Starting at Wyke’s old brewery, its coach house, pound and pub cut across the landscape, over the railway to reach the River Stour. Find the heart, etched into the stone on Eccliffe Bridge, the mill and river once inspiring John Constable. Discover impressive manors, medieval halls and houses fit for a Queen, with tales of tragedy, hospitality, racing and meditation. Follow the river downstream to reach the towering viaduct, its arches stepping high up over the country lane. Enter into the wilder landscape around Muddock’s Copse to return to Wyke using the old country lanes. Pass Stock Hill, sitting opposite its thatched chapel in memory of those lost during WW1. Walk under the watchful eye of the eagles, which sit on the entrance posts to Wyke Hall, before arriving back at The Buffalo, named after Wyke brewery’s very own trademark.
Distance: 4 miles/7km
Duration: 2 hours
Max Height: 350ft.
Min Height: 210ft.
Total climb: 150ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil and Sherborne
Start Point: The Buffalo, Lydford’s Lane, Wyke. (Postcode: SP8 4NJ, Grid Reference: ST796265, What Three Words: slime.static.unable).
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Wyke lies in the valley of the Upper Stour, on the western and northern edge of the river. The area has evidence of prehistoric activity including Longbury Barrow (Slaughtergate) dating back to the Neolithic. Roman artefacts have also been unearthed, scattered all around the village. The small neighbouring town of Gillingham, which has slowly grown into Wyke, was settled by the Saxons, their influence still visible in place names and field boundaries. However, the landscape cemented itself in history when King John made the settlement his seat for a Royal Hunting Lodge, Kings Palace, in order to access the Royal Forest of Gillingham. The forest dominated the landscape, covering the hills and valleys for miles around. The deer were hunted by his father (King Henry II, 1154-1189) and his son (King Henry III, 1216-1272) until the palace was destroyed in 1369 by Edward III. The old Wyndham’s Oak, in Silton, is thought to be one of the few surviving boundary markers. Gradually the town grew, encroaching on the slowly fading forest. Industries sprang up, centred on the power of the river and fertility of the soil, producing silk, butter, cheese, printing and even soap. In 1850, the railway was introduced and encouraged the town’s prosperity.
From The Buffalo, briefly turn right to make your way out onto the main road. On the left stands the Old Wyke Brewery. Wyke Brewery was founded around 1760 by the Matthews family, who began their brewing enterprise in an outhouse behind a pub called the Drum and Monkey, the original site of the pub is where the brewery building stands now. After a fire they rebuilt the pub on the opposite side of the road calling it The Buffalo, after their trademark charging buffalo. In the mid-19th century the brewery had developed enough for expansion. George Blandford Matthew proceeded to build the building we see today, in an ornate Italianate style, to provide ale for their, now chain of public houses. He also built the stables, sitting on the opposite side of the road; a large arched doorway is carved with his initials ‘G.B.M. 1884’. Today the building still stands but is known as the Coach House and is a private residence. The Buffalo pub was demolished around the turn of the century, the little lane on which it once stood known locally as Drum and Monkey Lane, remembering the pubs roots. Brewing ceased in 1963 when the business was bought by Hall and Woodhouse who sold it the building 1977 and in 1988 it was converted into flats.
Opposite Lydford’s Lane is the old Wyke Pound, its stone walls now hidden by modern day additions. On the left is the old school, built in 1890 but, like many of the brewery buildings, is now a private home. Retrace your steps down Lydford’s Lane to pass The Buffalo. It was rebuilt from another building around 1900 after the older Buffalo pub was demolished.
Continue to the end of the lane and on to a footpath to a gate, bringing you out into an open field. Cut straight across with the modern houses on the left hand side, to the boundary. In the next field, continue straight on heading for a gap in the hedge on the right hand side of the large care home. This field has received panning permission for 88 new homes and so soon its landscape will be changed dramatically and so will the right of way. After crossing the little plank path through the trees you enter the estate of Thorngrove.
Originally Thorngrove was called Queen’s Farm, once guarded by a moat and used as a reception place for the Queen when the King came to hunt. It has since gone through many owners, alterations, extensions, infills and demolitions until, in 1948 it became a Barnardo children’s home for girls, and later boys, before being sold back into private ownership.
As of the year 2000, the house and 17 acres of grounds have been run by the Osho Leela community, spiritual seekers that blend eastern mysticism with western psychotherapy. Their mission is to create paradise on earth, and it was this little section of Dorset that they chose! Also on the site is Thorngrove Garden centre with an adjoining café.
On meeting Thorngrove’s drive, turn left to the road. Pass the modernised Lodge House and cross straight over onto the track, then footpath, past Horkesley Hall Farm. Continue straight ahead, climbing two stiles to the railway. Head under the railway bridge and bear right to Eccliffe, joining the road by Eccliffe Farm.
To visit the river and mill, turn left, head straight under the trees to arrive at the water and a little further to the mill building. The corn mill was rebuilt in 1904, after a fire, and today is the work place for world renowned landscape photographer Charlie Waite. The area has influenced other artists too, the most famous being John Constable. In the early 19th century he often came to stay with a close friend, John Fisher, the vicar at Gillingham. Constable would frequently venture out into the countryside and the bridge at Eccliffe soon grabbed his attention; so much so he sketched the vista, including the old mill, Pern’s Mill, in the picture. Today it is viewable in the British Museum.
Retrace your steps and follow the road around the left hand bend. Stay on the tarmac road, following the Stour Valley Way, for about a mile, the meandering River Stour occasionally joining in the route. On meeting a T-junction, turn left while the imposing viaduct rises on the right.
Stay on the same road, passing Walnut Tree Farm, a small collection of fenced lakes and Nations to take the next right hand lane opposite Wool House. This small lane was once the entrance to the Springfield estate. Its avenue of trees, now overgrown, lead to old lodge house and the drive, now a country lane. The early 19th century house appears on the hill ahead and has been developed into a number of individual residences. The views from the house look down the valley of the River Stour towards the hillforts of Hod and Hambledon and the town of Blandford Forum.
Pass the second lodge house to then turn sharply right to Bugley Stud. Walk straight through the farmyard and out past the ménages to the corner of the field where you meet a stile. Head through the trees and along the hidden path to two more stiles. Climb over to be welcomed by further views looking towards Gillingham and the source of the River Stour. Bear left to climb down the hill to the railway.
Carefully cross the tracks and turn left towards Muddock’s Copse. Cross a small bridge over West Brook and veer to the left to wander up through the narrow field. Head under the dead tree and follow the trodden path to a stile, just before the gated entrance, to arrive at Westbrook Road.
Turn right, passing Westbrook Farm on the left and, at the top of the steepest hill of the walk, turn left onto Green Lane. Follow this old road, cocooned by many trees, straight to Harry Lodge’s Lane, exiting next to Longacres. Turn left and in 250 metres you meet anther T-junction. Turn right onto Langham Lane, heading straight back into Wyke. Here you are at the highest point of the walk, providing views to the south west towards the high hills that divide Cranborne Chase from the Blackmore Vale. Shaftesbury sits on the high northern edge, the tip of St Andrew’s church sometimes visible amongst the tree tops, and the wooded cone of Duncliffe rises above the river plains, both peaks often hidden by high hedges.
Follow the road for about 600 meters, passing Bramley Farm and ruins in the woods, to arrive at Stock Hill’s entrance gates. In 1890 Alfred Manger retired from banking, in both Hong Kong and London, to move to Stock Hill House. In his life he had five children, after being married twice, firstly to Martha Heatley Gibson; who died in 1883 and then a year later to Elizabeth Ann Keevil. He lived out his final years at the house passing away in 1917, the house staying in the family until his grandson, Lieutenant Colonel William Bourne Manger, last of the name, died in 1954. The house became a hotel but was put on the market in 2017 for £2 million and is now known as Stock Hill Stud.
Still following the road, you arrive at the thatched St George’s Church, hidden behind a metal gate on the right. It had always been a dream of Alfred’s to build a church on his land, for both his family and those that worked on the estate. As European events developed, the chapel evolved into a memorial to the sacrifices made by so many during the First World War. John Kenneth, the youngest of the of Alfred’s children was killed aged 30 at Wieltje, near Ypres. In addition to John, Alfred also lost his nephew, George Bredin Kitson, and his son-in-law, Second Lieutenant Robert Lancaster, who had married his daughter Clare Bracebridge Manger in 1907.
After Alfred’s death, Elizabeth decided that he should be interred at the location where the church was to be erected. However, she also passed away, only 2 years later, putting the responsibility of the church’s construction on their eldest son, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Harwood Manger. The chapel was finally built in 1921 over the remains of his parents and dedicated to St. George, patron saint of soldiers. Inscribed on a bronze wall plaque are the words: ‘Left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men’. Charles died in 1929 and is laid to rest to the west of the church amongst the trees, with his daughter lying next to him. Some leaves may need to be cleared to find his grave, but his daughter’s stone protrudes above the ground as a guide. Since the family have left, the church has been maintained by the Manger family trust.
Walk the last 300 metres back into Wyke and curve with the bend to the left to pass Wyke Farm. The farm dates back to 1700 with an early 19th century granary sitting in the farmyard. Originally it was a dovecote or rearing house for pigeons, a place to breed them and fatten them up for their tender meat. They became uneconomical thanks to rising grain prices, along with the hassle of vermin, and eventually fell into disuse. They were, however, often adapted into granaries or stables amongst other things.
At the next junction turn right while ahead sits Wyke Hall. Wyke Hall is a striking 14th Century manor house, possibly built as a hunting lodge for King Edward III. The house passed through a number of families, all making their own mark on the building including a rainwater head dated 1853. In 1895 Wyke Hall was under the ownership of Mrs Whitehead who, in 1891, offered a number of items to Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, the archaeologist, for his museum on account of selling the estate. The manor is set in large parkland with a summerhouse and walled garden, but today the house has been divided into 10 separate dwellings.
Continue to follow the road past Wyke Hall’s entrance gates, topped with stone eagles, and its lake, hidden behind the wall. Head around the bend, taking great care as there is no pavement, and into Wyke. Walk up the hill to meet the Old Coach House on the right and the brewery on the left. Turn down Lydford’s Lane to return to The Buffalo and your vehicle.