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Moving Milton Abbas

Walk from a planned village into the surrounding hills and woods.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 755ft (230m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Village high street, easy forest roads, muddy bridleways, minor road, farm tracks, 2 stiles

Landscape Villages, mixed forest, rolling farmland with hidden valleys

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis

Start/finish ST 806018

Dog friendliness Mostly good but some road walking

Parking On main street of Milton Abbas

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the church take the road up the hill. Where the pavement ends turn left through woodland. At the top turn right, into an estate road, and right again, to meet the road into the village by Hill Lodge.

2 Cross over and go down the private road. Follow this down to the Forestry Commission signboard and bend left then right. Before the gateway turn left up the steep path, signed 'Jubilee Way'. Pass Park Farm on the left and descend to a track. Turn left and soon up to the right. Bear right at the top, on to a track. Where this forks, keep right to descend through Charity Wood. At a crossroads keep straight ahead. At the fingerpost bear right, up the bridleway.

3 Emerge at a field to follow the path down, with Higher Clenston Cottages ahead. At the bottom turn right through Winterborne Clenston. Turn left to the church. Retrace your steps to the first barn and turn left up the steep road. This becomes a track, passing below Clenston Lodge.

4 Continue on to a gate into Oatclose Wood. The path bends up to the right. Keep right at the first fork and left at the second. Where the path divides keep left, following blue markers. Then, where the track curves right, keep left. Cross a forest track, after which the path narrows and bends right, to a field by a gate. Turn right down the edge and, at the bottom, turn left along a track.

5 At a junction turn right. After ½ mile (800m) the track climbs gently. As it curves to the right look for a path on the left, and follow this to the field corner. Turn left up a steep track. Continue up the edge of the field, to swing right at the top. Descend to the road.

6 Cross over and walk straight up the lane, passing Luccombe business units. Pass a cottage and turn right through a gateway, up a track. (Turn left here if you're following Walk 29.) Where it almost meets the road, bear diagonally left to cross a stile in the fence. Bear left over a second stile and enter the woods. There's no clear path - keep downhill and bear left to emerge on the village street above the school. Turn left to return to your car.

Rarely do you find a village quite as symmetrical as Milton Abbas. It is the natural order of villages to grow over generations, to sprawl a little, develop secret corners and reflect different ages and tastes in their buildings. But in Milton Abbas you will find regular, whitewashed houses, identical in design, placed neatly on either side of a narrow defile. They face each other across the open street, thatched cowl facing thatched cowl. It's unnatural and slightly eerie. On closer inspection, you see that rebels have managed to sneak on a porch here, a coat of cream-coloured paint there, but nothing to seriously spoil the effect of planned perfection. No concessions were made to the two houses that were once the bakery and the forge, although the tailor's house had bow windows for extra light.

The explanation for this curiosity lies with the great house round the corner, the dream of Joseph and Caroline Damer, who bought Milton Abbey in 1752. It was on a fabulous site, first picked out by King Athelstan in ad 935, but the house left much to be desired. In 1771 the Damers decided to build something altogether grander, and more in keeping with their rising social status, to include a landscaped park by the trendiest gardener of his day, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. One thing was getting in their way, however: the untidy township that had grown up around the abbey was spoiling the view. It would have to go.

Consequently a neat, new hamlet was built out of sight in a narrow valley, with a new church of pinkish stone. The villagers were moved, whether they liked it or not. The houses look generous, but in fact each little block was two independent family dwellings, separated by a shared central hall. There were not enough new houses to go round and overcrowding was a problem. What the villagers had to say about the near-vertical valley walls behind their shiny new homes is not recorded. The steep terraced gardens that were eventually dug out are one of the attractive features of Milton Abbas today. The Damers are buried in splendour in the abbey church. Their house, never the architectural success they had hoped for, became a school in 1954.

Nearby Winterborne Clenston is altogether more organic. It has a Tudor manor house and a medieval tithe barn covered by a steep, chequerboard roof of alternating red and black squares. The Gothic-style Church of St Nicholas dates from 1840.

What to look for

Brown tourist signs point the way to Milton Abbey, ½ mile (800m) up the valley. The house is now a school, but you can park amid the school buildings (donation box) and walk through to the abbey church. It was rebuilt in stone and flint after a disastrous fire of 1309 and has been restored several times since. Approach from the village of Hilton for the best views.

Where to eat and drink

The Hambro Arms is a long, low, thatched building on the high street in Milton Abbas. Originally the Dorchester Arms, it was renamed for the new estate owner, Lord Hambro, in 1852. In summer you can enjoy a scrumptious open sandwich outside on a bench at the front, in winter retreat indoors to heartier fare. Children are welcome in the dining area, dogs must stay outside.

While you're there

Call in at Hewish Craft Workshop, in part of the old Hewish Farm buildings, to visit the workshop of wood-turner and craftsman Iain Locke. At times you may see him working a pole lathe.

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