Dorset dialect poets William Barnes and Robert Young were both educated in Sturminster Newton. Barnes at the Endowed School for older boys before moving to Dorchester aged 16 in 1817; Young, after his schooling, went to London for a tailoring apprenticeship aged 15 in 1826. Nearly two years after they married, Thomas Hardy and his wife Emma moved here in July 1876, where they rented Riverside Villa from Robert Young.
It was here that Hardy wrote Return of the Native. On this delightfully varied ramble, we’ll be walking where these two Dorset poets played as boys, and where Hardy undoubtedly wandered too. We’ll be following long-established field tracks with fine views, paths through ancient woodland and around two historic mills, and pavements and alleys of this market town in the heart of the Blackmore Vale.
1. Out of the car park at Barnes Close, cross into the walled Tarmac path. Through to Penny Street, turn left. Pass right Lane-Fox Terrace. At the arched wrought iron ‘Old School’ and ‘Dashwood’ gateway, take the right walled Tarmac path. At the end, turn left and pass St Mary’s 1817 Church Hall- but first visit St Mary’s Church. The door is in the west tower. Past the Church Hall and adjacent Old School House, turn left. Walk past right cottages to Penny Street with the old school building on the left corner and Gotts Corner opposite. Turn right. Past lovely cottages, take the left footpath-signed hedged ‘Fiddleford Manor and Mill’ track. Past left Old Dairy House and Hamgate Farm, continue along the hedged path to the old gate/kissing-gate, footpath-signed ‘Trailway’ left. Through into the large field, follow the ‘Stour Valley Way’ arrow’s direction half-right on the used green path to the far corner’s gate/kissing-gate. Through, turn left along the field’s left hedge with Hambledon Hill ahead.
2. Through the next gateway into the vast field, follow the well-used path across, as the left trees/hedge veer left. Over the far hedge’s ‘Fiddleford Mill and Manor ¼’ footpath-signed footbridge into the field corner, walk half-right to the kissing-gate signed ‘Sturminster Newton 1¼’ left and footbridge. Over the River Stour weir, follow the concrete path with Stour pool left and mill race right. Over the sluicegate bridge, continue round right between mill buildings and Fiddleford Manor house. Walk along Calf Close Lane to the T-junction bend. (To visit Fiddleford Manor, go right up this lane and through the first-right gate.) Continue along the hedged lane, past left ‘Hammoon’ footpath-track, and straight on for ‘Fiddleford Inn ¼’. Meandering, pass footpath-signed gates left, some cottages right, and more footpath-signed gates left. Go past Fiddleford Inn to the A357 chevron-bend.
3. Turn right, carefully along the narrow verge. Over the bridge, cross to the ‘Piddles Wood ¼’ footpath-signed gate/stile by Brookside Cottage. Over, walk through the paddock to the fence-gate. Through into the field, go half-right towards the fence-gate then left up against the fence and Piddles Wood’s edge to the corner footpath-gate/stile. Over, keep following Piddles Wood’s edge up with left fence and fine views ahead to Bell Hill, Ibberton Hill and Bulbarrow. On the path’s top, with Lodge Farm below, pass a left footpath-gate and go through the right footpath-signed ‘Broad Oak ¾’ half-gate into Piddles Wood. Follow the rising meandering path through mixed deciduous trees and open fern-land, ignoring side paths. However, reaching a grassy triangle T-junction of paths, follow your path left, wider now and swinging right before meandering again. Pass some wooden deer-fence gates on your left and a right fork.
4. At another green triangle T-junction, go left, signed ‘¾ Broad Oak’. Follow this hardcore track past another left deer-fence gate and more side paths. Through a hardcore clearing, continue up the right-swinging track to the Car Park. Go through to the road, signed back ‘A357 and Fiddleford Mill 1’. Turn right. Pass the left farm’s ‘Broad Oak ¼’ footpath. Continue down Copse Hill with fine views from Broad Oak’s right and left houses. Down to the T-junction, cross into the footpath-signed ‘Hole House ½’ track. Through the kissing-gate, follow the fence-enclosed path downfield, then fenced and hedged to the end kissing-gate. Through into woods, follow the path/steps down to the stream-bridge. Over, climb the sunken path to Hole House Lane, footpath-signed back ‘Broad Oak ½’.
5. Don’t go onto the road. Cross Hole House’s drive and take the right footpath-signed ‘Town Bridge ½’ path above the drive, up the steps and through trees to the footpath kissing-gate into the rising field. Ignore the footpath-arrows direction but turn right around the field edge, hedged right, electric fenced left. Keep going anti-clockwise. Past a left path, reach the ‘Town Bridge ¼’ footpath-signed gate. Through, go half-left to the fence’s footpath kissing-gate. Through, cross the field to the right corner kissing-gate, glimpsing Sturminster Castle through the right trees on the way. Through, go down the stone steps and past the Old Chapel to the A357, footpath-signed back ‘Hole House Lane ½’.
6. Turn left and cross to the River Stour side. Continue to the right drive and walk down to Sturminster Mill. Walk around behind the mill building and over the sluicegates and weir. Continue round and over a second footbridge into the vast field’s corner. Turn right for ‘Town Bridge’ along the riverside path. Emerging at the kissing-gate left of medieval Town Bridge onto Bridge Street, go left up the road, passing right ‘Coach Road to Church Lane ¼’ footpath-gateway. Continue up Bridge Street, past left ‘Durrant, the ‘Sturminster Newton’ signboard, elegant Beech House right and William Barnes School left. Continue up past Sturminster Fish Bar left, and Sweet Pea Café right on entering Market Cross. Past the thatched Museum right and White Hart Alehouse left, continue into Market Place. Past right Holebrooks and Swan Inn, turn right at the Old Police Station into Station Road. Down past Poets Corner Café, you’re back at the car park where you started.
Distance: 4½ miles/7.25 km
Time: 3 hours
Exertion: Not strenuous. Some stiles. Nettles on some paths
Start: Barnes Close Car Park (Grid Ref: ST788142)
Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194
Public Transport: South West Coaches X4 and X1
Dogs: On leads where livestock or when requested, abide by the Countryside Code
Refreshments: Sweet Pea Café, White Hart Alehouse, Holebrooks Café, Swan Inn and Poets Corner Café all in Sturminster Newton, and the Fiddleford Inn