King Charles III, as the Duchy of Cornwall, created the architectural trailblazer that is Poundbury, the responsibility now falling to the new Duchy – Prince William. Start at the pub the King dedicated to his wife, in the Square dedicated to his grandmother. Wander between homes and shops, with no distinguishable difference, to skim the dusty chalk of fresh development. Dive under the bypass to enter into the ancient landscape that surrounds the Roman town. Trace the aqueduct which supplied Roman spas, baths and fountains and climb the hill with views to two Iron Age hill forts the soldiers conquered. Discover the woodland cottage of Tilly Whim before dipping down into the two valleys of the River Frome and River Cerne. Pass the Elizabethan Manor of Wolfeton and its unique riding house, hiding behind a deserted settlement and on the cusp of a new one. Return to Dorchester passing a haunted pond, the Hangman’s cottage, a Roman town house, the Roman wall and the Military Keep. Climb the ramparts of Poundbury Hillfort with Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway tunnel buried underfoot. Weave your way gently through the new development to be greeted back in the square by the towering Queen Mother’s statue.
Map Required : OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis
Start Point: Queen Mother’s Square, Poundbury (Postcode: DT1 3BL, Grid reference: SY671907, What Three Words: cobbles.indicates.helped)
How to Get There: From Dorchester town centre, head west. On entering Poundbury, take the third exit off the second roundabout. Continue to follow the road until it reaches the square, with plenty of parking available.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
|Walk||Wander (Green)||Walk (Orange)||Hike (Red)|
|Distance||1.5 miles/2.5km||4.25 miles/7km||7 miles/11.5km|
|Terrain||Accessible to all on hard track and pavements.||Path, track, road and field||Path, track, road and field – can get boggy.|
All the walks start from Queen Mother’s Square in the centre of Poundbury, where the architecture is both elegant and impressive. Built in 2016, the Duchess of Cornwall Inn was named after the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla Parker Bowles – Queen Camilla now) at the direct request of the Prince of Wales (now King Charles III) and opened by the Prince and Duchess themselves. It has become the flagship pub of the Hall and Woodhouse Brewery, filled with historical artefacts from the family of brewers, dating back to the 18th century.
Poundbury is an urban extension of the county town of Dorchester, built on Duchy of Cornwall land. Building began in 1993 (due to be completed in 2025) and is designed to principles of architecture and urban planning as advocated by King Charles III in his 1989 book ‘A Vision of Britain’. This includes creating beauty, mixing affordable housing with private, prioritising the pedestrian and creating a mixture of uses. It has been described as a triumph and is used as a model by many other planning authorities across the country. It currently has a population of over 5000 people, employing nearly 3000 with many more working from home.
Way Point 1: The Duchess of Cornwall Inn
For the Wander, turn left in the square and follow the road between the buildings and wide green verges. Bear slightly left to join a paved track along the edge of the Great Field. Before meeting the roundabout, turn left onto a gravel track, skimming the field’s southern edge. Curve to the left staying on the same path up the hill with the colourful architecture of Poundbury sitting on the opposite side of the park. When the route splits, turn right and head up to the small incline to join another path. Continue in the same direction and straight up to meet a small country road. Turn left to a layby on the opposite side of the road where you can see the earthworks of Poundbury Hillfort. Sadly a kissing gate prevents further access for some however the earthworks are clearly visible. Here you join the Walk and Hike routes at point 9.
For both the Walk and Hike, stand with the pub behind you and walk straight down Peverell Avenue West. Take the third turning on your right down Dunnabridge Street and, at the end, turn left. Follow the road and turn right onto Arrallas Lane. Turn left on Peninsula Way then right through a brick wall, where you meet the busy bypass. Turn right following the edge of Poundbury and down into a dip. Turn left to head under the bridge carrying the bypass. Immediately after the bridge, turn right through a small gate, into a field. Ahead of you, as you walk parallel to the road, the channelled earthworks of the old Roman aqueduct slowly emerge.
Way Point 2: The Roman Aqueduct
Dorchester was first developed during the Roman period as a fort by the river during the siege of the nearby Iron Age Hillfort of Maiden Castle. When the castle was overthrown, the river settlement grew into Durnovaria, a highly populated Roman town. This new ‘modern’ settlement included villas, mills, fountains, markets and public baths, all of which required a constant supply of water. One of the many impressive and clearly visible parts of the Roman remains is the aqueduct. Built in the 1st century AD, it was used to transport fresh water from a reservoir, around 3 miles away, to the town. Some stretches are well preserved; visible from the bypass, from Poundbury Hillfort and the other side of the bypass to Bradford Peverell. Its path continues North West, to near Southover, where remains of a Roman villa have been uncovered, but the amount it was used is still debatable. This particular section is a small diversion, south from the main channel. Prior to the construction of the aqueduct, the Romans used the natural channels of Compton Valence.
Turn left off the field, just as it begins to narrow, and through a small metal gate. Cut through the corner of Square Coppice and make your way up the hill keeping the woodland on your right. As you gain height, don’t forget to turn around and admire the views back to Poundbury. The cupolas of Queen Mother’s Square lift high above the rooftops, raising the town’s elegance up to the sky. To the right of Poundbury the A35, using a Roman road, enters the town and above sit the wrinkly ramparts of Maiden Castle.
Cross over a track and continue following the boundary on your right. To the left the horizon is topped with Hardy’s Monument, framed by the weather behind. Pass through a gate and down to the corner in the woodland to exit the field. Here Tilly Whim Cottage appears a perfect little thatched, woodland home sitting next to an old stone barn. Walk on past but stay on the track to reach the road (there is no access to, or evidence of, the bridleway marked on the OS map). On joining the road, turn right to head down into the valley of the River Frome. On the opposite slopes sit the large buildings of the old mental asylum of Herrison Hospital, known today as the new development of Charlton Down.
Way Point 3: The Roman Road
At the crossroads, you meet an old Roman road that travelled from Durnovaria to Lindinis (Ilchester). It follows the valley and aqueduct to Stratton to then divert north. It also leads to a second, lesser known, Roman road leading to The Fosse Way, passing the Roman villa sites at Frampton and Wyford Eagle on the route.
For the Walk route, turn right, following the Roman Road up the steep hill back towards Durnovaria. The surrounding slopes are littered with more prominent earthworks while the views look over the modern town. Cross over the bypass to then enter the older landscape of Poundbury Hillfort. After about 500 metres, turn left into the open access land, via a small gate in a layby, and bear right to meet the far corner of the earthworks, joining the Wander and Hike routes at point 9.
For the Hike, cross straight over the Roman road, pass the farm buildings and under the railway bridge. This area can become flooded during wetter months. If you find that it is impassable you can return to the road and follow the Walk route. Within this marshy valley you cut across the water meadows of the River Frome which are an important area for wildlife stretching all the way back to Dorchester.
Walk over two bridges, which span two sections of the same river, and up to the main road. Cross straight over and follow a small country lane up the hill for about 500 metres. Curve around to the right and then take the next left, down Drakes Lane. Climb on up the gentle hill and then back down towards Charminster. As the village slowly emerges the earthworks of a medieval farmstead can be seen on the slopes above the Cerne valley.
Cross over the road then the River Cerne, with the farmstead earthworks on the left. Follow the track around to the right, walking parallel to the river. Divert slightly right around Princes Plot and continue on Mill Lane alongside the river and past the thatched Mill Cottage, complete with an original grinding stone. At the T-junction, turn right to cross the River Cerne for the second time then turn left following the path into the churchyard
The waters of the River Cerne are seen to be a little mystical. Further up stream is St Augustine’s Well, sitting in the grounds of the Cerne Abbey ruins. The spring was discovered (or created, depending on which legend you read) by St Edwold and known to have healing properties. It also comes with a number of other superstitions!
Way Point 4: Charminster
At the road, turn left up East Street to take the footpath on your right, channelled by a cob and flint wall. Follow the narrow path though kissing gates and tree tunnels to the driveway of Wolfeton House. Cross straight over and through the gate opposite.
Way Point 5: Wolfeton
In the field on your right are earthwork remains of another medieval settlement, or possibly earlier. Beyond the field sits the old riding ‘house’ of Wolfeton Manor. It is likely to be one of the oldest surviving riding houses in the country, possibly the oldest in the world. A riding house was an indoor manège for the training of both horses and riders but this one outlasted the others by being used as a handy barn. Its stone walls and mullioned windows are the biggest clues to its important past and, although currently rather shabby, it is now in the care of a trust that is carrying out renovations.
Hidden in the trees to the left of the riding house is the site of Wolfeton Manor. During winter months you may be blessed with a better view, but even then the trees help keep it a secret. The gate house is slightly more visible, clearly represented by its turreted towers. They are the oldest part of the overall house, with a real castle-like appearance. At the base of the towers is a tiny chapel, still in use, which adds a little magic to the building.
Wolfeton itself is an early Tudor and Elizabethan manor, the oldest part of the building dating back to 1480 but settlement here could be linked to the Romans, or even earlier. The house has been the country seat of several families, including the Mohuns and Trenchards. The current building was built by the Trenchard family who were one of the most prominent families in Dorset during the 16th century. Over time the house slowly fell into disrepair, a large part was demolished in the 1820’s but, since then, only bodge jobs have been called upon to make money or save money.
Albert Bankes, a younger son of the Kingston Lacy Bankes and owner of the house, died in 1913. His widow, Florence, lived on at Wolfeton until 1947, attended by the butler, Herbert, who had been at Wolfeton since he was five. Family legend has it that during the Second World War, he was serving Mrs Bankes dinner when an incendiary bomb bounced from the lawn right through the window. Herbert calmly put down the food, picked up the bomb and threw it back outside, at which point it exploded!
The house was bought in 1961 by the Thimbleby family who have a distant connection with the Trenchards. Today the owners are Captain Nigel Tyrwhitt Lumley Luttrell Thimbleby and his wife Katherine, nee Weld, of Lulworth Castle. Thimbleby has made it his life’s work to bring the Manor back to what it deserves to be.
Leave the earthworks behind, through the next gate, and turn right following the line of trees. Currently the Thimbleby family are dealing with a possible dramatic change to the house and its landscape with the threat of a large development nearby. As you walk through the grounds, you find many signs informing you of this impending doom. If the signs have gone, you may either be walking through empty fields or a new estate.
At the next boundary, pass a small Wessex Water building on the right and through double gates. Fork slightly right, cutting across the field to the main road at Ilchester Estates’ Lower Burton Farm. As you walk across the field, on the right are the water meadows of the River Frome. Rising above are the ramparts of Poundbury Hillfort with the Roman aqueduct cutting their lower edge. The railway path and tunnel entrance can also be made out, trumping all previous activity.
Way Point 6: Lower Burton Farm
Cross over the road and turn right onto the pavement, passing the Sun Inn on your left. Take the small footpath that forks off from the road, safely away from traffic. Cross over the River Frome twice and turn left when you approach the traffic again, keeping the river on your right. Follow the path around to the right to meet John’s Pond on your left. This is an old irrigation well associated with the flood plains of the Frome. Dorchester gaol, closed in 2014, had a strong record for preventing prisoners escaping. Nevertheless, a gentleman (or rebel) named John managed to circumnavigate the old water works of the gaol and run away into the night. Unfortunately, the pond was camouflaged in the darkness resulting in his unlucky drowning. His memory lives on at this pond, and, under cover of darkness, the rattle of chains can be heard!
Way Point 7: Hangman’s Cottage
Continuing with a criminal theme, after crossing the river, on the right is Hangman’s Cottage. It is said that the hangman who carried out the 74 death sentences for the bloody assizes lived here. There is also legend that a tunnel ran from the cottage to the gaol, which could very rightly be true as Dorchester is home to a large underground tunnel system, dating back to the 1600s.
Climb up the steps straight ahead and turn right on the road. Merge onto the path on the left to then turn left to the Roman Town House. Dorchester is rich with Roman history and the town house is just a small part. It was found when excavations occurred in the 1930s. A number of houses and other associated buildings were also discovered, but this was the best example, complete with underfloor heating systems and floor mosaics.
From the town house head out towards the main road and make your way up the hill, through the avenue of trees which line the route of the old Roman wall. Just before the roundabout, you meet Thomas Hardy, his statue patiently watching the traffic below. It was erected in 1931, three years after his death, to celebrate his life and love for Dorchester and was unveiled by his friend James Matthew Barrie who is the author of Peter Pan.
Way Point 8: The Roman Wall
Continue straight on and cross over the road. Just ahead on the left are the last remains of the old Roman wall that once circled and protected Durnovaria. It has since merged into another wall and itself protected from the outside world by little iron railings.
Turn around to head back to the roundabout and cross over the zebra crossing on the left. At the next road cross over again to then take the next right hand road that runs past the Keep. Built around 1880, it was once part of a military barracks but today is a military museum. Continue to follow the road through the industrial estate and over the railway line. Make your way up the hill and when you approach the top, after the final houses, take the gate on your right onto Poundbury Hillfort.
Way Point 9: Poundbury Hillfort
Make your way around the ramparts, keeping your eyes peeled for the railway disappearing under your feet and remains of the aqueduct. To leave, take the exit at the top western corner opposite Poundbury cemetery, the entrance appropriately styled with the Romans in mind!
Poundbury Hillfort dates from the Middle Bronze Age, with a burial mound in the centre of the enclosure. It’s later raised Iron Age ramparts are roughly rectangular, covering an area of 13½ acres, commanding views over the River Frome and its valley disappearing to the north. Just outside the fort was a large Romano-British cemetery. The majority of burials date to the late Roman era of the 4th century AD, although the cemetery was in use from the Neolithic times to the Middle Ages. Some of the Roman burials were found decapitated with their heads by their feet!
The northern and eastern sides of the hillfort’s outer defences were damaged by the construction of the Roman aqueduct. The main Dorchester to Yeovil railway line later tunnelled beneath the hill fort in an effort to minimise damage. Isambard Kingdom Brunel wanted to put the tracks in a cutting through the site but local outrage meant that the more expensive tunnel was chosen.
Although a great deal of damage has occurred, taking into account the location and size of Poundbury (and nearby Maiden Castle), evidence of activity unearthed, the survival of remains and the topographical and agricultural benefits of the landscape we can confidently conclude that it must have already been a densely populated and a important area by the time the Romans arrived. Maiden Castle, Poundbury and Durnovaria began living together, in conflict and peace with ancient beliefs, roundhouses and monoliths clashing with underfloor heating, wine and spa baths. The short amount of time that all of this occurred is shocking too – invading in 43AD, Durnovaria founded in 60AD. It must have been a very dynamic yet discombobulating landscape!
On leaving the site, turn left then right to return to Poundbury, following the path into the Great Field. When the path splits, take the right hand fork skimming along the top. Curve with the path as it leaves the field and onto Gallows Down Lane, passing the school on the left. At the end, turn left then right onto Marsden Street to weave between the mixed architecture and green spaces. Turn left onto Vickery Street and left again down Hamslade Street.
Turn right on Peverell Avenue East leading you straight back to Queen Mother’s Square. On arrival, the three metre statue of the Queen Mother, unveiled by King Charles in 2016, comes into view, welcoming you back to the Duchess of Cornwall Inn.