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Dorset's Other Hardy

A long walk over rolling farmland from a high vantage point above Abbotsbury, where Nelson's fighting companion is remembered.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 784ft (228m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field tracks, quiet roads, woodland tracks, 10 stiles

Landscape Rolling hills and escarpments above Abbotsbury

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck & South Dorset

Start/finish SY 312876

Dog friendliness Some unfriendly stiles, some road walking

Parking By Hardy Monument, signed off road between Portesham and Winterbourne Abbas

Public toilets None on route; nearest in Back Street, Abbotsbury

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Turn left down a path by the entrance, signposted 'Inland Route'. Follow the broad track down through the woods. At the bottom turn right and bear left, before a gate, over a stile. Walk up the edge of two fields. At the corner go over a stone stile and immediately cross another. Walk alongside the fence to the hedge.

2 Turn left on to the road and right towards a farm. After passing the farm bear left through a gate and go up a track, then through another gate and bear right. Pass Hampton Stone Circle and keep straight on. Cross a stile and bear along the fence and down some steps, signposted 'West Bexington'. Follow the path along the hillside and up through a gate to a road.

3 Turn right and take the first road left. (Turn left here for Walk 39.) Soon bear right along a track. Go through a gate (blue marker) and walk ahead down the hedge (aircraft fly very low here, so beware). Keep straight on through three fields.

4 Go through a gate to a junction of tracks (Walk 39 rejoins from the left). Bear right across the field, passing Kingston Russell Stone Circle. Go through a gate and bear slightly left over the hill, passing earthworks on the left. At the bottom go straight on down to a gate. Go through and bear left, then go through a gate to your right and down the hill.

5 In the middle of the field turn right. Cross a footbridge to go through a gate. Cross a stream and walk straight ahead up the field. Bear left along the hedge. Cross a double stile and head diagonally left. Cross another footbridge over a stream. Turn right, bear left up through some trees, then go up to the right, to a stile. Cross and go over the hill towards Littlebredy. Cross a stile by a fingerpost and go straight on. Pass the church, go left through a gate and turn right on to the road. Bear right at the junction, passing Bridehead house. Continue past Littlebredy Farm and up a long hill. At the junction turn right.

6 Soon bear left on a bridleway to follow the track beside some woods. Cross the road and go straight ahead. Descend through the woods and, where the track divides, turn up to the right. After ½ mile (800m), before the road, turn right and right again on to a footpath. Cross a bridge and follow the woodland path up to the left. Stay on this to reach the road opposite the Hardy Monument.

Admiral Hardy is best remembered today as the close friend of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, who attended the great naval hero in the hour of his death after the Battle of Trafalgar. He was a hero in his own right, his features decorating jugs and tankards of the time. Compared to his literary namesake, you'll find few signboards and memorials to this Hardy in his home county, but there is one monument - and it's a big one.

Thomas Masterman Hardy was born in 1769 at Kingston Russell, near Long Bredy, and from the age of nine raised at Portesham House in Portesham, a practical sort of village tucked well back under the hill of Black Down. At 12 he got his first taste of life at sea, but was sent home for further schooling. After three more years on land he escaped to sea again, this time slipping secretly aboard a merchantman, where he served before the mast and in the galley before enlisting. His naval career was to be illustrious.

In 1796 he had been put in charge of a captured foreign vessel when he witnessed two frigates under the command of Nelson in severe and imminent danger from a Spanish squadron. In a courageous and selfless act, Hardy hoisted the British flag, drawing the Spanish fire to his own vessel. He was captured in the ensuing fracas, but was later returned to the Royal Navy in an exchange of prisoners. Some months later he and Nelson were involved in another near-death adventure, when Nelson stopped the flight of his ship to wait for Hardy, who had gone to the rescue of a drowning seaman. His bold action so surprised his Spanish pursuers that they stopped in their tracks.

The friendship of the two men was to be deep and lasting. Hardy became the captain of Nelson's flagships and served with him at many of his most famous battles, including the Nile in 1798. In 1805, as captain of HMS Victory, he was at Nelson's side in that man's greatest hour and, when Nelson was mortally wounded, Hardy took command of the fleet. Nelson's last words were a blessing addressed to his great friend. Hardy continued in his career and stayed in the navy for another 30 years. His final service was as Governor of Greenwich Hospital, where he died and was buried in 1839.

Set high on Black Down hill, the Hardy Monument, solid and reliable as Hardy himself, looks like a Victorian chimney. You can climb up inside on summer weekends, but even if it is closed, the views from here over a sea of green fields and on down to Portland are superb.

What to look for

There are two stone circles on this route, their purpose and origin obscure. The first is Hampton Stone Circle, where the nine flinty stone lumps (they look like concrete aggregate) are well used by cattle as scratching posts. The stone is a natural phenomenon, with flint gravel cemented by silica, laid down over 40 million years ago. The more numerous lumps of the Kingston Russell Stone Circle are mottled with lichen.

Where to eat and drink

Abbotsbury is well supplied with tea rooms, some of which are passed on Walk 39. On Market Street the Bakehouse Tearoom (also an antique and collectables shop) offers home-made cakes including great wedges of Dorset apple cake. The Wheelwrights Tearoom, also on the route, offers tasty light lunches (and has an art gallery too). If you want something stronger, the Ilchester Arms Hotel has an extensive beer garden.

While you're there

Abbotsbury Swannery is a unique sanctuary. Mute swans have lived on the Fleet for 600 years, since they were introduced as a food source for the abbey, and their nest site is now protected. Come in April to see them nesting and from mid-May to see cygnets. In the huge tithe barn near by Smuggling Adventure offers fun for the under 11s, with a themed play area and a farm where children can cuddle rabbits and pet pigs, drive a toy tractor and go for pony rides.

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