Wool and Bindon Abbey

From the little village of Wool, the name deriving from springs rather than sheep, clamber over its old earthworks to reach the remains of the once impressive monastery of Bindon. Follow the little country lane parallel to the flood plains of the River Frome to discover the ruins of St Mary’s church, buried in brambles, concealing the churches surviving 17th century gravestones. Join the river at the site of East Stoke’s mill, still in the company of traditional thatched roofed 16th century cottages. Make your way along the dead end road through Highwood to reach the outskirts of Lulworth estate, used by many a smuggler. Climb over the brow of the hill and into the secret valley and deserted village of Woodstreet, now just crumbling barns. Return to Wool through the tall trees and bracken bushes of Cole Wood, with the occasional tooting horn of the passing train on the London line.

Distance:  5 miles/8km

Duration: 3 hours

Ability: Easy.

Max Height: 140ft.

Min Height: 30ft.

Total climb: 150ft.

Terrain: Track, path, road and field.

Map: OL Explorer 15 Purbeck and South Dorset.

Start Point: Church of the Holy Rood, Church Lane, Wool. (Postcode: BH20 6DD, Grid Reference: SY847864, What Three Words: clusters.hopes.facelift).

How to Get There: From Wareham, head west on the A352. After travelling 5 miles, and having crossed the railway, turn left, passing the station on the left. Curve with the bend to take the next left onto Spring Street and when it splits take the left hand option onto Church Street. Either park along the church wall on the right or continue to the end of the road for parking.

Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.

Refreshments: None on route but nearby are the Black Bear and The Ship Inn, both in Wool

NB: While visiting Wool it is worth wandering to Wool Bridge and Manor as featured in Dorset’s Spookiest Places.

Wool is a large village sitting on the banks of the River Frome. Its name derives from the Old English ‘Wella’ meaning place at the spring or Well. The older parts of the settlement are focused around the church, with some of the houses having now disappeared and turned into earthworks. Today it has its own railway station, a rarity in Dorset, connecting the isolated village to both Exeter and London. The line is a crucial link and is therefore quite busy, the toots of trains often accompanying the walk

1886 OS Map showing the railway and the old road over Wool Bridge.

To the north of the town sits Wool Bridge, an important crossing over the River Frome. A medieval bridge was recorded in 1343 but the small, single-lane, hump-backed, stone bridge dates from the 16th century. It is no longer used by modern day traffic but the crossing once led the traveller past Woolbridge Manor. The manor was originally under the ownership of Bindon Abbey but after the Dissolution of the Monasteries it came to the Turberville family. The house dates from the 17th century but was damaged during the Civil war and remodelled in 1660. The manor has some important literary associations as it was Wellbridge House in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The house became the scene of tragedy during Tess and Angel Clare’s honeymoon.

Woolbridge Manor

On a full moon an apparition of a coach and its full set of horses are said to depart the manor and cross over the medieval bridge. It apparently carries John Turberville and his soon to be wife Anne Howard as they eloped in the middle of the night. However, it can only be seen by those with Turberville blood.

The church of Holy Rood

The medieval church of Holy Rood sits in the south eastern comer of the present day village, raised up above street level. The oldest parts of the building date back to the 13th century, starting its life as a chapel of ease, with the west tower constructed in the 15th century. A small scratch dial can still be found, engraved into the stone on the south west buttress. In 1844 Wool became its own parish and 20 years later the church was extended and renovated by John Hicks. Drawings dated 1864 of the north and south sides of the church, before restoration, hang in the tower. Another interesting element inside the church is not the flute, the George III coat of arms or the stained glass windows but a Shepherd’s Crook which belonged to Walter Trevett, the village shepherd and the organ grinder.

Shepherd’s crook
Wool church of Holy Rood (British History online)
Plans of the church from 1864

In the graveyard are a surprising number of War graves. In total there are 22 dating from the First World War, 23 from the Second World War and 27 non war burials. All those laid to rest here are from the UK apart from two who are from Canada. The soldiers most probably died at nearby Bovington (or sometimes called Wool) Military Hospital, which cared for the soldiers training at both Bovington and Lulworth. Walking along the south side of the church you pass the grave of Thomas Lucas. He was once the landlord of The Ship Inn in Wool, but also the leader of a large smuggling gang. In 1827 he and a band of 60 men got into a fight with customs officers resulting in two smugglers being killed. However, Thomas managed to escape unharmed and was acquitted of any charges.

The war graves

With the church behind you turn right and walk to the end of the road. Take the left hand gate and fork left through the field passing the old village earthworks. They cover an area of 5 acres and consist of small raised bumps marking closes and house platforms with a Holloway entering from the west. However, this road seems to have been blocked by a thatched cottage which was built in 1770, suggesting the village was long gone by then.

View to Bindon

Cross directly over the field to the far corner where you meet more earthworks hidden in the trees. Climb two stiles and head straight over the field to a little gate and bridge. Cut the corner of the final field to meet the road at the entrance to Bindon Abbey, the path once used by many to reach the monastic house.

The entrance to Bindon House

Monasticism formed an important facet in every aspect of medieval life. In 1149 Bindon Abbey was founded for Cistercian monks as a daughter house from Forde Abbey. It was colonised by William de Glastonia along with 19 other monks at Little Bindon on the East side of Lulworth Cove. They only remained at Little Bindon for a short time as they moved, in 1172, to the site at Wool. The new site was given to the monks as a gift by Matilda de Glastonia, William’s granddaughter, who was married to a local wealthy Anglo-Norman landowner, Roger de Newburgh. A small settlement was apparently completely removed when Bindon Abbey was transferred here but the monastery retained the name of its original location.

Bindon Abbey Floor Plan (British History Online)

The abbey was wealthy with a number of enlargements and embellishments taking place over time including the church, chapter house and cloister. In 1215 some of Henry III’s treasure was dispersed about various monasteries with Bindon receiving a staff (baculum) set with ten sapphires. However, it was not all smooth sailing with the locals. Tales of murderous Abbotts, protected by the king, haunt the site. But the local people occasionally took the law into their own hands, stealing some of the Abbey’s treasure. The items were never recovered despite the monks’ efforts.

In 1536 the abbey was dissolved and granted to Sir Thomas Poynings. In 1559 Thomas Howard built a country house using the old structure of the monastery and included a moat as well as an elaborate garden design. By 1608 it had grown into an elegant country manor of some pretention. In 1641 the estate, which still included Little Bindon, was acquired by Humphrey Weld, but, only 3 years later, Bindon Abbey was burnt to the ground in the Civil War.

The gatehouse

The first recorded picture of the abbey was published in Hutchins’ Antiquities of Dorset in 1774. The image, dated a year earlier, shows a nave arcade of four arches still standing and a building, possibly the mill, beyond. The abbey was slowly taken further apart with records of Thomas Weld taking stone from Bindon Abbey for the construction of Lulworth Castle. It is also rumoured the stone was used to build both Portland and Sandsfoot Castle.

Hutchins 1774 etching of Bindon Abbey remains

The new house, Bindon House, was built incorporating materials from the ruins of Bindon Abbey in a Gothic style to the west of the abbey remains. It was constructed between 1794 to 1798 and included the gatehouse. The gates are decorated with the shields-of-arms of Cardinal Thomas Weld (1773—1837) and either side of the carriage entrance are rooms that include a living room, kitchen and attic bedroom. At the same time the water-course was cut between the Abbey and Bindon Mill apparently through part of the monastic cemetery. Today Bindon House is a wellness retreat. Bindon Mill, dated 1770, and its bridge, inscribed with the initials and date EW 1756 for Edward Weld (1705-1761), were converted into a private residence in 2006. It was restored in 2009 incorporating the mill leet into the design, running though the centre of the home under a glass floor.

1927 OS Map of Bindon Abbey

Today little is standing of the abbey, only ruins and earthworks remain on what is now private land, access only by permission of the current owners. Surrounding the site are a number of other earthworks possibly attributed to either the early monastic fishponds or the elaborate 16th century garden design. The ruins of Bindon Abbey, just like Wool Bridge, feature in Tess of the Durbervilles as the place where the sleep-walking Angel Clare carries Tess and places her in an empty stone coffin. And, like Woolbridge manor, it has haunting claims. A beautiful phantom woman wearing a flowing grey dress has been seen walking from the ruins to the River Frome.

LIDAR showing earthworks surrounding the site of Bindon Abbey

Turn right on the road following it around the corner and past the 18th century Bindon Farm. Follow the road for a further 600 metres to then take a footpath on the left through a wooden gate. Cut diagonally across the field to the far corner to meet East Stoke Nature Reserve, managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Turn right to follow the top of the reserve boundary through two fields. Drop down to the left in the corner and across a small bridge to meet a meandering River Frome. Turn right, heading towards the buildings ahead and when the trees turn away continue straight on. To the left, amongst the fenced off bushes, is a diversion to the ruins of St Mary’s church.

Bindon Lane
East Stoke Nature Reserve

St Marys Church, despite its proximity, is unrelated to the abbey, serving only the local community. The church was abandoned in in favour of a drier site, on the opposite side of the banks, 600 meters to the north east in East Stoke.  Despite having been erected on slightly higher ground, the surrounding meadows experience frequent flooding. Once the new church was built, St Mary’s was demolished in 1828. The ruins date back to the 13th century but today only small flint walls and remnants of an arched doorway remain, some of which fell as recently as 1963. On the southern wall is an engraved scratch dial, while the cemetery, scattered with gravestones, lies undisturbed but often overgrown. The new church itself eventually became redundant and was converted into dwellings in the 1990’s.

1927 OS Map of St Mary’s Church
LIDAR of St Mary’s Church
Modern flood warnings show that the slightly raised (yellow) island of St Mary’s church. It would manage to escape the worst, but access would be limited!
The rear entrance to St Mary’s Church
St Mary’s remains
The front entrance to the church with the graves of William Burden (1768), Charles Burden (1788) and William Burden (1747)
The graves of Jane Lumber (1711) and Richard Smith (1698)

From the church, head back to the footpath and turn left towards the River Laboratory of The Freshwater Biological Association, an organisation which has a mission to understand and conserve freshwaters across the globe. The laboratory sits on the site of the old East Stoke Mill. The corn mill was built in 1820, with the River Frome working its waterwheel and possibly a circular kiln for drying corn, but today there is little left.

East Stoke Mill (BHO)
The site of East Stoke Mill

Cross over the little bridge and turn left, running alongside the laboratory. Head straight on to a stile and another plank bridge and on between the fences, following the narrow path to the road at East Stoke. East Stoke is split into two by both the river and railway. The old church, 18th century Stokeford House and Black Dog Inn are to the north, while a selection of thatched roofed 16th century cottages is to the south. To the left is the River Frome and the mill stile, but, to stay on route, turn right. Follow Church Lane to the crossroads in 500m, passing Manor Farm campsite and a number of the 16th century cottages on the way.

Holme Cottage

Cross straight over onto the dead end road, signposted for Highwood, and continue to follow it for the next mile. This narrow lane, that seems to have been freshly carved through ancient woodland, leads nowhere today other than the scattered hamlet of Highwood. Gnarly oak trees line its edge leaving little space for passing traffic. However, its route would have once taken travellers over the heath to the estate of Lulworth and the sea. These wooded paths were most probably used by smugglers escaping any custom officers as well as the staff that served the castle. On the way you pass a small tin hut on the right called The Mission. This was intended to be a place of worship for the farm labourers who were unable to cross the River Frome to reach the New St Marys church. Today it sits on private land but has been sensitively restored by the owner into how it was first designed to be.

The Mission, Highwood
Walking through Highwood
The junction at Coombe Heath

At the end, where the road turns to track and splits into three (abutting the Lulworth estate walk), turn right. Follow the muddy path up through Haremere Wood to the top and in-between the tall hedges on the boundaries of large open fields. At the peak the views behind break slightly to be able to look back to Coombe Heath, scattered with ancient earthworks, the Lulworth estate, embellished by its castle and the sea, all framed by thickly forested slopes. Pass the modern Woodstreet House, tucked into the corner of the woodland, then head down the hill to reach Woodstreet. When the track curves to the right, bear slightly left to enter a field. Keep to the left hand boundary to meet the road.

Looking back towards the Lulworth estate

Woodstreet is little more than a 17th century crumbling farm with rundown barns, sitting in a narrow valley with the slopes blanketed by woodland. But earthworks in the area suggest there was a once a much larger population that made this little basin home. It has been untouched by development and left to languish in the valley at its own leisure, hidden from the bustle of any everyday traffic and used as a playground for wildlife.

Woodstreet Farm
The remains of Woodstreet

On exiting the filed at the road take the footpath almost opposite, before the village of Woodstreet, signposted for Bindon and Wool. Climb on up the hill into the thick trees of Cole Wood. When you meet the first track turn right and at the second junction turn left. Keep following the same footpath through the woodland, crossing a small track and walking gently down the hill to leave through the gate in the bottom left corner. Turn left in the field to a gate and cut straight through the following two fields to return to Wool, the church and your vehicle. 

Heading into Cole Wood
Cole Wood
Returning to Wool

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