Take the gentle route up a famous sculpted landmark.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 541ft (165m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Village, green and muddy lanes, bridleways, hillside, 6 stiles
Landscape Pastoral, dominated by Hambledon Hill, outstanding views
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase
Start/finish ST 860124
Dog friendliness Good but some road walking
Parking Lay-by opposite Church of St Mary's
Public toilets None on route
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1 With the church on your left, walk up the street. Pass a farmhouse on the corner of Main Street and Frog Lane. Note behind you the carved stone cross, placed in 2000 on the stump of an old cross. Cross the road into the lane opposite, signed to Courteney Close. Pass a converted chapel, fork left and go through a gate. Keep right along the hedge. Where the gardens end keep straight ahead through a gate and across a field.
2 Turn right when you reach the fence, cross a stile and turn left. Go through a gate and bear left up a grassy lane between hedges. Pass Park Farm and keep straight ahead. At the junction bear right into Bessells Lane.
3 At the end, by Lynes Cottage, bear right and immediately left up a muddy bridleway, with a line of trees to your left. At the top go through a gate and bear left down a narrow lane, part of a defensive ditch at the foot of the hill. At the road turn left and head into Child Okeford. Just past the post box turn left and cross a stile. Bear right along the edge of the park, towards the church tower. When you get to the fence turn left.
4 Cross the drive and keep straight on, with glimpses of the chimneys of the Victorian manor house to the left. At the corner cross a stile and keep straight ahead down a path. Cross a stone stile by the road and immediately turn left up a lane. This becomes a track, climbing steeply through trees.
5 Pass a millennium totem pole and follow the lane right and uphill. Go through a gate and keep straight on up. The path levels out below the earthworks that ring the top of the hill. Go through a gate, emerge from the track and go straight on up the hill, through a gate and across the bridleway.
6 At the trig point turn left to explore the ancient settlement. (Turn right for Walk 24.) Return to the trig point, turn left over the top of the hill and go down the slope, following the bridleway.
7 Meet a track by a wall at the bottom. (Walk 24 rejoins here.) Turn left and go through a gate, with the village ahead. Follow the track down to a cricket pavilion. Go through the gate and turn right, on to the road. Follow this down past a thatched barn and turn right to return to your car. Alternatively, turn left at the pavilion, and soon turn right by Hill View Cottage, to the pub.
The locals would have you believe that you can see America from the top of Hambledon Hill. That's perhaps a little optimistic, but the New World link is not entirely spurious. Lieutenant Colonel (later General) James Wolfe trained his troops here for ten weeks in 1756. Wolfe was already a veteran of the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland. All that yomping the steep hillsides must have been worth it, for three years later his troops would scale the cliffs of the Heights of Abraham and capture Quebec - and Canada - for the British. (Wolfe himself was mortally wounded in the battle.)
The ditches and ramparts of a fort that dates from the Iron Age encircle the top of Hambledon Hill, giving it a profile that can be recognised from miles around. Today it is acknowledged as a site of international importance for the quality of its rare downland and its archaeology. The platforms of 200 huts have been discovered within the ramparts of the fort, offering a glimpse of how our ancestors lived - it is strange to think of this high, peaceful spot occupied by an entire community.
Such a distinctive landmark as Hambledon Hill was a natural choice for a rallying of serious-minded folk in 1645. They were the local branch of the Dorset Clubmen, ordinary people for the most part who were heartily sick of the Civil War, and particularly of losing out by being caught in the middle of plundering troops from both sides. Their idea was to declare Dorset a neutral zone until the King and Parliament had sorted out their differences - preferably somewhere else. The King, soundly defeated at the Battle of Naseby earlier in the year, was supportive of the movement. However, to Oliver Cromwell and his fellow commander Thomas Fairfax, it represented a dangerous and obstructive nuisance. When the Clubmen, determined not to be overlooked, tried to cut off Fairfax's supplies as he swept through North Dorset, he seized and imprisoned their ringleaders at Shaftesbury.
On 4 August some 4,000 angry and ill-armed Clubmen then faced Cromwell and the horsemen of his New Model Army on Hambledon Hill. They suffered a humiliating defeat on their home ground. Around 60 of their number were killed (some accounts say only 12), and around 300 were taken prisoner, including no less than four rectors and their curates. Cromwell locked them up in Shroton church overnight. They were allowed home the next day, after promising not to do it again. After this, the Dorset Clubmen disappeared from history. The Parliamentary army stormed on to take Sherborne Castle a few days later, another decisive step towards their eventual victory.
Call in at the neighbouring village of Iwerne Minster to admire the church, which dates from the 14th century. Its elegant spire can be seen from the walk. In fact, it is one of only three medieval spires in Dorset. When first built it was apparently twice as tall - restoration in the 19th century cut it down to size.
The Cricketers in Shroton is a cosy place, with a set of cricket stumps stuck on the front door in case you're feeling your way in. Walkers are requested to leave their muddy boots outside. Dogs are welcome in the beer garden to one side, children inside. As well as standard bar meals, the smart restaurant's inventive menu list includes black pudding with a mustard cream sauce and chicken with maple barbecue sauce.
Elizabeth Taylor married Thomas Freke, and is remembered as the 17th-century benefactress of the school in Shroton, now the village hall. Their over-the-top chapel within St Mary's Church was erected by their sons in 1654. Dazzling with its crests and armorial bearings, even the church's own guidebook describes it as pompous and florid.