Dorset - - Blandford -

From the Black­more Vale in the north, to the Juras­sic Coast in the south, we are spoilt for choice as to where to walk from one week to the next. We have 3,000 miles of pub­lic rights of way in Dorset: 4,700 foot­paths, 1,700 bri­dle­ways and 37 by­ways. There are also the wel­come ‘per­mis­sive’ paths and ‘un­clas­si­fied’ roads, the lat­ter rang­ing from quiet sunken lanes to sin­gle lane dirt tracks.

Walk­ing is by far the best way to ex­plore the wildlife, ge­ol­ogy, her­itage, hill forts and coast­line of this ru­ral county. We have our own recre­ational trail, the 90 mile Dorset Ju­bilee Trail which was es­tab­lished to cel­e­brate the 60th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Ram­blers. Opened in

1995, it winds through quiet vil­lages, passes ru­ral churches and of­fers ex­ten­sive views over the rolling downs and se­cret val­leys - from Forde Abbey in the west, to Bok­er­ley Dyke in the east. Dorset is also tra­versed by the Mon­archs Way, the ma­jor­ity of the Stour Val­ley Way, and the Wes­sex Ridge­way. And the splen­did South West Coast Path and sec­tions of the Eng­land Coast Path chase our coast­line.

Along­side the Wes­sex Ridge­way, at a point high above the beau­ti­ful North Dorset coun­try­side near Ib­ber­ton you will find a me­mo­rial stone and plaque to a re­mark­able woman. Priscilla Hous­toun (1916 -2001) de­vised the route along the hill­top paths where gen­er­a­tions had walked and driven their an­i­mals. Priscilla, who lived near to Ib­ber­ton Hill, was the Ram­blers Dorset Area Sec­re­tary for many years un­til she stepped down in the early 1990s. She worked hard to en­gen­der good re­la­tions with landown­ers, Dorset County Coun­cil and walk­ers. The 62 mile Wes­sex Ridge­way was to be­come her legacy and its suc­cess led oth­ers to ex­tend the route into Wilt­shire. The 138 mile trail now runs from Marl­bor­ough in Wilt­shire to Lyme Regis.

As I am based in the north of the county, the area around Jan is Foot­path Sec­re­tary for Dorset Area Ram­blers. A keen walker for many years, Jan joined the Ram­blers in 1999. “Not only have I met an amaz­ing group of fel­low walk­ers, with a wide and var­ied pool of in­ter­ests, but I’ve also be­ing able to walk off the beaten track – to places that are of­ten only ac­ces­si­ble on foot. Along the way I have amassed a huge amount of knowl­edge re­lat­ing to rights of way – all thanks to the Ram­blers.” Ib­ber­ton and through to Ham­ble­don and Hod Hills, is one of my favourite places to walk; the climbs are pun­ish­ing at times, but the ef­fort is well re­warded by the stun­ning views.

The vil­lages and ham­lets scat­tered around the Black­more Vale also present de­light­ful and some­times un­ex­pected en­coun­ters – not to men­tion the mud! A myr­iad of foot­paths can lead the walker to serendip­i­tous finds - emerg­ing from an en­closed path you can be greeted by a breath­tak­ing view or a herd of graz­ing deer. And un­like the coast, you can of­ten walk all day with­out see­ing a soul.

Win­ter walk­ing holds its own delights. I would far rather walk at this time of the year than any other. When the crisp air is al­most at times painful to breathe in, and eyes and noses start to run. With­out fo­liage on the trees there is so much more to see, and their skele­ton shapes cast long shad­ows along­side those of the walk­ers. Nav­i­gat­ing our way across muddy fields we can end up taller and heav­ier than when we started – who needs the gym for a work­out!

Dorset is a walker’s de­light at this time of year, says Jan Wardell from Dorset Area Ram­blers

ABOVE: A frosty morn­ing in the Black­more Vale from Gales Hill, near Buckland New­ton

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