Sponsored by Kington Magna Parish Council
The Kington Magna Millennium Walk. Enjoy a small circular stroll up, down, through and around the little village of Kington Magna. Introduced to mark the millennium, the route visits a church, with arguably the best ecclesial view of the county, looking over the Blackmore Vale from the steep slopes that hide a railway, a deserted settlement, medieval trackways and a lost pub. Discover the wide window used to move church organs, the viaduct remains of a model railway, a stone horse trough and a wall made of bottles. Wander through fields and farms, and along tracks and trails rich with history, all rubbing shoulders with the 70 trees planted for the Queens Platinum Jubilee.
Distance: 2.5 miles/4km
Duration: 1-2 hours
Max Height: 420ft.
Min Height: 240ft.
Total climb: 330ft.
Terrain: Tracks, paths, fields and roads.
Map: OS Explorer 129 Yeovil and Sherborne.
Start Point: Church Hill. (Postcode: SP8 5EG, Grid Reference: ST768232, What Three Words: clips.backers.joints).
How to Get There: From Gillingham town centre, travel west on the B3091. Before leaving the town, turn left onto Broad Robin, signposted for Kington Magna. After about a mile, turn left to go under the railway and around to the right. Stay on the same narrow country lane for just under 2 miles to reach a crossroads. Continue straight ahead onto Church Hill, a layby for parking will soon appear on the left.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Kington Magna is a small village in the county’s northern corner, bordered by Somerset and placed in the heart of the Blackmore Vale. It is cut off from the rest of the county by the busy A30 that runs along the south of the parish. To the east the limestone ridge rises to provide wide open views west across the countryside. The slopes dip down, over Oxford Clay, to the little Filley Brook as it flows by on its way to merge with the River Cale and then Dorset’s mightiest river – The Stour. The landscape consists of dairy fields and the area was immortalised by Thomas Hardy as ‘The Vale of the little Dairies’ in his most famous novel ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. The names derives from Old English ‘cyne’ and ‘tun’, translating to (most probably an Anglo Saxon) royal estate. In the Domesday Book it was recorded as Chinetone but by 1243 it had become Magna Kington. The Magna is a Latin addition meaning great, (distinguishing it from nearby Little Kington, now a farm to the east) the full name translating to Great Kings Town.
During the medieval period the land was on the edge of Gillingham’s Royal Forest. Stocked full with venison, wild boar and other game, the area was hunted by kings to supply demand for their extravagant feasts while fulfilling their joy of the sport. Little remains of this regal landscape apart from the earthwork remains of Kings Palace, a hunting lodge rebuilt by King John and Henry III in the 12th and 13th centuries, and the ancient oak tree of Wyndham’s Oak which marked the forest’s border. It is thought that one of the forest wardens, at the time of King John, lived at Manor Farm.
The settlement grew, with the majority of buildings starting life in the 17th century as farm cottages. In 1860, at Bye Farm to the north, George Harris diversified into a pottery, digging pits within his land and extracting the Oxford Clay to manufacture a range of bricks, chimney pots, drain pipes, floor paving, flower pots and tiles. Although the farm sits within the parish of Kington Magna, it was the neighbouring village of Buckhorn Weston that claimed the address and therefore credit. Another small industry that thrived was carpentry, led by the village carpenter John Hallett. He was responsible for the construction of the Church organ, amongst many others. His original home, Brick Cottage, still exhibits the large window which was used to move organs down from his workshop to the horses and/or carts below. In the late 19th century the population was near to 400. Today the population is around the same, but there is almost double the amount of homes.
The village once had a pub, known as the Crown Inn. However, it was placed away from the heart of the settlement, high on the limestone ridge at Hartmoor in the far north east corner of the parish. It sat on the small junction with Hartmoor Hill, taking full advantage of any passing trade as well as the workforce travelling from the village to the National Stud in Buckhorn Weston. It is also placed opposite the old village football pitch and was used as the player’s dressing room, but, with the loss of the Stud and the football, it lost its purpose. Today it is a private home, but bears homage to its past in retaining the name and is known as The Old Crown. A little further north is a more modern development – the railway. The London to Gillingham line was opened in 1859, but, having been slightly delayed by the high ridge and necessary tunnel construction, it did not continue to Exeter until the following year. It managed to escape the Beeching cuts of the 1960’s but was reduced to a simple single gauge.
From the parking spot turn left on the road to make a quick visit to the church. The parish church of All Saints’ chunky West Tower dates back to the late 15th century but the Chancel, Nave, Aisles and South Porch were rebuilt in 1862 by Rev. William Dugdale and Southampton architect, Charles Turner; it being one of the few churches not altered by the Dorset architect John Hicks. It sits on the slopes of the hill, like its neighbour at Buckhorn Weston, with wide open views that are claimed by some to be the best ecclesial views in Dorset. On the north wall of the nave is the Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II. But, despite this dedication, Kington Magna was a Roundhead village, supporting the Parliamentarians during the Civil war of the 17th century. This is in contrast to Buckhorn Weston, which was a Cavalier village, beginning a friendly rivalry that still exists today. John Hallett’s Organ sits on the northern side of the chancel. It was rebuilt by the same family in 1919 before its second restoration, in the 1960s, by Osmund’s of Taunton.
Behind the church is a medieval fishpond, perfectly placed to reflect the sunset. The immediate landscape surrounding the pond is filled with bumpy earthworks. The ground, and the water, has produced a number of shards of pottery dating from the 12th – 14th centuries. It is believed that the area was the site of the older village, but, after the strike of the Black Death in 1350, it was abandoned and moved deeper into the valley. Opposite the church is Prospect Farm, built in the 17th century it would have always looked out over the ruins of the old village. On the road opposite the farm is a stone horse trough embedded into the wall and framed by a Romanesque-style arch. The date of the trough is uncertain, but was clearly related to the spring and possibly even the original settlement.
Leave the church and turn right on Church Hill, passing your vehicle as you climb. As a farm track turns to the right, remains of the old village pound sits on the corner. It is a little stone enclosure which would have contained any loose animal, released upon a fee. Pass the lane to Worthy Farm and take the gate on the left in the hedge to enter an open field. Turn left and keep tight to the boundary as it bends around to the right, following the route of the White Hart Link.
The White Hart Link is a long-distance (50 mile) path linking the five towns of North Dorset: Gillingham, Stalbridge, Sturminster Newton, Blandford and Shaftesbury. The name comes from the old name of the Blackmore Vale – The Vale of the White Hart, due to the mysterious and ethereal legend of the Kings Stag.
Weave between the fields, along a channelled path to exit out onto Barton Hill at the old entrance to Worthy Farm (the route still lined by an avenue of trees). Turn left and walk down the narrow lane for about 300 metres to a crossroads. Turn right onto the dead end road of Breach Lane and follow it to the entrance of Glenfield (rebuilt after a fire in 2011).
Veer off to the right at the gate and curve to the left, once again channelled by the path. Follow it around the buildings and into the woods to run parallel with the old drive to Glenfield. Pass a little stream on the right along with a few little dens to meet a gate leading out onto the road.
Turn left and ignore the instructions of the OS map. Stay on the lane for about 100 metres passing the drive to the smallholding and looking out for a gate deep in the hedge at the first oak tree. Follow the path along the edge of the small holding and through a kissing gate. Head straight up the hill passing an old oak tree with a plaque dedicated to four good dogs. As you climb, the views behind look back over the county border into Somerset and towards the small town of Warminster.
Walk over the brow to cut straight through the field aiming a kissing gate at the bottom onto Back Lane. Turn right on the road, passing the modern houses that sit at the back of the village and Pill Meadow on the left. Turn left just before Broad Close to walk behind the rear of the properties and along the edge of an open field. Behind is the large, whitewashed Old Rectory, dating from around 1830.
Turn left to walk through the park and onto Jubilee Way, freshly planted with cherry and rowan trees to mark the Queens Platinum Jubilee; 70 in total, scattered throughout the parish. Bend around to the right to join the road at the junction of West Street and Church Street.
Further up Church Street on the left is Brick Cottage, home to the carpentering family of the Hallett’s for over 100 years and complete with its large upstairs window. It was one of the first houses to be built in the village using Bye Farm’s bricks, hence its name. A later owner was a train enthusiast, so keen that he built his own model railway in the garden. In the front of the property still stand legs to a viaduct, now used as plant supports! Closer to the centre of the village is the war memorial which stands opposite the old school and school house. The school, which still has its own little bell, was opened in 1854 but the last pupils were sent to Gillingham in 1968.
Turn right onto West Street and when it bends to the right, turn left onto a small footpath leading on to Juan’s Lane. The origin of the name to this little path is unknown, however earlier maps record it as Jones’ Lane which may suggest it is not as much of an exotic origin as first thought.
As you curve with the path you skim the rear grounds of Dairy House Farm on the left. In the 1940’s Dairy House Farm was purchased by William John Highnam (known as Jack). Alongside his farm production, Jack acted as Air Raid Warden in the village, but once the war was over he began selling his creams on the main road which has since become the A303. This business move became a handy marketing ploy, gaining contracts with a number of hotels and restaurants. In 1948, having learnt from a number of costly errors, the family moved to the Old Rectory, rebranding their products as Blackmore Vale Dairies. They went on to win a number of awards and continued to move with the market, developing products to benefit the industry as well as the consumer. Today, in its third generation, it is still a thriving business but have they have since moved to larger, more efficient premises in Shaftesbury.
Pass Pleck Cottage, bordered by a little stone wall full of bottles, and Gillyflower to join the paved road straight to Chapel Hill. Once at the junction, on the right, the road leads to the small chapel the lane is named after. The chapel, built in 1851 by mason Thomas Tanner for those working the brick kilns, still stands but is a private home. The chapel once contained an organ that was also made by the Halletts.
With the old Blacksmiths on the corner to the right, known as Horseshoe Cottage, turn left to begin the final climb of the walk. After about 300 metres, curve with the dog leg in the lane at Broad Orchard, where the views over the Blackmore Vale begin to open up to the south. Opposite Broad Orchard is the old garden wall of a cottage that was demolished in the 1930’s, complete with stone gateway and steps now leading to nowhere.
Continue up the road for a further 100 meters to take the kissing gate on the left opposite Hilltop Cottage. Keep the boundary on the left along the bottom edge of the first field to a double kissing gate in the thick boundary. Walk straight ahead, passing the 17th century Kington Manor Farm on the left. Curve around the final barn to a gate in the far corner and onto the road. Turn left to arrive back at the layby and your vehicle.
The 70 Platinum Jubilee Trees
In 2022 the village embarked on a project to plant 70 trees throughout the parish to celebrate the Queens 70 year reign. A range of species including cherry, rowan, hazel and apple can be seen growing all along the walk. A full map of the trees coming soon!