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The Martyrs of Tolpuddle

From the village of heroes into a peaceful, secretive valley.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 394ft (120m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Village roads, farm tracks, rocky footpath, bridlepaths, 1 stile

Landscape Gently rolling farmland above valley of River Piddle

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis

Start/finish SY 787945

Dog friendliness Some road walking

Parking Lay-by beside Martyrs Museum; or on high street

Public toilets None on route

1 From the Martyrs Museum head towards the centre of the village. Pass a row of houses and turn up to the left, signposted 'Dewlish', on a lane which hooks back behind the same houses. Continue up a path through scrubby woodland, towards the bypass. It's a noisy but necessary evil, freeing the village of traffic, and the path detours to cross it. So, at the top turn right through the gate, go down the track beside the bypass and turn left through the underpass. At the other side turn immediately left through a gate and walk to the end. Turn right here, through a gate. Bear diagonally left across the field, climbing steadily up to a plateau.

2 Tolpuddle is tucked down in a fold of hill behind you, already invisible. This sleepy Dorset village entered the history books in 1834 when six of its farm labourers became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. They were among the 1,800 individuals, convicted of political crimes, who were shipped out to Australia between 1800 and 1850. These 'dangerous elements' were effectively silenced by being sent to another, apparently God-forsaken world. They included Luddites and rioters, Chartists and radicals. The case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs was unusual. They had been convicted at Dorchester of 'administering unlawful oaths'. In fact the men had illegally banded together to press for improved pay and conditions at a time when many in England were starving. Their sentences were eventually quashed after public outrage, and the men were pardoned. Still, it took five years to bring them all home.

3 Go through a gateway and continue straight on beside a thick hawthorn hedge, through another gateway and over the top of the hill. The gentle folds of Burleston Down are to your left. Continue down the other side but bear right before the corner of the field through an old, broken gate, to walk down a narrow track between high banks and trees. The path levels out. Turn right through a gap in the hedge, with a hedge to your immediate left (there is a blue marker, but it's behind you), and keep straight on along the bridleway. Look out for deer on the big sweep of chalk downland up to your right. Pass some derelict barns on the left. At the corner of the field go right, over the fence, and straight along the bottom of a secret green valley. Go through a gate. The radio transmission mast on Warren Hill is up to the right. Cross a stile by a gate and go on through another gate. Pass an area of scrubby woodland on the left. In front of you, almost blocking the end of the valley, is the magnificent Weatherby Castle, a rampart-ringed fort covered in trees.

4 The track rises to meet a wooden gate. Go through and turn up to the right, to meet a rough gravel road that leads up the hill, leaving the castle on your left. The main track swings right through a gateway - ignore this, and stay straight ahead up the hill. Go through a gate in the narrow, top corner, into a green lane through trees.

5 Go through a gate at the far end and continue along the top of the field over the crest of the hill, with a hedge on your right. Keep on through two more gates, towards the bypass. The track starts to descend by a small conifer plantation. Go through a gate and on through the farmyard. A gate at the other side leads you up over a bridge, crossing the bypass. Continue straight down the metalled road to emerge on the high street of Tolpuddle, beside the Martyrs' Inn.

6 Turn right and walk back towards the museum, passing the Martyrs' Tree on the triangular green, and cottages called Little Noddings and Sweet William. Outside the Martyrs Museum is a statue of one of the men, George Loveless. He was an eloquent Methodist lay preacher. He had developed a taste for life beyond these little valleys, and he emigrated to Ontario, Canada with four of the others. The only one to live out his life in the village was James Hammet. Cross over to enter the churchyard and walk through to visit his grave. Leave the churchyard via a little wooden gate and return along the high street to your car.

What to look for

The Martyrs' Tree in the heart of Tolpuddle is the source of the village's fame. It was a meeting point for the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, a group that had been formed to peaceably press their masters for better pay. At that time a local labourer's wage was just 7 shillings a week - around 3 shillings below what was paid elsewhere in Dorset. The six, picked out as trouble makers, were George and James Loveless, Thomas and John Standfield, James Brine and James Hammett.

Where to eat and drink

Tolpuddle's friendly Martyrs' Inn is open all day and serves a tasty range of pub food from lunchtime, including baguettes and fish and chips. Children are welcome in the pub and restaurant, dogs in the public bar area. The pub doubles as a West Dorset Tourist Information point.

While you're there

Just down the road is Athelhampton, one of England's most majestic old mansions. Parts of it date from 1485. The house is stuffed with treasures, from Tudor architecture in the Great Hall to a carved Charles I tester bed. Allow time to explore the world-famous gardens with their yew topiary and fountains.


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