Walk through the low landscape of the Winterborne valley. Starting at one of the oldest pubs in Dorset, join tracks and trails alongside landscaped estates, into wild woodland and over open fields to Winterborne Zelston, home of the Botany Bay Inn. Trace the footsteps of the fateful, shackled convicts as they made their way to the Australian penal colony that gave the pub its name. Discover the hidden village of Winterborne Zelston and the childhood playground of the adventurer Bear Grylls to return via the small dry bed or flowing water of the little stream and one of the longest walls in the country.
Distance: 4 miles/6.5km
Duration: 2-3 hours
Max Height: 165ft.
Min Height: 120ft.
Total climb: 60ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Map: OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis and OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury and Cranborne Chase
Start Point: The World’s End Pub. (Postcode: DT11 9ES, Grid Reference: SY907977, What Three Words: redouble.florists.elbow). Alternatively, the walk can be started from The Botany Bay Inn (Postcode: DT11 9ET, Grid Reference: SY899973, What Three Words: inflamed.skinny.glitz), walk straight up The Street to join the walk at the medieval cross.
How to Get There: From Wimborne join the A31 traveling east. Cross straight over the A350 via a roundabout to meet the long wall of Charborough Park. Keep tight to the wall for just under 3 miles, forking left off the main road. The World’s End will then appear on your right.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
The World’s End is one of Dorset’s best known pubs, sitting on the A31 between Dorchester and Bournemouth, on the gateway to the Jurassic Coast. It was under the ownership of Richard Drax, who also owns the surrounding Charborough Park, and managed by Hall and Woodhouse, but was put on the market in July 2020 and is now is private ownership.
There has been a pub on this spot for centuries, claiming to date back the furthest in the county, covering 600 years. Sadly in 1991 a fire destroyed the building that had retained much of its deep history. These included timbers from the Spanish Armada, a highwayman’s bolthole, a bread oven and memorabilia of passing sailors on their journey from Portsmouth to Plymouth. The pub was a haunt for smugglers throughout the 17th century, a perfect pit stop while transporting contraband from the coast. It is also claimed that Churchill, Montgomery and Eisenhower met here, planning the D-Day invasion, this is perfectly possible as Rempstone Manor, in the Purbecks, was where further planning took place by them all.
After the fire, the pub was rebuilt, using as much as possible from the surviving building. It kept to its original style with a traditional thatched roof and historic interior, decorated with wood panelling, open fires and old beams. After its sale in 2021 it was further restored and renovated.
From the pub and car park, turn away from the main road and onto the country lane. Turn right at the T-junction onto the B3075, following the road to the bend. The Charborough Estate sits on the left hand side and is one of the largest private estates in Dorset. Still lived in by the conservative MP Richard Drax, the estate has been in the same family for centuries. Rising above the tree tops is Charborough Tower, a folly that was embellished and heightened by the owner, John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge, in the 18th century, who also held the manor at Holnest. The estate has a chequered history from being responsible for razing Corfe Castle to the ground and for the prosperous slavery plantations in the West Indies. Neither of which have had any reparations, despite demands from both.
Just before the junction you pass Millers Farm on the left. When building a new dairy a number of prehistoric artefacts were unearthed including worked flint and a scraper. Later medieval pottery was also discovered indicating that this 17th century building and its cottages (that were formerly one house) must have replaced an earlier settlement. The farm today focuses on cow health, their welfare and disease management. The farm was even a finalist in the NMR’s (National Milk Records) nationwide Herdwise Competition awarded to the herd demonstrating the best practice of Johne’s disease control.
On reaching the junction turn right onto Vermin Lane and then left over a stile onto a footpath, keeping the hedge on the left hand side. The hills rise up slowly in the distance, the trees marking the northern edge of Wareham Forest. Head all the way to the end, over a stile and then bear right to find a hole in the hedge in the corner of the boundary (no stile could be found!). Turn left, then right, following the jutting edge of the field all the way up to the road. At the top you are surrounded by wide open fields that not long ago would have been covered with thick forest and heathland. Turn right following the road for about 400 metres to the next bridleway on the right.
Keep to edge of the field to meet the corner of the woodland, marking the river path. As you descend, Charborough Tower appears to the east, its tip surrounded by thick forest of the parkland. Bear left into the trees, keeping to the top edge, to join a tunnelled track. Slowly an old boundary emerges on the right, marked by a slight raise in the ground and lined with sprouting hazel. Follow this faint earthwork to the edge of the trees and turn right. When you meet the river, or dry bed, cross over a small wooden bridge, where you enter the parish of Winterborne Zelston.
When you hit what seems to be a dead end, continue straight ahead and circle the tree on the right to join another grassed track, known as Winterborne Lane. This old route was possibly the medieval link between the settlements of Winterborne Zelston and West Morden, to the south, crossing the river and passing ancient tumuli on its path, suggesting even older roots.
Climb up out of the valley keeping to the old grassed road to reach Kiddies Farm. Here you meet another bridleway (small dead end lane) that connects Winterborne Zelston to Botany Bay Farm to the west. Turn right to meet the A31. On meeting the busy road, being wary of traffic, turn right and then left down onto The Street.
Winterborne Zelston gains its name from the river, as many others do along the course including Winterborne Stickland, Winterborne Clenston, Winterborne Whitechurch, Winterborne Anderson and Winterborne Tomson; the river only flowing over ground during the winter months. The second part of the name is either a manorial addition, most probably from the Zeals family, or from the Old English ‘sealh’ meaning a small willow or sallow.
Pass the Old School on the left, now a small annex to the thatched 17th century Willow Farmhouse, to meet the river Winterborne, or dry bed, on its way to the River Stour. Continue through the village to meet the ancient cross. Dating back to the medieval period, the cross has been moved from its original positon which was on the opposite corner. On the right, down The Street, is the Hall and Woodhouse Pub – The Botany Bay Inn. The name refers to the colony in Australia which has strong links to this location in Dorset.
During the 1700s British gaols had become overcrowded, the conditions squalid and insufferable, often overflowing with people who had committed only minor offences. Many were sent to America but with the country’s recent independence this had to be changed. Joseph Banks, an intrepid explorer, naturalist and botanist who travelled alongside Captain James Cook on his first great voyage around the world, returned in 1771 with an answer to the prison problem. He had discovered Botany Bay in Australia, named by Banks himself, which he believed to be suitable for a penal colony.
The solution became that the prisoners, who had committed a simple crime of stealing bread on which to feed themselves to the more aggressive assault or murder, to be sent to Australia for seven years, fourteen years or even life. They were transferred to prison hulks lying off Portsmouth and Plymouth and transported across the sea in conditions not much better than the gaols themselves. On 18th January 1788, the first fleet arrived at Botany Bay.
The prisoners would have had to walk across the Dorset countryside to the ports from the prison in Dorchester, chained together, occasionally stopping overnight in barns. Botany Bay Farm was one location for these prisoners rests, its connecting bridleway their fateful path. The convicts convicted by Judge Jefferies during the Bloody Assizes were shackled to the barns at the farm before they continued on their frightful journey. The shackles are apparently still visible on the barn wall.
At the crossroads on the A31 to Botany Bay Farm is a red post. Only four of these fingerposts exist in the county, out of 700 in total, and their purpose is assumed to have directed the traveling criminal crowd, painted red to help the illiterate guards. The other three are near Evershot, Poyntington and Hewood. Although their presence does not clearly define a pattern, it has been suggested that Evershot and Botany Bay Farm signs are both 13/4 miles (walking) distance from Dorchester, with Poyntington and Hewood being an further 13 miles from Evershot, possibly suggesting some organisation in distribution of waymarks. However, there are other theories put forward that puts this red post purpose in doubt. Some claim they marked the locations of hangings or suicide, the red reflecting the blood that had been spilt! The history of the convicts has stuck to the village of Winterborne Zelston, the pub adapting it into its name.
From the cross, with a village information board standing behind, follow the river downstream to walk over the bridge at the aptly named Bridge Cottage, another fine example of a thatched cottage, but was once less grand, originally built as three separate dwellings for farm workers, combined with a cart shed. Attached to the bridge is a little sign, giving instructions to anyone passing how to play a game of Pooh Sticks.
After crossing the water turn right to walk alongside the churchyard wall. However, if you continue up the road to the village hall you pass the Old Rectory, put on sale in 2022 for £1.35 million and West Farm, another example of a modest farm dwelling transformed into elegant country cottage. There is also a World War solider guarding the property from his little plane.
The parish church of St Mary dates back to the 13th century with its chancel windows, 14th century doorway in the south vestry wall and 15th century tower. The rest was rebuilt by Thomas Henry Wyatt in 1866, who also rebuilt St Luke’s in West Orchard and St Mary’s in Stalbridge. According to the Listed building site the churchyard is home to a 16th century mystery, a simple slab of Purbeck stone pierced with six pointed lights in two tiers.
Take the little wooden kissing gate, opposite the church steps. Enter into the field and pass the end of the churchyard to glimpse the 18th century Zelston House, hidden behind the trees. This manor house was the childhood home of the explorer Bear Grylls, the landscape his first playground. His mother, Lady Sarah Grylls, still plays an active part in village life, having sold the house after the death of Bear’s father, Michael Grylls, in 2001. The house is now in the ownership of John Smith whose family gained wealth from the production of Matchbox Cars. The family bought Salterns Marina in Poole in 1969, developing it into the marina we see today, the management passing down through the generations.
Head straight across the field and though the next boundary to circle a small lake, or dry basin, anti-clockwise. Keep the boundary on the right to the next gate and then continue with the boundary on the left to meet a track past Huish. Veer off to the track to the left and through two gates to Huish Manor’s drive. Huish is a humble little settlement with little more than the manor house, built in 1798. It is currently one of the bases for The Green Island Holiday Trust; a Dorset based charity providing supported holidays for local people living with a disability. The name comes from the old English ‘hiwisc’ meaning a household with land sufficient for a family.
Continue straight ahead and around to the left with only the tease of the chimneys over the hedge. Follow a fenced route curving to the right and cutting though the fields to the trees. Once through the next boundary enter a narrow field walking almost parallel to the river and main road. At the junction to Mapperton, not to be confused with Mapperton near Beaminster, turn right at Mapperton’s old school to meet the busy A31 for the second time, crossing the Winterborne River via Marsh Bridge.
Cross the road with care to meet Charborough Park’s boundary wall, one of the longest walls in the country. The wall was commissioned by the ever extravagant John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge in 1841. It is constructed from over 2 million bricks and is considered to be one of the longest brick walls in England. Further up the A31 is the famous 5 legged Stag gate standing on one of the main entrances to the park. Its fifth leg there for support rather than error!
Turn right, keeping away from the main road and onto the B3075, passing the end of Charborough’s wall. Continue for another 150 meters or so to return back to The World’s End and your vehicle.