Hidden behind the hills of Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door are the villages of Winfrith Newburgh and Chaldon Herring. Wander between the thatched roofs and cob walls to the manor houses, churches and ruins. Explore the landscape that was once a playground for 19th century artists, poets, authors and sculptors to climb the hill to the Five Marys. Discover the Bronze Age Barrows that share views almost across the entire southern corner of the county to return to the village through old drove roads and forested paths.
Distance: 5 miles/8km
Duration: 2-3 hours
Ability: Easy, one steep climb.
Max Height: 330ft.
Min Height: 120ft.
Total climb: 220ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Map: OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck and West Dorset
Start Point: The Red Lion Pub. (Postcode: DT11 9ES, Grid Reference: SY805853, What Three Words: unheated.chained.mercy).
How to Get There: From Wareham head east on the A352 all the way to Wool. Cross over the railway and turn right to continue on the same road for about 2 miles. Shortly after passing through West Knighton, the pub and car park will appear on the left.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Starting at the 18th Century Hall and Woodhouse Red Lion Inn, head out to the field behind the car park and into the recreation area, with its football pitch, cricket pitch and playground. Continue to its bottom right hand corner to join a path taking you straight to the village road of Water Lane in Winfrith Newburgh. Take care on the road as it can get very busy during the summer months.
Winfrith Newburgh, or more commonly known as just Winfrith, is located within a designated Area of Outstanding Beauty, sitting on the edge of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. The name derives from the River Win, which runs through the village, to the River Frome. The word translates from Old English to ‘white’ or ‘bright’ steam. The Newburgh comes from Robert de Neubourg, who was granted the manor in the 12th century and whose son was responsible for moving Bindon Abbey from Lulworth to Wool. The same family remained at the manor for nearly 400 years, until 1514. In 1641 it was purchased by the Weld family of Lulworth, who still own swathes of the land today.
Winfrith used to sit on the ancient road that linked the Roman town of Dorchester to the Saxon town of Wareham. The route has since been trumped by the turnpike, now the A352, leaving little trace of the old road in the landscape. On meeting the village road of Water Lane, turn left, staying on the tarmac for the next couple of miles.
Pass the 19th century East Fossil Farmhouse on the right and Cheriton House on the left. Enter deeper into the village passing a number of small cottages, some of which have had their thatched roofs replaced with tiles. On the bend of the road you meet the impressive garden wall to Winfrith House, complete with an 18th century brick gatehouse topped with a battlemented parapet. It sits opposite Winfrith Drove which leads on to the sea, a route that may have been part of the old medieval road, but was undoubtedly used by smugglers making a quick escape from the coast.
The next building to note is the 18th Century Malthouse, again on the right hand side. The white washed rendered walls are trying to hide its rough construction but the coarse flint and rubble is still visible on its gable end. Just prior to The Malthouse, on the opposite side of the road is a spot where, in 1832, nothing happened!
Continue to follow the road through the village along the High Street to Winfrith Fields Farm, also known as the Manor House, sitting on the bend of the road. The manor was built in the late-16th century but was extensively remodelled in the early 19th century. The surrounding farm buildings are much older, without as much rebuilding.
Cross over the road and bear left to reach the church of St Christopher. The building’s roots date back to the 12th century but was rebuilt in the 15th century and extensively restored in 1854. However, some of the older features still survive including the north doorway and west tower. The south porch was built in the 17th century. Four scratch dials have apparently survived too, on the chancel and on the jambs of the south door, but are a struggle to find! Behind the church sits the old rectory, now known as Winfrith Court, built in the 19th century. In the top corner of the graveyard is the little metal gate that would have been the vicar’s entrance.
From the church turn left, signposted for East and West Chaldon, staying on the valley road and meeting the River Win. Pass the five star Bed and Breakfast of Marley House, previously known as “The Beeches”. It most probably is 17th century in origin but was altered and enlarged around 1830.
Follow the river upstream where it crosses under the road at Marley Cottage, leaving the village behind. Pass Rectory Farm on the right, now known as Azrea. It was built in the 17th century in the Laithe House tradition, where the dwelling is dual-purpose, being a house and agricultural building built in one range – rare for Dorset and more often found in the north. It was purchased in 2008, the owners converting it into a substantial four bedroom house and stables.
Follow the narrow, hedged country lane for about a kilometre, entering into Chaldon Herring (or East Chaldon). The name reflects the landscape deriving from the old English ‘cealf’ for calf and ‘dun’ for hill – ‘hill where calves are pastured’. The Herring, again, is the Manorial addition, the family owning the land from 1166-1372. They also gave their name to Langton Herring and Winterborne Herringston, their coat of arms bearing three herrings.
With the close proximity of the coast to the south, the village was highly involved in smuggling. With Lulworth to the East and Osmington to the West, it was located in a prime position. The Stickland, Snelling and Squibb families all lived in the village but also feature in the registrars of the County gaol, caught for smuggling contraband. However, their behaviour was deemed to be orderly. Today Chaldon Herring is almost forgotten, suspended in time and scattered with old farm buildings, little, low roofed, thatched cottages and ruins, hidden down a simple narrow lane. To its benefit it remains peaceful, often missed by the tourists traveling to the ever popular Lulworth.
The village has some creative history too. Theodore F Powys (1875-1950), Llewelyn Powys (1884-1939) and John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) were three brothers who all, at some time, lived in the village along with their two sisters Philippa Powys and Gertrude Powys. They were an arty bunch writing poems, sculpting or creating while being inspired by the landscape that surrounded them. Theodore wrote stories based on village life mixed with tales told to him by local elders, eventually leading to his success as a writer; Chaldon becoming Folly Down in his novel “Mr Weston’s Good Wine”.
A social circle grew to include the famous Thomas Hardy and, T.E.Lawrence (otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia). The circle widened to include the sisters Elizabeth Muntz, (a sculptor) and Hope Muntz (a historian), the novelists Sylvia Townsend Warner and David Garnett, the poets Valentine Ackland and Gamel Woolsey and the sculptor Stephen Tomlin. The individuals would often be seen walking around the village and quite often disappearing together to the Five Marys to absorb and be influenced by the views around them. Sylvia and Valentine even organised dancing on the earthworks of the Five Marys to celebrate King George V’s Jubilee in 1935. David Garnett wrote a book in 1926, named after The Sailor’s Return, the pub in the village, where he often came to stay. Sylvia Townsend Warner met Valentine Ackland at Theodore’s house, Beth Car, just further up the road from the church. The two women fell in love living together happily ever after for the next 40 years. After moving away from the village, to Frome Vauchurch in 1937, Valentine died in 1969 and Sylvia in 1978. Their ashes were returned to Chaldon Herring and they were buried together in St Nicholas Church.
Walk through the Old Vicarage Farm Buildings and ruins to reach the centre and the village green. Before the lane splits, turn left on to Chydyok Road, passing the former Blacksmiths, in ruins on the right. At the whitewashed, thatched Stable Cottage, turn right onto a little track leading to the road with the old Vicarage coach house on the left and the Granary opposite. Turn left to arrive at the Old School with the path to the church on the left. The school was built at the same time as the renovations to the church, complete with its own school bell. Today it serves as the village hall, the bell still sitting in its little turret.
The parish church is dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of mariners, and dates from the 15th century, but the north wall and part of the west tower date from the late 14th century. Inside is a Saxon font. Renovations and alterations took place during Victorian times including the addition of the south arcade
On the opposite side of the road sits the Old Vicarage and to the east of the church is the manor house, or otherwise known as The Grange. The Grange was built in the 13th century and along with Grange Farm was under the control of Bindon Abbey until the dissolution. It was greatly modified by Richard Goselowe in 1728, but retained its 16th century spiral staircase. In 1790 it was sold to the Weld family, remaining in their ownership for 200 years, selling in 1970.
Return to the road and back down to the green. Keep left, twice, passing the village pump, the puddle remains of the medieval cross on the green to the right and Lilac cottage on the left (once home to Theodore before he moved to Beth Car). The row of cottages also at one time included the village post office, its post box still in working order, embedded into the wall.
Head up the hill to The Sailor’s Return Inn, no doubt a hub of activity during smuggling times. The building was originally built as a pair of thatched fishermen’s cottages in the 18th century but was developed into a public house in the 19th century, changing little since and still with its original flagstone floor. The name apparently comes from three brothers who left the village to join the navy. On returning, one of the brothers discovered his wife with another man.
Opposite the pub there once stood a little rundown 19th century thatched cottage called ‘Miss Green’. It was the first home of Sylvia and Valentine, moving in in 1930 and, according to her diaries, was a happy place despite the property being ‘undesirable’. The couple moved out of ‘Miss Green’ to Hut Dairy which was in even worse of a state, Sylvia claiming that ‘eight dead rats were dredged from its well’. Hut Dairy was later demolished. In 1940 a German bomber jettisoned its load smashing ‘Miss Green’ to smithereens and now the site is just a small patch of green turf. Behind the pub, marked on an old OS map is the site of a chapel, however, no remains exist in the field having all been ploughed away.
Follow the footsteps of the writers along the country lane out of the village and into the countryside aiming for the hill rising ahead, the bumps of the barrows sitting on the top. At the bend you have the choice of heading though the gate on the right and taking the steep but shorter path to the Five Marys or curving with the road taking the less steep but longer route to the earthworks. Turning right through the gate, keep to the path and fork left when given the opportunity. Head up the hill diagonally and on meeting a boundary turn left. At the top you arrive at the Five Marys, turn left to appreciate the full selection of earthworks.
Despite being called the Five Marys there are actually six Bronze Age Barrows, with a few more in the surrounding area. The name derives from the word ‘meer’ instead of the name Mary, meer being a parish boundary marker. The barrows once split East Chaldon from Owermoigne, but the boundary has since been moved. Two of the barrows were excavated in 1866 by an exiled Bourbon princess, the Duchess of Berry, who was staying at nearby Lulworth Castle. They unearthed two male and one female burial all with stag antlers sitting at their shoulders.
The views are extensive, although slightly different to the views the artists would have experienced. To the north is Winfrith Heath. In 1957 the nuclear research centre of Winfrith Atomic Energy was established, its solid, light green and orange tower standing in the distance. However, it is currently being decommissioned and soon the views will return back to what the artists saw.
Neighbouring the old power plant is Winfrith Heath which was designated a National Nature Reserve in 1985. A large chunk of 250 acres were sold to Dorset Wildlife Trust in 2000. Rising above is the Blacknoll group of five Bronze Age bowl barrows with the largest marked with an OS trig point. The views then extend further into Dorset over its patchwork fields and woodland all the way to Bulbarrow Hill, marked with its communication masts. To the south the little tower of St Nicholas sits in the valley, wrapped in a pocket of woodland. Large fields cover the slopes that climb up the chalk hills to the cliffs of Ringstead and Lulworth. The bump of High Chaldon sits in the foreground splitting the villages of East and West Chaldon.
Leaving the Five Marys behind, join the track heading east and keep to the ridge, passing Sandy Lane on the left. Follow it down the hill towards Wynards Farm, the views across the countryside slowly widening then disappearing. At the junction with Wynards Farm and East Farm tracks, turn left onto Colehill Drove. At the bottom and at the end of the grass track, turn right onto a lane heading to Fossil Farm.
Combined with the surrounding barrows, the evocatively named Fossil Farm hints back to the surrounding ancient landscape. It is also this track, or Colehill Drove, that was possibly the original medieval route to Dorchester. After the Jurassic Coast farm shop and barns, head through the gate where the lane turns back into a grass track taking you straight into Winfrith Newburgh. On meeting the 17th century cottages, turn left onto Thornicks. Curve around to the right, over the bridge and back onto Water Lane. Turn left and then right to follow your original footsteps back though the recreation area and to the Red Lion Inn.