A walk between two remarkable villages, featuring two very different churches, hidden in the chalk combes of south west Somerset.
Distance 7 miles (11.3km)
Minimum time 3hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 900t (270m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Byways, tracks (some tarred), minor roads, field edges, 2 stiles
Landscape Gently rolling hills
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 116 Lyme Regis & Bridport
Start/finish ST 375063
Dog friendliness Dogs can be off leads along byways
Parking Street parking near Bell Inn
Public toilets None on route
1 At the foot of Winsham's main street turn left into Court Street, with a footpath sign for Wayford. The path becomes a track. Where another track crosses, keep ahead into a field, to pass to the right of Broadenham Farm with its handsome Hamstone porch. Follow waymarkers between the farm buildings to a lane. Turn right and follow the lane to Hey Farm. Waymarkers lead round to the right of the buildings. Ignore two tracks on the left as the main track bends to the right. Follow it through Ashcombe Farm - although the right of way diverts to the left, the track between the buildings is a permitted path. In another ½ mile (800m) you reach the parking area at the foot of Wayford Wood.
2 Go through a gate to a noticeboard with a map. Turn right, passing to the right of a wooden building, and go up the main path. With the wood edge visible above on the left, the path bends to the right; take a left fork to pass a bench, dated 1987, and date palms. The path crosses the top of the wood for 220yds (201m) then turns downhill again, eventually emerging down steps on to the track below the wood. Turn left for ¼ mile (400m) into Wayford. A golden manor house, a few stone cottages and a tiny church make up the village of Wayford, with just a single road leading out to the rest of the world. Keep ahead to the chapel, barely bigger than a room. In this small, undecorated space, you might feel God is sitting right beside you. (You can divert through the churchyard to rejoin the lane beyond.)
3 At the end of the village, at 'Give Way' markings, turn left up the steep and hedged Chard Lane. At the top of the hill, opposite a road designated 'Unsuitable for Motors', turn left through an unmarked gate. Take a faint green track out across the field, to a single oak tree where a hedge runs down to the right. Go past the oak and along the hedge behind to a gate into a farm track. After 100yds (91m) the track bends left: here climb a gate ahead and follow the hedge on your right to the field corner and a gate into a lane. Turn right for 220yds (201m) then left into a concrete farm track signposted for Chalkway. The track leads through Midnell Farm and then Lue Farm, where it passes through a large shed. After ¼ mile (400m) it joins a road.
4 Turn left, down into a gloomy wood of larches, and then right, over a cattle grid, on to a tarred track. This runs through parkland, to reach a lane. Turn left, down over a mossy bridge, over the crest of a hill, and down towards Winsham. Just above the village a stile on the left is signed for Back Street. Cross a field corner to pass to the left of some houses. Another stile leads into the village: turn downhill to reach the Bell Inn, but be sure to visit the church before you leave.
Winsham is a lovely village, with houses in Mediterranean colours of yellow and pink as well as the golden Hamstone. Winsham church is essentially medieval. This is because after 1550 official Protestantism under Edward VI saw much church decoration removed or destroyed. For the rest of that century each new monarch had the old vicar removed for having the 'wrong' religion. Understandably, the wealthy stopped leaving their money to the church and left it to their descendants instead - the grand buildings of Tudor and Stuart times were not churches but country houses.
Winsham church is unusual for having retained its rood screen. This carved partition between the congregation and the altar was particularly objectionable to the Protestant style-police. Even more remarkable is the painted tympanum, the wooden panel that filled the space above the screen. This 14th-century crucifixion scene lay under whitewash throughout the Reformation and it was not rediscovered until Victorian times. We are so accustomed to the Victorian-piety style of religious painting - pale people, eyeballs rolled heavenwards - that this down-to-earth painting comes as a refreshing shock.
Forde Abbey isn't among Somerset's superb collection of early country houses - it's actually 150yds (137m) into Dorset. A medieval abbey, transformed in 1649, it has one of the finest and most varied selections of ceilings in the country. The gardens are also magnificent, with many water features including the former moat.
This is a chalk landscape. Chalk is porous, so the hillsides have no goyals (little stream valleys). Valleys did form in the Ice-Age summers, when streams flowed but the underground was frozen. Those former waterways have now smoothed out, and the result today is a gently rolling scene. After Chalkway you cross a chalk stream with its flinty bed.
The Bell at Winsham serves home-made pies and real ales. Dogs (on leads) are welcome but muddy boots aren't; however, there is an outdoor eating area. The church is opposite.