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Roaming the Woods at Ashmore

A gentle amble through plantations of mixed woodland to a village highpoint.

Distance 5.7 miles (9.2km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 427ft (130m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Forestry and farm tracks, woodland and field paths, 1 stile

Landscape Mixed woodland, quiet village

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase

Start/finish ST 897167

Dog friendliness One short stretch of road walking

Parking At Washers Pit entrance to Ashmore Wood

Public toilets None on route

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1 With your back to the road, walk past the gate and follow the firm forestry road as it curves past the beeches of Washers Pit Coppice on your left and Balfour's Wood on your right. After ½ mile (800m) ignore a crossing bridleway and stay straight ahead on the track. You're now in Stubhampton Bottom, following a quiet winding valley through the trees.

2 Where the main track swings up to the left, keep straight ahead, following the blue public bridleway marker, on a rutted track along the valley floor. A path from Stony Bottom feeds in from the left - keep straight on. Where an area of exposed hillside appears on the left, follow the blue markers on to the narrower track to the right, which runs down through coppiced woodland parallel and below the forestry road. At Hanging Coppice a fingerpost shows where the Wessex Ridgeway path feeds in from the right - again, keep straight ahead. The path soon rises to emerge at the corner of a field.

3 Turn left at the fence (following the blue marker) to walk uphill. Follow this path along the edge of the forest, with good views to the south east of low rolling hills and secretive valleys.

4 After ¾ mile (1.2km) turn left at a marked junction of tracks and walk through the woods. Cross over a track and keep straight on, following the blue marker, to meet a track. Go straight on, following signs for the Wessex Ridgeway, and passing under a large beech tree. Go through an old gate. Next, continue straight up this track for about 1 mile (1.6km), through farmland and across the exposed open hilltop, with the houses of Ashmore village appearing. At the end of the track turn right and walk into the village to the duck pond.

5 Retrace your route but stay on the road out of the village, passing Manor Farm on the right and heading gently downhill. Just before the road narrows to single track width, bear left through a gate (blue marker). Walk along the top of the field, pass a gate on the left and bear slightly down to the right to reach the lower of two gates at the far side. Cross the stile and walk straight ahead on a broad green track. Go through a gate into the woods and immediately turn right, following a steep bridleway straight down the side of the hill to emerge by the car park.

To anyone familiar with the monotonous, sterile conifer forests of northern Britain, the plantations of Dorset are a revelation and a delight. Best among these are the Forestry Commission's woods around Ashmore. At the time of the Domesday Book around 15 per cent of the land area of England was covered by woodland. A survey undertaken in 2000 put that figure at 8.4 per cent, with oak accounting for a quarter of all broadleaved trees.

The Forestry Commission was set up as a Government body in 1919, partly in response to the timber shortage created by the needs of booming industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Furthermore, timber shortage had been identified as a critical problem during the First World War. Not only was it required for making pit props for coal mines but trench warfare also swallowed up vast quantities of timber for shoring up and lining the trenches. The Commission's early brief - to grow as much timber as possible in as short a time as possible - has changed over the years. Nowadays, sensitivity to local soil conditions, conservation and the needs of wildlife and public access for leisure also play a part in the choice of how a woodland is created and managed, and what is planted.

Ashmore Wood has the feel of a showpiece forest. As you walk down its broad tracks you'll notice an appealing variety of smaller tree species planted along the margins and plenty of bird nesting boxes in evidence. Although obviously plantation woodland, it represents replanting on the site of much older woods. Ashmore is therefore rich in wild flowers, especially bluebells in late spring, but also celandines, primroses and the tall spears of great mullein and foxgloves. The forestry planting is a combination of broadleaved woodland and mixed conifers. The beeches, magnificent in their autumn colour, stifle most things growing in the shade at their feet, but harbour the best sites for fungi. Beneath the conifers emerald moss grows in pillowy mounds, creating a sparkling fairyland in the filtered sunlight.

Ashmore village is the highest in Dorset and stands on the border with Wiltshire. Thatched houses cluster around a large circular duckpond. The village is on the road to nowhere in particular and has no pub (although a discreet stone carving over a doorway suggests there was a Stag's Head here not too long ago). Ashmore has remained pleasantly uncommercialised and feels like a discovery. The greenish tinge that gives an old-fashioned air to its houses is from the colour of the local sandstone. Spare a glance for the corbelled end wall of Manor Farm, which may have been lifted from Eastbury Hall.

While you're there

Drive down into the pretty village of Fontmell Magna, along an attractive route that brings you in past a big duck pond. A sign on your left by a little bridge marks the shallow sheep wash in the stream. This was used for washing sheep until modern dips came along in the 1930s. Just beyond the Crown pub, the Fontmell Potteries recalls that this was a centre of terracotta making.

Where to eat and drink

Compton Abbas Airfield has a café and bar, serving home cooking. It's open throughout the year. On offer are an all-day breakfast, morning coffee, lunches, baguettes and bar snacks, afternoon tea and so on. While the setting may not be highly sophisticated, the views are fantastic. You could even book a trial flight While You're There.

What to look for

Opposite the pond in Ashmore, the war memorial cross records the names of local members of the Dorset Regiment and Dorset Yeomanry who died in the First World War. There is just one addition to the roll for the Second World War: G Coombs, a pilot with the South African Air Force (SAAF), who died in 1942.

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