts.
Early human occupation has left its mark in the form of ancient stones and earthworks. Roman activity has also been discovered as well as the nearby route of the A37 following an old Roman road, the A356 a possible one too. The importance of these ancient paths is even in the village’s name, deriving from the Saxon ‘Cors-Weg-Cumb’ meaning the valley of the pass road. During the medieval period Corscombe was the property of Sherborne Abbey right up until the dissolution, in 1539, when it was passed to the Crown.
Corscombe is the childhood home of the singer Polly Jane (PJ) Harvey. Her parents, Eve and Ray, bought a small cottage in the village shortly after their marriage in the local church. The cottage, near to the Fox Inn, had experienced a fire, lost its top floor and was slightly dishevelled. Nevertheless, it had a small stream in the garden and they were able to purchase land too making it a special little spot. It was also close to their own Ham Stone quarry (one of only two) – the golden stone having been used in many local buildings for generations. PJ grew up here with her brother, Soul, in a musical household and in a wider landscape that PJ has claimed to be a big influence on what she produces today. She has become the only musical artist to have won the Mercury Prize award twice in 2001 and 2011. Some of her poems for her new book ‘Orlam’ (written in Dorset dialect as well as English) were composed in the village, with a strong connection to the surrounding landscape. Eve and Ray were community minded and bought the Fox Inn in 2012 to prevent it from development. Sadly, Ray died in 2020. In 2021 the lease to the pub was taken over by the chef and restaurateur Mark Hix, who also runs The Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis.
Standing with the 400 year old pub behind you, turn right up the road to take the left hand footpath (opposite the road) running past Corscombe Court. The building dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest in Dorset, still partially surrounded by its moat. It was a monastic grange, part of the Sherborne Abbey estate and, along with its 15th century tithe barn, was used by the monks. After being taken by the Crown it was remodelled in the 17th century and the southern edge of the moat was filled in. Today it is a private home hidden behind farm buildings.
Cross over the river following the boundary on the left as the field narrows to enter into the woods. When the path splits, take the right hand fork and again at the next divide, directed by the yellow footpath signs. Make your way straight through the trees and then turn left, staying within the woodland boundary. Head through two small gates and onto a grassed track to a junction with an eastern diversion of Common Lane. Common Lane was once the main route between Corscombe and Halstock; the old cart wheels, trotting hooves and wandering feet eroding the route into a Holloway that has now been forgotten by everyday traffic. Back towards Corscombe (to the left) was an old brickwork factory, now nothing but bumps in the ground and remnants in the woods.
Turn right at the junction, away from Corscombe, north, along Common Lane towards Halstock. Cross over the river and past the water works to reach Farmers End, where you turn left. As the lane continues towards Halstock, nearer the village, remains of a Roman villa have been unearthed, built upon an older Iron Age settlement. In 1818 a large mosaic was discovered and in the 1980’s further excavations were carried out, discovering extensive Roman baths, resulting in the conclusion that it was a villa of impressive wealth. Just after leaving the route to Halstock you pass the ruins of some farm labourers’ cottages buried amongst the brambles on the right. They were occupied until the 1930s with some walls still standing and covered in ivy, but the majority of the remains being rubble on the ground. Walk straight on, back up the hill, into the western section of Corscombe.
On joining the village road turn left, passing Pitts Farm on the right. It was built around 1760 and at one time was Corscombe’s second public house, called the George Inn. It closed in about 1885 becoming a bakery but today are private homes.
To visit the ancient stones, take the next right up Barrow Lane, opposite The Barton. At the end, walk straight ahead onto the grassed track and up into the trees of Beckham Coppice. This old path is part of The Harrow Way, a route that claims to be the oldest in Britain, cutting across South West England to Stonehenge. Continue to gradually climb the valley to arrive at the wooden homes of Linhay. Leave Beckham’s Coppice behind and turn up towards Linhay and then left through the buildings. Head down to a gate with the ancient stones appearing straight ahead.
At the top of the hill, sitting near Toller Gate, are the Hore Stones, ancient megaliths that are buried in vegetation at the side of the A356. In this valley there are over 10 ancient stones lying in 3 separate groups, dating from the same period. Their purpose is unknown. Theories have been put forward that they are from a Neolithic long barrow, a chamber or part of a forecourt. The ‘Devil’s Armchair’ or ‘Granny’s Armchair’ is the biggest of the collection. Their appearance is similar to The Grey Mare and her Three Colts with one stone standing high, flanked by two smaller stones. The other groups lie scattered around the slopes, their relationships yet to be understood.
Retrace your steps back down the valley, the views to the north easier to appreciate in this direction, and back into the village. Turn right on the road to pass the little communal garden and playground, marked with a blue plaque commemorating The Best Kept Village award, won in 1996. Continue along the High Street, over the stream and onto Fudge Hill to reach Pines House, sitting at the bottom of the track to Common Lane. The house and parts of the garden wall are built out of the bricks made in the works that once sat further up the track. Opposite is the thatched beauty of Pope’s Cottage. It is dated 1796, the garden wall built shortly after.
Remain on Fudge Hill, curving your way through the high hedges and ignoring Court Lane, marked with the village’s millennium stone. Just as you approach the next junction, High Orchards appears on the left, hidden behind its own hedge. Built in the 17th century it used to have a thatched roof and for a time was the village post office. At the next junction, turn right passing Glebe Cottage. It seems to have been constructed out of every era of the village’s history and also has claims to being the post office for a time, further encouraged by its letterbox outside. Continue up the hill and turn left to St Mary’s Church.
Neighbouring the church is Corscombe House. Dating back to 1560, it was originally the Rectory and despite many alterations over the years it has managed to retain much of its original character. Walk straight through the iron gates to enter into the churchyard.
The church dates back to 1315 but was largely rebuilt in the 15th century. In 1875 it was restored and in 1878 the chancel and south aisle were rebuilt as well as the addition of the south chapel. It is constructed from the local Ham stone and the tower is home to six bells. The church sits on the higher ground looking down upon the lower village and with views over the wooded countryside, best seen from the top corner of the graveyard. Frederick Treves visited in 1905 and described its location as ‘exceedingly fine’. Originally the church was dedicated to St Michael but in 1865 was rededicated to St Mary.
From the church turn right along the little dead end lane, another Holloway, deeper into the valley. On arriving at a crossroads of tracks you meet the 18th century Ford Cottage. The cottage did not used to be so isolated, with some extra houses mapped opposite the track on the 1888 OS map. Its purpose must have had strong connection to this route and its crossing over the water. The river is only a small tributary which flows into Sutton Bingham reservoir to the north and then on onto the River Yeo and the Bristol Channel.
At this junction you have a choice of either turning left to continue the walk or right to explore the woods and lakes around Urless Farm.
Turning right, join a bridleway skimming past the cottage on the left. Continue up the hill and after the boundary, turn left into the woodland. Follow the muddy path over an old stone bridge and up the other side with bluebells, laurel, wild garlic and upturned trees bordering the path. Wander through the slender trunks, as they all compete for sunlight, and out into an open field. Bear slightly right, staying at roughly the same height, to the next gate. Curve around to the left to arrive at Urless Farm, its stone entrance pillars visible on the opposite slopes. Behind the house rises Toller Down, one of the highest peaks in Dorset, topped with the hidden Hore Stones.
Urless Farm was the home of Thomas Hollis (1720-1774). Known to be an eccentric gentleman, he spent most of his time in London or travelling Europe, devoting his life to political and religious freedom. He inherited the estate from his uncle (also known as Thomas Hollis) as a teen which included a huge library of books. In 1764 a fire destroyed nearly all the books at Harvard University’s Library in America. His uncle was a benefactor to Harvard and Hollis continued this connection, so, after the fire, proceeded to refill the library with a huge number of books, every year, until his death. He carefully selected each book, containing scientific studies, geology, medicine, agriculture and antiquity, his aim being to educate and assist the development of scholars and noble men. He provided so many that the inventory information could not keep up, the full details of his donations still unknown. Today Harvard’s online library system is called HOLLIS, cementing his family’s legacy.
He died suddenly on New Year’s Day in 1774 aged 53, in a field around Urless Farm, unmarried and childless. The legend claims that he was buried on the spot, in the company of his favourite horse, but no one knows exactly where! Hollis left his mark in the mapped landscape too by giving the fields and farms names to match his convictions such as ‘republic’, ‘revolution’ and ‘toleration’. Apparently he even named one of his coppices ‘Stuart’, so he could behead it. Hollis left the estate to his friend Thomas Brand, a fellow political philosopher, on the condition he changed his name to Hollis. On Brand’s death he passed it on to another friend – John Disney (who proceeded to write a book about Brand). It is quite odd for such an estate to be handed down the generations through friendship and not family, but possibly one answer could be that they just favoured philosophical male company.
On approaching the building, turn sharply left and walk down the slope to a metal gate. Head on through, walking between the lakes and turn left, following the now familiar yellow footpath arrows pinned to the odd tree. Keeping the lake on your left, make your way along the faintly trodden path, through the woodland, slightly uphill and over a stile into a boggy field. Curve with the boundary on the left to the next gate, cutting through the woodland and out into the next field. Keep left, minding out for the boggy section in the middle, to then arrive back at Ford Cottage.
At Ford Cottage (coming from Urless Farm) turn right at the junction of tracks and then take the right hand gate. Climb up the hill skimming past the corner of Luther Coppice and under the wires to the stile. Bear left to the corner of the field to the next stile onto a small country lane.
Turn left on the road and walk between Newhouse Farm and the old barns to take the bridleway on the right. Walk on through the dilapidated farmyard and onto a track. To the left the views open out wide to the west over a landscape of medieval castles and wild forest. Cross through the next boundary and turn left, staying on the clearly defined track. On the right is Chelborough Park which was once home to two medieval castles, now moulded grassed peaks merged into their surroundings. As soon as you reach the top, walk back down the other side and out into a field. Keep the boundary on the right to curve around the lower corner and arrive at Woodwalls. Head through a gate and cut through the farmyard to meet a little road.
Turn right and onto the drive to Norwood Farm, the house coming into view ahead. Follow the drive, passing the cottage and walking between the trees and veering onto a footpath to the left. Once out of the wood, bear left across the field aiming for a gap in the hedge just below St Mary’s Church, which sits on the opposite hill in the distance. Down on the right is Mill House, mentioned in the Domesday Book and once powered by the little river in the valley. After walking through the boundary, take the next two stiles on the left to cut out a small corner. Continue in the same direction to a large farm gate and out onto a road back into Corscombe. Turn right to the village road and then left to return to The Fox Inn for well-deserved refreshment!