In Dorset's northern uplands, a short circular walk follows the route of an historic royal escape.
Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 410ft (125m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field paths, some roads, 1 stile
Landscape Little hills and valleys around high ridge
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis
Start/finish ST 491060
Dog friendliness Generally good but some road walking a bit tiring
Parking Lay-by north of Cheddington, opposite Court Farm
Public toilets None on route
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1 Go through the gate at the back of the lay-by and bear right on the path up through the woods. At the top of the ridge turn left for the memorial. Turn left down the steps, go back through the gate and turn right along the road. Pass the Winyard's Gap Inn on the right then, at the junction, cross straight over and walk up the road ahead. Sweeping views open out to the west. Keep right, following the lane over the top of the ridge between shoulder-high banks - the sign of an ancient lane. Flat-topped, bracken-clad Crook Hill is ahead. After about ½ mile (800m) bear left through a gate, signposted 'Monarch's Way'.
2 Bear right along the top of the field, with Chedington Woods falling steeply away on the left, and Crook Hill ahead and right. Go through a gate at the foot of the hill and bear right through the woods, round the base. Cross a stile and bear left down the field. On reaching a farm road near some trees, turn right. Follow it up to meet a lane and turn right.
3 After a short distance, on a corner, go left through a gate and hook back down the fence on the bridleway. Go through two gates at the bottom and continue down the field, parallel with the top hedge. Twelve Acre Coppice, down to the right, is a lovely stretch of mixed woodland. At the bottom cross the stream via a bridge, then go through the gate and straight ahead up the track. Go through a gate to the left of a barn (indicated by a blue marker) and turn right on the farm road, through a farmyard. At the lane go straight ahead, passing Home Farm on the left, into the hamlet of Weston.
4 Just before Weston Manor Farm detour right through a gate (blue marker). Turn left through a gate and turn right to resume the track straight up the hill, with a radio mast topping the ridge ahead. After a short tunnel of trees bear right through a gate along a green track, part of the Monarch's Way. Go through a gate and stay on the track. Go through another gate with ponds down to the right. Soon pass through a second gate to the left of a barn, walk past Hunter's Lodge Farm and up the drive to the road. Turn right on the main road and follow it back down to the inn, with care. Turn left here to return to the lay-by and your car.
In 1651 the rightful claimant to the English throne found himself on the run in Dorset. The young Charles II had been making for the coast, but was chased back inland. Forced to take a longer route via Yeovil and Mottisfont, he eventually reached Shoreham, where he could catch a ship to exile on the Continent.
Charles had an unfortunate inheritance. His father, Charles I, was the first and only British monarch to be executed, after a long and divisive struggle against his own Parliament. As Prince of Wales, the young Charles had fought in early battles of the Civil War, but had been packed off to Europe when it became clear that things might not go the King's way. (Part of his exile was spent in Jersey, where his illegitimate son James, Duke of Monmouth, was born, Charles was only 19 years old when his father died on the scaffold in 1649.
The Scots promptly proclaimed the young prince King, and invited him home. On 1 January 1651 he was duly crowned Charles II at Scone Palace. However, the English Parliament was not going to give up its grip that easily. At the Battle of Worcester in September of that year, Cromwell's army triumphed, and Charles had to flee for his life. The Worcester defeat effectively marked the end of the Civil War. It was to be another nine years before the mood of the country changed and the 'Merry Monarch' could be invited back to take up his throne.
From Worcester the young Charles fled south through the Cotswolds, reaching the home of the Wyndham family at Trent, on the north Dorset border, where he went into hiding. From here a ship was arranged to take him to France. The King was to rendezvous with the skipper, Stephen Limbry, at the Queens Head pub in Charmouth, disguised as the servant to an eloping couple. Things did not go to plan. Charles was a wanted man and his description had been widely posted. Limbry's wife became suspicious and, fearing that her husband might be captured himself, locked him in his bedroom. When the captain failed to show up, Charles moved boldly on to Bridport, but only escaped from there by a whisker. He made his way back to the Wyndhams via Broadwindsor and holed up for another 12 days, before a second attempt to reach a ship and safety was successful.
Today the route of Charles II's flight is commemorated with a long distance path called the Monarch's Way, which leads through the narrow defile in the high ridge called Winyard's Gap. It is ironic that his father had come the same way at the head of an army and in a much more bombastic mood, seven years earlier whilst campaigning in Dorset.
Take a stroll down the road into Chedington, enjoying the superb views over to the west. The village is a mixture of pretty stone houses and thatched cottages, with a large timbered village hall and a pottery at the manor house. The mellow red sandstone church is now a house, called Old St James. If you walk down far enough you'll even find the village pump, by the old police cottage.
Walkers receive a friendly welcome at the Winyard's Gap Inn. The home-cooked menu includes venison steak, duck, butterscotch meringue, treacle and orange tart, or sandwiches and baguettes if you prefer. Children are welcome in the family room and dogs in the bar, or you can dine out on the terrace under the awning.
On the hilltop above the Winyard's Gap Inn is a huge, carved stone memorial to men of the 43rd Wessex Division. It is dedicated to the memory of all ranks who laid down their lives for the cause of freedom during the Second World War, and is a replica of that erected on Hill 112 near Caen, in Normandy, site of the first major battle in which the division took part, in July 1944.