Now that the clocks have gone back, there is a definite chill in the air, and it is all too easy to wrap ourselves up in a blanket and mindlessly stare at the telly. With what will hopefully be a wonderful cold but crisp winter, there are lots of winter walks that you can do to get yourself (and the dogs) out and about.
Dorset has some of the finest countryside that the nation has to offer, including some absolutely breath-taking views. For beauty, views, and for a certain special something, here are some top winter walks around Dorset as the cold weather closes in around us.
Maiden Castle, Dorchester
For something truly spectacular in size, this once Neolithic enclosure and later Roman temple is one of the largest and most complex Iron Age hillforts in Europe, spreading across the equivalent of 50 football pitches! The impressive ramparts are not for the faint hearted and will most likely have you pausing for a rest on the way to the top, but it is well worth the climb. Dogs are more than welcome here, as long as they are kept on a lead due to the sheep which graze on the site. Although cared for by English Heritage, the site is free to enter. The site is very exposed and so it is important to seriously wrap up before taking on the ramparts.
Kingston Lacy is situated on the B3082 Blandford to Wimborne road, and offers free parking. There is a charge to the house and grounds if you aren’t a National Trust member, however, the grounds are extensive and very beautiful and for just £7.25 for an adult or £17.25 for a family, you can have unlimited access to the lavish family home’s gardens and parkland. You can take a wander around the Japanese Garden, or take a more sheltered and mysterious walk through the park’s woodland. The National Trust even offers the option of the ‘Community Growing Spaces' where you can learn how to grow your own food. From Iron Age forts, to colourful heathland, water meadows and even a Roman road, you’ll be spoilt for choice with everything to see across the 8,500 acre estate.
Situated on the same road as Kingston Lacy, Badbury Rings is cared for by the National Trust and offers yet another fine example of an Iron Age hill fort in Dorset. Badbury Rings actually sits on the Kingston Lacy estate but offers its own free parking and extensive areas in which to walk the dogs, or fly kites with the kids. There is occasionally the arrival of an actor dressed as a Roman centurion, however at this time of year, your entertainment is more likely to be playing fetch with the dog and making sure you take a thermos of hot drink with you on your travels.
Hambledon Hill, near Blandford
Recently acquired by the National Trust, this Prehistoric hill fort is situated 630 ft above sea level, with some spectacular views out across the Blackmore Vale. The hill is now a National Nature Reserve and common plants include salad burnet, milkwort and horseshoe vetch, to name but a few. This is another good walk if the dogs are driving you crazy being stuck inside, so even if you are reluctant to leave your warm firesides, a good romp around Hambledon Hill will warm you up in no time.
For an afternoon that is a little less wild and exposed, Stourhead Gardens offers an absolutely breathtaking walk through the beautiful estate of the Hoare family, stretching across 2,650 acres. The gardens offer wonderful treasures to discover, such as the grotto, the Pantheon, the gothic cottage and of course the lakes and ponds with their resident ducks. There is no end of little pathways off the beaten track that children will love to explore through the woods and the gardens offer many perfect photograph opportunities, especially as the colours of autumn begin to fall. Situated near Mere, the gardens charge £8.30 for adults and £19.50 for a family. Stourhead also has a wonderful programme of winter events so there really is something for everyone. Dogs are welcome after 4pm from 1 March - 31 October as long as they are on short fixed leads.