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Raleigh's Country Retreat at Sherborne

A gentle circuit around Sherborne, the sometime home of a cut-and-thrust regal pirate, politician and poet who courted danger.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 443ft (135m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Country lanes, green lane, field paths, estate tracks, 9 stiles

Landscape Gentle hills and dairy villages south of Sherborne, open parkland, woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 129 Yeovil & Sherborne

Start/finish ST 670157

Dog friendliness Some road walking

Parking On road by church, Haydon village, 2 miles (3.2km) south east of Sherborne

Public toilets None on route

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1 With the church on your left, walk down the road and out of Haydon. At the junction continue ahead, signposted 'Bishop's Caundle'. At the minor junction cross the stile, straight ahead. Turn right, up the field edge, towards Alweston. Cross a stile and bear diagonally left over the field. Cross a stile in the corner, go down a path and keep straight on down the road, which curves round to meet the A3030.

2 Turn right, then soon turn left over a stile in the hedge. Go straight over the field to a gap. Bear diagonally right over the next field. About half-way along the far side go through the hedge via a stile at a corner (yellow marker). Continue straight ahead along the hedge, crossing several stiles and footbridges. Continue along the wall towards Folke church. Cross two stiles, go through a gate and turn right up the lane into the village, passing the church entrance and a raised pavement on the right. Keep left at the junction, then follow the lane as it bends round to the left.

3 Follow the road as it bends sharply left, then turn right up the signed bridleway. Follow this for a mile (1.6km), gently ascending. It becomes broader and muddier, reaching the main road via a gate.

4 Turn left then right through the gate directly beside the lodge, up a lane. Continue straight on down through some woods, with the park wall to your right. Where the drive sweeps right by a cottage, keep straight on, up a track, passing sports fields on the left. Go through two gates, cross a road and go through another gate by a lodge on to a tarmac track. Follow this down a steep gorge to meet the main road. Take the path immediately right, through a gate, and walk up the hill above the castle gateway.

5 Pass through a gate into Sherborne Park. Follow the grassy track straight ahead, downhill. Go through a kissing gate and straight ahead on an estate track, with superb views of the castle. Go up the track to a thatched lodge. Here go through the wooden gate and up the hill.

6 At the top keep right, through another gate into the woods. Follow the track round. Keep straight on to a tarmac path and pass a huge barn on the left. Follow the track right, and go straight on at the junction. Descend to a lodge. Now go through the gate and straight on to return to your car.

Sir Walter Raleigh was an adventurer-cum-pirate, navigator, courtier and poet. His lasting legacies to modern daily life are the, nowadays humble, staples of tobacco and potatoes. A Devon man, born in 1552, he came to the attention of Queen Elizabeth I. Consequently he sailed off to the Americas to claim new lands for her and to plunder Spanish treasure ships along the way. By the time he returned, in 1587, his light at court was being outshone by the youthful 2nd Earl of Essex.

Raleigh, now around 40, fell madly in love with the much younger Elizabeth Throckmorton, the Queen's maid of honour. She became pregnant and they married in secret. When the Queen found out, she was furious and imprisoned them both in the Tower of London briefly, before banishing them from her sight.

Raleigh had earlier acquired the Norman castle at Sherborne, formerly owned by the Bishop of Salisbury. He moved there with Elizabeth and their child but the old castle proved inadequate. In 1594 he built a new, fashionably square house with corner towers on the opposite river bank. He constructed water gardens and a bowling green, planted exotic trees brought back from his travels and entertained London friends. It is said he loved Sherborne 'above all his possessions, of all places on earth'.

But he went to sea again, this time to explore the coast of Trinidad and the Orinoco, joining in the sack of Cadiz in 1596. His role as Governor of Jersey in North America took him away from home again in 1600. In 1603, perceived as a threat to the new monarch after the death of Elizabeth, Raleigh was sentenced to death. This was commuted to life imprisonment and, after 13 years in the Tower (which he spent writing poetry and compiling a history of the world), he was released to return to the Orinoco in search of gold, now accompanied by his son, Wat. Despite explicit instructions from James I not to attack the Spanish (except in self-defence), some men under Raleigh's command near the Orinoco River did just that. Furthermore, his son was killed in the skirmish. On his return, Raleigh had to carry the can - the 1603 treason charge was revived.

On 19 October 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh ate a hearty breakfast and took tobacco. Cavalier and poetic to the last, he refused a blindfold and asked to see the executioner's axe, saying, 'This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all Diseases'. His body was buried in nearby St Margaret's, Westminster. As was then the custom, his wife was given his embalmed head, a worthy 'conversation piece'. Thereafter it was, apparently, her constant companion. The head was finally buried next to the rest of him. Since Sir Walter's time Sherborne Castle has been enlarged and modified, partly by the Digby family. Today it is a charming mansion in a spectacular lakeside setting, ringed by woods and open parkland.

While you're there

Sherborne itself is dominated by the huge square tower of the Abbey Church, on Half Moon Street. Admire its saw-tooth Norman entrance and outstanding fan-vaulted roof. Exploring the streets on foot you'll find a buttermarket, old yarn mills and a jumble of low houses and little golden terraces, all on a tiny scale. Look out for the lovely Georgian square of Newland Gardens.

What to look for

The battlemented Church of St Lawrence at Folke dates from 1628. If it is locked, walk round and peer through the windows for sight of the massive, carved, Jacobean chancel screen.

Where to eat and drink

The Three Elms pub at North Wootton offers an extensive menu of freshly prepared food and five real ales on tap at a time. The landlord collects models of classic cars - and his display cases line the walls. Try home-made faggots with mashed potato and mushy peas, a burger topped with Dorset Blue Vinney cheese or the wide selection of sandwich fillings. Dogs, children and walkers all receive a friendly welcome, but leave your muddy boots by the door.

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