– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
……..42.6 miles to be exact, in one go, from sunrise to sunset, and what a fantastic day!
Five years ago I walked 35 miles in a day. This is not my usual way of walking as I am very much with the poet who said, ‘What is life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’ – I like to have time in my walks to do just that, to take in all that is around me. But this was different, a one-off marathon, just to see if I could do it really. But this year I decided that I would see if, now 5 years older, I could still do it. Five years ago I managed to complete the 35.3 miles in 12 hours and I wondered if I could keep up anything like that pace with more creaky joints.
So I sat down with the map and prepared myself a route. This would be open ended insofar as I thought I would walk for as long and as far as I could and if I didn’t make it back to the start point, my wife would come and collect me. I figured that she would have to!
I had planned to start out at 7am but in fact I was up and about earlier, and out on the trail by just after 6am. The sun was rising as I made my way across the first tract of heathland on a beautiful morning with a pleasant cooling breeze and the promise of a bright and lovely day. How wrong I was…….but more of that later 🙂 !
The first part of the walk was necessarily a bit ‘towny’ as I skirted round the perimeter of a golf course. These take up a lot of our open space but if there are footpaths around them, they make pleasant places to walk, especially on an early morning such as this with the sun streaming through the trees, highlighting the heather.
I had set myself a target of repeating my 3 mph walking pace of five years ago and I walked with a GPS in order to keep track of my progress. I don’t like walking against the clock as it means that you have no time to stop for long and the emphasis has to be on keeping walking but I knew that this was going to be a different kind of day. If I was to get to the end before dark and achieve my goal, I knew I would have to keep walking, especially as I didn’t think I would be able to maintain that pace all day.
Leaving the golf course behind, I made my way along an old railway line and a took a circuitous route on local paths to reach the river meadows with gently grazing sheep and cows. They stared longer than I! I crossed the River Stour at the old, wooden Eye Bridge and climbed up the hill to reach the delightful avenue at Pamphill. My route took me the length of the avenue and not a car in sight 🙂 !
Following a combination of quiet country lanes and gravel tracks, I skirted round the National Trust owned Kingston Lacy, a huge country estate once owned by the Banks family, and crossed the even more famous avenue planted by that family nearly 200 years ago. This much photographed avenue of steadily dying beech trees is currently being regenerated as a new avenue of hornbeams as these are able to stand modern traffic conditions better.
As I crossed this busy road, I checked my progress, 7.5 miles in and on target. I climbed up the hill away from the noise of the traffic and passed another great landmark of Dorset, the Badbury Rings hill fort.
More gravel tracks followed and I was grateful for these as they do enable you to stride out and keep up a good rhythm. It is very satisfying simply to enjoy the walking process of one foot in front of the other over and over again continuously for mile after mile. But of course, it doesn’t last for long before you are faced with another section of overgrown pathway.
Now here, I’d like to praise horse riders as they do much to keep our paths free from undergrowth as their steeds plough through nettles and brambles, breaking them and trampling them down to make it easier for walkers like me. Now, unfortunately they do have a down side in that they also churn up the paths, creating a muddy morass for us to slip slide through……but we won’t focus on the negatives 🙂 ! Some of my paths today were not bridleways so it was left to me to push my way through as best I could, being constantly tripped as brambles grabbed hold of me. I was glad I had chosen to wear trousers and not shorts!
I was glad too when I made it though onto clearer paths and could walk easily again, especially when I came across a hare, or fox, or deer as in the picture below. I passed through the villages of Gussage All Saints and Wimborne St Giles, joining the Jubilee Way for a time.
Eventually, I neared my halfway point as Cranborne Manor came into view through a gap in the trees. This massive estate was in fact originally just a hunting lodge for the Marquess of Salisbury, a kind of holiday home I guess, as his main residence is Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. Cranborne Manor is now occupied by the heir who carries the title Viscount Cranborne.
I followed the lovely, neat path through the field towards Cranborne, only to come across the sign below. Not that this fazed me – whilst I wouldn’t like to face an angry bull, nothing is going to stop me following my planned route or get in the way of a good walk. In any event, this is a good farmer who only puts signs up when the bull is present and only has the bull there when there are cows with him, as the law states. Sadly, not all farmers observe these rules. Whether I would have been quite so ambivalent if the bull had been just the other side of this gate, I am not sure 🙂 !
As it happens, the bull wasn’t the slightest bit interested in me and I crossed the field happily to reach the town, where I called at the local pub……….no, not for a drink, no time for that, I just needed them to fill my water bottles up, which they did gladly. I did check my GPS again though – 20 miles down and still maintaining a pace of just over 3 mph.
With replenished supplies, I left the town and headed out through several sections of lovely old woodlands, intermingled with occasional hamlets with quaint cottages, tiny churches, and an occasional manor house. Edmondsham is one such hamlet, with its old village pump, old postoffice, and little chapel. These are delightful places to walk through.
From Edmondsham, my route took me back into more ancient woodlands, with the inevitable stile to cross. Now I love stiles but when you have walked over 20 miles, a gate would be more welcome 🙂 ! At this point, things turned interesting! I heard a distant rumble but ignored it – well it was a sunny day wasn’t it. As I wound my way through the woods, the rumbles became more insistent, but its ok, the sun is still shining! When I reached another little hamlet, appropriately called Woodlands, and I finally exited the dense woods I saw what was heading my way……and it didn’t look good!
Now this is going to look strange because there is a sunny picture above and a sunny picture below so you might be lulled into thinking that the storm past me by! It didn’t! I basically battened down the hatches, togged up in waterproofs, stowed everything in the rucksack and put its waterproof cover on, and I was ready when the first drops of rain fell. And boy did they fall! I actually, momentarily, considered sheltering in Woodlands Church which is a lovely little chapel, but in the end I decided just to keep walking.
For the next hour I walked, or more accurately squelched, in torrential rain, with thunder and lightening all around. I could follow the storm’s progress; first the distant rumbles to the west which came nearer and nearer, then directly overhead, and then gradually diminishing as it moved out the other side. You might think that it was a nuisance but actually, walking in a thunderstorm just adds a different dimension to a walk. I continued to push my way through woods and across fields and by the time I climbed to the top of the hill to reach Horton Tower, the sun was shining brightly again.
I de-togged and got the camera out again and took a picture of the tower in celebration 🙂 ! Of course the downside of the storm was that everything around me, trees, bushes, grass, fields, were all now soaking wet with rivulets running everywhere. On the open hilltop, the sun dried me, but only until I had to push my way through more undergrowth when I got soaked again.
Plus of course, many of the fields had been recently ploughed. This posed two problems! Firstly there was no path because it had been ploughed over – I know that the countryside laws state that if footpaths are ploughed over they have to be reinstated within 24 hours, but farmers don’t always seems to know this! Secondly, this wet, ‘cloggy’ soil stuck to my boots like glue. My size 9’s gradually increased to size 10 and then size 11 as I walked across the fields, getting heavier and heavier as I went. And then of course you have to try to climb over a stile…..or maybe that should be slip over a stile!
Oh, and there is one particular field near Horton Tower that has a large section of sweetcorn growing…..and no clear path through it. Pushing your way through densely packed sweetcorn that is over head height after a torrential downpour is no fun 🙂 !
Hopefully, you can picture the scene that I have been describing 🙂 ! It was with some relief that I found my way back out onto clearer paths again and could walk along solid country lanes and gravel tracks, banging mud off my boots, and everything else, as I went.
Amazingly, now some 30 miles into my walk, despite the conditions, I was still ahead of my scheduled 3 mph pace!
The next part of the walk is lovely as it skirts around another of Dorset’s manor houses, Crichel House, so it is laid out almost as parkland with good paths, old carriage bridges, and a very attractive gatehouse. This brought me out to another lovely village, the village of Witchampton which is always a pleasure to walk through. I kept going, making my way out the other side and down a narrow country lane into open countryside again.
Here, was a reminder of the approaching season, with straw bales in readiness to be transported to the barns for winter bedding. These always make such a nice picturesque scene, especially with that summer sky as a backdrop. And in the distance, I could once again see Badbury Rings that I had passed nearly 12 hours ago on my way out.
Crossing King Down, I arrived back at the Kingston Lacy avenue again, and that busy road. This was my 35 mile point where I had been intending to stop. I was still ahead of my 3 mph schedule and feeling surprisingly good so I decided to keep on walking.
I circumnavigated the Kingston Lacy estate again and followed the Pamphill avenue, passing some lovely cottages on the way, as the sun was sinking in the sky. From there, I re-crossed the River Stour and its meadow, greeting the sheep and cows as I went. Needless to say, I received just blank stares in return 🙂 !
Forty miles came and went! At 41 miles, my left knee gave out and I started to limp, my water ran out, and my GPS switched to energy saving mode, its batteries all but dead. Mine were too!
Finally, as the sun faded, I reached my starting point again and the end of my epic walk – 42.6 miles and just under 14 hours of virtually non stop walking! I was a happy man 🙂 !
What a great day which I thoroughly enjoyed……well maybe apart from the last few painful miles! I consider myself very blessed that in retirement, I still have the good health and energy to walk these distances and to enjoy this wonderful county of Dorset.
I hope you have enjoyed walking it with me.
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
If you would like to contact me, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org – comments and feedback are always welcomed.