A ride through the Dorset countryside; with endless vistas of: ridgeways, valleys, golden barley fields, villages, monuments and a castle!
“There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand…” – Wessex Heights, Thomas Hardy
Having recently read some of the classic works of the Dorset borne poet Thomas Hardy. My father, brother and I decided to ride into the same landscapes describe in his poems. We could not help but be inspired too by the same countryside; with the picturesque views changing at every twist and turn.
Turning off the A30 at Sherborne; we drove south towards Dorchester. Before we arrived at the village of Minterne Magna, we ascended the westerly ridge and parked in a small off-road car park at Hendover Coppice.
After, carefully taking both bicycles and bicyclists from the car; we followed the lane for a short distance. Then turning left into a hollow way; we left the road and the restricted behind us. At a point where the hollow way was starting to close in around us; we suddenly burst out into another world of ethereal fields that stretched to a hazy horizon.
For the next five miles, the going was smooth gravel to velvety smooth grass. With views to the south and west; over fields of wild flower, barley and sheep. Yet halfway along the ridge, we passed a sobering reminder: a memorial stone to a local cyclist, who sadly lost her life in London. Her name was Harriet Tory. As the epitaph states: “She brought joy; be joyful now”.
Descending from the angels upon high; we came back to reality by crossing a busy road. Taking care by dismounting and then patiently waiting for a gap in the traffic; we turned onto an adjacent side road. Crossing the River Frome; we stopped to stare at yet another beautiful view of a peaceful meadow. Pressing on, we turned left along a narrow lane that was once a Roman road. Here too, ran the course of a 12 mile long Roman aqueduct; to supply Dorchester or ‘Durnovaria’ with water from the River Frome at Notton. Eight million gallons a day, fed the Second Legion, mills and public baths all those years ago! To find out more; here is an interesting article: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/dorset/vol2/pp531-592
We then passed through the quaint village of Bradford Peverell. Thatched cottages with flower filled gardens, a church spire and a village hall with a mandatory leaky roof; made all the more perfect on an English summer’s day. Carrying on out of this linear village, we followed the straight course of the Roman road; until turning right up a narrow lane towards the next ridge.
After a steady climb, the new town of Poundbury came into view; across the fields to the east. Based on the principles set out by the landowner, the: Prince of Wales. There is no zoning, with: shops, factories and houses all intermingled; because of his contempt for the post-war suburbia that has sprang up across England. Come and see for yourself; some people think it is kitsch, with its faux Edwardian streets; others enjoy the novelty of a quality street!
Lunch at Maiden Castle
Safely crossing and not having to use the A35,a second busy trunk road; we dropped into another sun-kissed green valley. Reaching the valley floor; we turned onto a gravel bridleway that led through a farm and on to Maiden Castle. Here I noticed signage for the Tour de Manche; a spectacular long distance route that runs through Devon and Dorset on the English side then back through Normandy and Brittany on the French side! Maybe next year for me; yet give it some thought yourself. Here is a link to find out more: https://www.freewheelingfrance.com/where-to-go/the-tour-de-manche-bike-route.html
We met a solitary woman here; who passed us twice as we navigated the many farm gates and steep climb to Maiden Castle. It was pleasant to pass the time of day with a local girl who gave a few anecdotes of travellers she has too met along the way. Letting her go first down a narrow track; we reached the castle and decided to stop for a rest in the long green grass.
Taking in some sustenance, the views and vitamin D; I seemed at peace and rest although mid exercise. If the that day and heat could forever remain; I would probably be still there the same!
Well, after a siesta, we had a quick look at the impressive Iron Age Maiden Castle; with its impressive defensive earthworks. Then pressed on; it what remained of the day! Deciding on a different route home; we went south from the castle to join a road that led east to Martinstown.
North and home
We cycled through through Martinstown, yet another picturesque Dorset village; with its wide high street and thatched cottages. It is famed for its horse fair, badger roast and high rainfall! Nearing the far end of the village; we turned off the road by the Brewers Arms and past a man-made pool for washing sheep! Following, a bridleway that was disappearing beneath overgrown hedges, we soon returned to the A35 trunk road. Waiting patiently for a gap in the traffic; we took the time to check for ticks that could have come from the overgrown hedges. Checking both the road for traffic and our legs for tics; we soon escaped once more, in to beautiful wide open countryside on the other side.
Circumnavigating a farm, we passed over the ridge and dropped back down to bridge over the River Frome. Passing this natural pinch point; we then turned north west to follow a side valley alongside the ridge on our outbound route. Making use of a new cycle path; we rode alongside the thundering trucks on the main road through the wonderfully named hamlet of Grimstone. Taking care to cross the road; we passed under a Gothic style railway bridge. From here we followed a quiet country lane and stream all the way to the village of Sydling St Nicholas.
There is evidence of people settling in this area over 5,000 years ago. Starting with hilltop settlements on the Dorset downs; they would then move down to the valleys for winter warmth when it became safe to do so. The name: Sydling, derives from olde English; and means broad ridge. With St Nicholas being the saint of the parish church. After resting on a well placed bench; we cycled out of the village towards the looming ridge. Here we had two options to regain the height of the ridge and the car. We chose to cycle up the lane that leads onto Cerne Abbas. Or if you prefer to stay away from the ‘maddening crowds’; go straight on at the end of the village and follow the bridleway up a steep track.
Regaining the ridge line we retraced our steps. Yet you can take another dog leg back to the road; to view a strange landmark known locally as the: ‘Cross and Hand’. A standing stone; that could denote a boundary line, a waypoint or the remains of a cross or other monument. It was mentioned in Tess of the d’Urbervilles; where a local shephard warns Tess that it is an object of ill omen.