Starting at the village pub, St Peter’s Finger, wander between country estates and World War crash sites, not all with a sorry ending. Discover the old roads of the landscape, one topped with concrete the other with grass breaking through. Explore the county lanes and medieval woodland tracks to Foxhill, with views across an ancient landscape to a disappearing Iron Age Hillfort. Return via an empty farm, a religious sanctuary and an overgrown tree avenue to the church. Buried in the graveyard is an explorer with a colourful life of adventure and love, the Himalayas engraved into his headstone.
Distance: 4 miles/6km
Duration: 2 hours
Max Height: 140ft.
Min Height: 10ft.
Total climb: 160ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Map: OL Explorer 15 Purbeck and South Dorset.
Start Point: St Peter’s Finger. (Postcode: BH16 6HY, Grid Reference: SY961929, What Three Words: sculpture.costs.plays).
How to Get There: From Poole, travel west on the A35. After skimming the top of Poole Harbour, at the roundabout, take the third exit signposted for Lytchett Minster. On entering the village, St Peter’s appears on your right. The car park is situated just behind the pub.
Wheelchair access: There is a ramp up to a special disabled entrance at the pub and a disabled lavatory. There is a circular route possible around Lytchett Minster, following this walk by continuing south on Post Green Road, re-joining the walk at Post Green to continue straight down into the village.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Lytchett Minster was once surrounded by heathland, made famous in Thomas Hardy’s literary tragedies. It stretched from Poole Harbour across the county to Dorchester, the settlement on the edge of his ‘Vale of the Great Dairies’. The name refers to the old English translation of litchet meaning “grey wood”, lit/led meaning grey and chet/ced meaning wood, most probably referring to the colour template of the unforgiving landscape. The minster refers to the deep-rooted history to its church. The late development, not recorded until 1244, reflects the fact that the environment was seen as marginal land. It is sometimes known as South Lytchett, setting it apart from the larger settlement of Lytchett Matravers to the north.
The village developed within the low lying farmland, with easy access to Poole Harbour, and became home to a manor house that is now a school. The main road from Dorchester to Poole ran through the centre until the new A35 was built in 1980, diverting the traffic around the south of the settlement, returning it to the quite village it has always been.
The name of the Hall and Woodhouse owned pub is a curious one. St Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, is the patron saint of fishermen and fishmongers, himself being a fisherman. As it says on the wall of the pub, the legend claims St Peter caught a fish with a gold coin in its mouth. A ‘fish hook’ was also used as a term to trap or snare. Gradually, thieves were viewed to have fish hooks in their fingers and they were reputed to have ‘St Peters Fingers’. The pub became known as the gathering place for these reprobates.
St. Peters Finger is actually an anglicised translation of the Latin name St. Peter ad Vincula (St. Peter in chains). Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the Great Fire of Rome and imprisoned St Peter, who is often depicted as a prisoner. He was crucified at the base of the Vatican Hill upside down, as he requested, as he did not believe himself to be as worthy as Jesus.
The pub has had an important role in the community. Tenants and cottagers would pay their annual dues to the Lord of the Manor here on June 29th, the commemoration day of St. Peter. During the War, the nearby Lytchett Manor House became a base for American troops. The pub was a place where they could relax, enjoy a drink and learn how to use English money. It was also where lectures took place in order for them to learn about the local culture and how to treat English people correctly!
From the pub, turn right on the Dorchester road (B3067), passing a number of Victorian and thatched properties to reach the church. Straight ahead is the entrance to Lytchett Manor, the gate posts hidden under trees. The drive that continues beyond was the old road into Lytchett Minster. Fork right to remain on the B3067, staying on the pavement leading out of the village; this section of the walk being part of the Poole Harbour Trail.
The manor’s grounds sit on your left, bordered by old iron railings. The house has a mysterious history, being involved in many exploits with the advantage of underground tunnels linking the estate to the harbour. During the French revolution it was believed to be a safe house for the escaping French aristocracy, with the tunnels proving both an easy access and an easy escape. With the proximity to the harbour, and sea beyond, the tunnels were used by smugglers who had the local knowledge, mysteriously disappearing from any chasing customs officer. It could well have been these smugglers that gave the pub its reputation of being a den of thieves. The tunnels have since been filled in, too much of a health a safety risk for those that would have dared!
The manor and was built by John Jefferies in the 18th century and called “Sans Souci”, which means without a care. It was then sold to Sir Claude Scott in 1821 who proceeded to carry out a number of extensions and alterations before it was left empty in 1880. In 1890 it was bought by Baronet and MP Sir Elliott Lees. He also carried out a number of alterations and transformed the building into what we see today. In 1907 his influence was so strong over the landscape that he diverted the entire road, away from the house. The old road can still be easily traced in the landscape and on old maps, the new one being what we walk on today.
During the Great War, the Manor House was used as a hospital for the wounded. Lady Madeline Lees, who lived in the house at the time, became a nurse. When the war ended she turned her home into a school, but when World War II arrived, the house was requisitioned by the British Army and the grounds used as an American Tank base.
When Sir John Lees, Lady Madeline’s husband, died in 1955 the family decided to sell the property and move into the more modest Post Green House – passing later on the walk. The estate was bought by Dorset County Council for £10,500 together with 13 acres of land, who then developed it into a School. Lady Madeleine went on establish a Christian Commune and the Lytchett Minster Gospel Film Association. She produced two religious films, which became quite famous, featuring locals as the cast and the surrounding heathland landscape as the backdrop. Nevertheless, the stories associated with the manor continue. The house has managed to survive two fires, the first was an arson attack in 2000 and the second, a lightning strike in 2012. Despite these tragedies the school continues to thrive and has no burnt bits remaining!
As you walk along the road, in the fields on your right a USAF bomber crash-landed in 1942. Luckily, no one was hurt and the Americans were able to mend the plane, level the ground, prepare a runway and then fly her back out, all within 9 days. The locals were reported to have cheered so loud, the engines were drowned out.
Continue up the road until you arrive at the entrance to South Lytchett Campsite. In 1905, the Lodge was built, all in preparation for the new road. The old road connecting to the new under the ornate gates decorated with the Lees family crest of an owl on top. During the war the drive was reinforced with concrete in order to support the weight of the American tanks, the difference in terrain still visible today. Because of all this activity and more so in preparation for D-Day, the area was heavily bombed. The lodge still shows some scars, cut by flying shrapnel.
Turn left onto Randall’s Hill passing the old road to Poole as it disappears into the trees straight ahead. It was trumped by the 1980 road crossing the bypass, a hidden path providing access to the now overgrown route.
Walk straight up Randall’s Hill, being mindful of traffic as there is no pavement. Take the next left hand turn onto Hintock Road to meet Cottage Farm and the Courtyard Craft Centre on the left.
Cottage Farm was originally built in early 1700, with three great oaks planted at its entrance 20 years later, all still standing. It became derelict, but was saved in 1985 and evolved into The Courtyard Centre, a hub for local artists and craftsmen. There is a little teashop if refreshment is required.
Follow the road passing the Three Oaks thatched cottage, the name clearly honouring the three great oaks. In the trees on the far slopes ahead another aeroplane crash occurred, this time with not such a happy ending. In mid 1940’s just before the war ended, a Liberation four-engine bomber’s outer engine was on fire. Despite their best efforts the crew were powerless and all but the pilot bailed out, unfortunately with not all parachutes working. The plane crashed into the trees, on Huntick Hill, behind Race Farm, the crater still scarring the ground.
Turn left onto Post Green Road, curve around to the left and enter deeper into woodland. Pass the official entrance to Lytchett Minster School and when the road bends to the left, take the track on your right. Alternatively you can curve with the road around the bend to the left, returning to the to the pub past Post Green, the section of the road apparently haunted by a headless horseman!
Follow the chalky track around the large field, over a small stream and straight up the hill, keeping to the medieval route of Stafford Row.
On arriving at Foxhills Lane, turn left. The views begin to stretch far and wide, south to the Purbeck Hills and west to the little known Iron Age Hillfort of Bulbury. Much of the earthwork has been destroyed by ploughing and the development of a house and farm, but it would have once been much more prominent, looking over Poole Harbour and with close links to Woolsbarrow Fort, Weatherby Castle and Badbury Rings. Evidence unearthed includes pottery, metalwork and glass, suggesting occupation at the time of the Roman invasion, some of which are on display at the Dorset County Museum. The hillforts proximity to a number of Roman routes linking Poole Harbour to the north and west would have meant there would have been little escape for the local tribe from the Roman influence.
After about 400m, at the trees, turn left onto a footpath. Follow the boundary just inside of the woodland and when the path splits in a number of different directions, continue straight ahead, deeper into the trees. Weave your way through the ferns to a small plank bridge and to a stile without a step. Enter an open field and follow the boundary on the right to a gate. Head on through to join a track, cross a stream and then turn left over a stile to follow the woodland boundary uphill. Climb the stile, bear right in the empty farmyard to the road, Post Green appearing ahead.
Post Green was built towards the end of the 18th century and later enlarged. It became the home of the Lees family after the sale of the manor house and has become the Post Green Community. Founded by the late Sir Tom Lees, Lady Madeline’s son, and his wife, Faith, it aims to offer mutual support, prayer and religious study to help deal with the stresses of modern life.
Turn right and follow Post Green Road to where it splits and fork left onto New Road. Walk through the overgrown avenue of trees back towards the village. Just before the trees end, turn left over a stile and bear right to the church, Post Green House appearing behind. Climb the final stile and turn right to enter into the churchyard.
The church is of unknown dedication, lost through time. The west tower dates back to the 15th century, the rest of the church being rebuilt in 1833 by John Tulloch of Wimborne. On the South East buttress of the nave is a scratch dial dating from 1500 (a medieval sundial used to divide the day into prayer times rather than hours), with a sundial on the South porch, dating from 1700, inscribed ‘Restant Aeterna Caduci’ meaning ‘the fallen eternal remain’. In the churchyard to the north of the tower is the grave of Sir Francis Younghusband, an explorer who died at Post Green House in 1942 and a man who reputedly conducted a mystical love affair with Lady Madeline. Above the inscription on his gravestone are the Himalayan Mountains which he crossed in 1904.
Also in the graveyard is the early 20th century footballer Fred Pentland. Having already won many caps during his playing years he moved into coaching. In 1914 he was put in charge of the German Olympic Team only to be interred into a German detention camp at the breakout of the First World War. In 1929 he coached Spain’s National Team to victory against England.
From the church follow the path out onto the village road and turn right to return to the pub and your vehicle.