WALK 3 – HAMBLEDON HILL (map 2)
A. As for Walk 1, turn right along the Shaftesbury Road, but this time turn right opposite Yew Hedge House, then immediately left up steps through a kissing gate. Go along the left-hand edge of the field by a hedge, enjoying a fine view of the hill ahead. Try to imagine how it might have looked in the hill fort’s heyday, with bare white chalk and timber palisades along the ramparts. At far end of field go through a kissing gate towards the road, immediately turn right through another kissing gate, and walk up the track (known as Pine Walk), to left or right of a line of trees, taking care with tree roots and badger setts. At the top of the path go up steps and through a kissing gate. Looking back, already there are grand views.
B. A path to the right leads to the rightmost (perhaps the easiest) route of ascent seen as you approach. But for the recommended route, follow a line of “footprints” straight ahead up the slope, and (to make the ascent at the northernmost end and enjoy the full traverse of the summit ridge) take the left hand line of footprints where they fork. Follow this line to the first rampart, pause for breath, and continue in the same direction to the second rampart. Turn briefly right, then left up the grassy slope where a steeper line of (less distinct) footprints is developing. After this there is one further, less steep, rise which brings you to the first high point along the summit ridge – and your hardest work is over.
C. On the hill there is open access, and many prefer to keep to the crest of the ridge so that exhilarating views can be enjoyed to both East and West, and (behind you) to the North. All along there are views of Child Okeford to the right and Shroton to the left, and stunning views of the western ramparts (especially in the afternoon or evening sun). Below to the West you can see Child Okeford Manor and its splendid avenue of trees. Further afield, to the north-west you can see Sturminster Newton and the distinctive double line of trees at Hinton St Mary: the great expanse of the Blackmore Vale stretches away to the horizon, then to the right there is tree-clad Duncliffe Hill, and the Saxon hilltop town of Shaftesbury on a long ridge. Right again are Melbury Beacon and Fontmell Down (you may see light aircraft from the airfield behind), and then a line of upland on the western edge of Cranborne Chase. Coming down from Shaftesbury is a string of villages with lovely double-barrelled Dorset names, each with its church – Compton Abbas, Fontmell Magna, Sutton Waldron, Iwerne Minster, Iwerne Courtney (or Shroton).
D. When you reach a distinctive half circle of fortification you may keep left of it to reach the trig point (see F below): but you can complete a very satisfying circuit by walking on to this ridge and continuing along the rampart as it curves right, with views of Shillingstone and beyond. (In Neolithic times the dip within the horseshoe is thought to have contained the village pond). After completing a half circle you come to a gap in the ramparts, which was a major entrance to the hill fort. Here turn left on an obvious well-used path down the grassy slope: on the right as you descend is a line of trees which look particularly fine in autumn colours. Go through the kissing gate at the bottom and go down the lane, with Markstone Cottages to the left, to reach the road.
E. Here you may turn right and follow the road to the village centre; but a stone step on the right leads onto a footpath running parallel to the road. After the end of the first field go right through a kissing gate. Follow a faint track towards the right of the church in the distance and a large horse chestnut. After passing the tree, the path keeps to the right of a low fence until reaching 2 gates at Manor Drive with its splendid avenue of lime trees. Cross Manor Drive, keep to left-hand edge of the field (snowdrops on the left in season) and at the far end leave by the kissing gate through which you came in.
F. To continue to Hod Hill at D, drop down to the bridleway which passes this rampart on the left, and turn right to follow it. At a stile and gate a former notice board gave a list of some of the plants to be seen on the hill – Carline Thistle, Horseshoe Vetch, Rockrose, Chalk Milkwort, Bee Orchid, Early Purple Orchid, Early Gentian. Go through the pedestrian gate to the left and follow the bridleway to the trig point, where a track to the left goes down to Shroton. From here there is an extensive view South, and on a very clear day even the Isle of Wight (the chalk cliffs near the Needles) can be seen. The route continues in walk 4.