MEET JAN WARDELL
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