Heavenly Hardy country
This is an easy Dorset circle in Hardy country from Melbury Osmond to Evershot, crossing a deer park and grand estate with spectacular trees. It's seven miles, about 3.5 hours walking. Use the map OS Explorer 117, Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis, grid ref:572078. Park in Melbury Osmond, a short drive west of the A37 Yeovil to Dorchester Road, about five miles south of Yeovil. Park in the small village hall car park if it is not being used, but at the weekend if it is busy find somewhere else suitable – there are spaces by the church or further on down just before the ford. Alternatively, you could start the circle in Evershot.
T his is an autumnal arborial amble – a triple-A walk! – in Dorset in Hardy country, circling from the village where his parents were married, through attractive undulating Ilchester Estate farmland and calling in at Evershot, after about 4.5 miles, which featured in Tess of the D'Urbervilles and has a very good pub.
The second half of the walk is a memorable and easy stroll through Melbury Park, beautifully landscaped with glorious trees and a herd of deer.
It's a virtually flat walk, perfect walk for dogs, too, with no stiles that should case major problems. However, dogs must be on a lead through the park. There is one gate which you may have to climb.
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Turn right from the village hall car park and go down the No Through village road bending round past the church.
Hardy's parents Jemima and Thomas were married here in 1839 and their first baby, Thomas, was born a year later in the small village of Higher Bockhampton, just outside Dorchester. The village was the setting for Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders, referred to as Little Hintock in the novel.
Shortly, turn right up a Tarmac drive track opposite Rock Cottage. Follow the track on, passing a venerable old oak probably about 300 years old. It may be muddy in parts after rain.
Go across a track with a gate on each side and continue.
As you can see there are a lot of oaks here, some of which may have been Napoleonic oaks planted at the start of the 19th century to ensure a future supply of good wood for English naval ships.
The track eventually takes you through woodland for a short way and up into a field. Follow the right edge and in the corner go through a gate into another field. Follow the left edge with woodland on your left, dropping into the valley and then bear away to the right.
2. WOODLAND PATH
Cross a wooden stile a few yards to the right of a gate and follow a path through woodland. Meet another path and turn right (more or less straight on).
Cross a stream and come into a field. Go straight on and then up into woodland again, and through into another field. Follow the right edge, ignoring a stile on the right. Go through a large wooden gate in the corner and along the track, which may be muddy.
Reach a lane and turn left.
4. MANOR DRIVE
After a few minutes, turn left again down a glorious beech-lined drive towards Lewcombe Manor, marked as a public footpath. Cross another cattle grid and continue down. There are beautiful views over the wooded countryside and even more spectacular trees to enjoy. Just past a lodge on the right, cross a stile and go diagonally down the field. Go on through into the next field and on down to the bottom right corner where you cross into woods. The path has a handrail and drops down to a stream.
5. STEPPING STONES
Cross on stepping stones and climb up the bank and over a stile. Head down the full length of the field, down the centre first and then picking up the left fence line. Go on into another field and maintain direction. In the third field head across, bearing slightly left and climbing gently and go through a marked gate several yards to the left of a water trough.
6. FARM TRACK
Meet a farm track here and follow it on for several minutes all the way until you approach a farm. On the way, pass a deer park on the left where there was a magnificent stag when I came here.
Before reaching the farm, turn left on a grassy track which goes round the left side and meets up with the entrance drive to the farm. Continue on in the same direction for about half a mile on the farm lane, climbing. Over on the right you may be able to see the distinctive grassy mound of an old motte and bailey on Castle Hill.
7. GIRT LANE
Eventually the drive joins up with a lane (Girt Lane, although not marked as such). Bear right on this. Come on to the flat.
Shortly, find a marker post and stile in the hedge on the left. Follow the left edge along and then round a bend. In the left corner, go through the left hand gate (not marked). The stile you aim for is straight across on the other side but if there are crops, go round the right edge.
Once over the stile go across a track (Dirty Lane on the OS map) and over into the field opposite. This is a rough field which you cross and then bear right towards corrugated iron barns. Go through a gate, across a track and through another gate into the next field. Bear left down hill to a wooden gate, sadly padlocked when I came, but I am hoping the Rights of Way Department will be able to get it opened. You may have to climb over.
Go down to the lane and turn left on the edge of Evershot.
Shortly, go right down a path which leads into the car park of the Acorn Inn, a very well maintained 16th-century coaching inn with a pleasant garden. Walkers are best to go in the back door to the stone-floored bar.
In Tess of the D'Urbevilles, this hostelry featured under the name The Sow and Acorn.
From the Acorn, turn left along the main street all the way to a triangle of grass and an unusual stone slab seat and turn left up the private drive to Melbury Park, marked as a public footpath to Melbury Osmond.
9. MELBURY PARK
Take the left fork and continue on the drive, going over a stile on the right by the lion-topped pillars and entrance gate and continue on through the main park where the setting and landscaping are unforgettable. Dogs are to be kept on leads.
This magnificent estate has been in the hands of the Strangways family for three centuries. It is a surviving remnant of the ancient Forest of Blackmoor, and was probably enclosed as a deer park in the late 15th century. There has been imaginative landscaping, and extensive planting in the 19th and 20th centuries of rare trees and shrubs. Several of the trees are very large and old.
Because of the topography of the landscape and the streams and lakes, the park is now one of the finest of the English estates.
Continue on along the drive and go through gates towards the main house. Go through more gates and straight on, passing the buildings on your right.
10. MELBURY HOUSE
At the entrance to the main house turn left on the drive and now simply follow this all the way along through the park, ignoring side turns.
At the end, leave the park.
11. MELBURY OSMOND
Join the lane in Melbury Osmond. Follow it as it bends and drops down into the main village. Go on the walkway by the ford and up, passing the track you started out on. Return to where you parked.
The Acorn Inn, Evershot. Tel: 01935 83228. Please call before setting out to confirm opening times.