With January blues starting to fade and the snowdrops just beginning to poke through the soil, it’s a great time for lacing up those walking boots and getting out in the fresh air as Spring begins to emerge around us. We are spoilt for choice in Dorset with a wealth of wonderful walks combined with some of the most beautiful scenery that Britain has to offer.
Some of the more rural country walks in North Dorset suggest themselves as more of a waterproof coat and wellington boot alternative, though there are plenty of coastal walks for the slightly more adventurous types with hiking boots and walking sticks. However, these are my particular favourites;
At the top of the Saxon hill top market town, there is the most stunning view out across the Blackmore Vale from Park Walk. There are several car parks in town where you can leave your car (unfortunately not for free) and plenty of cafes and pubs to refresh you on your return from your walk. Starting out at Park Walk, if you walk along past the entrance to Shaftesbury Abbey ruins, go down a rather steep hill called Stony Path, you can turn right into Tanyard Lane and see some of the still quaint cottages that look more suited to a chocolate box village from the 1900s than 21st century Shaftesbury. Carry on walking and turn right onto St John’s hill and go halfway up the hill and turn right onto Pine Walk. This tree lined winding path could be a country idyll anywhere and provides a tranquil spot from the hustle and bustle of town. Continue along this path and eventually you will emerge back onto Park Walk and can venture back into town. For a cream tea with a view, The Salt Cellar situated underneath the town hall on Gold Hill is the perfect spot, though there are many other options to choose from such as King Alfred’s Kitchen, Turnbulls and Gusto, offering locally made cakes, sandwiches and all sorts of other delights to set you up for your return to your holiday cottage in Shaftesbury.
Old Wardour Castle
Sitting across the Wiltshire/Dorset border, driving up the windy lanes has often been too much for the most fearless driver, but if you take your time and use the passing places, you should handle them no problem. Park at the castle and the kids and dogs will love the 3 mile trek that’s on offer. Follow the track away from the car park which leads behind the castle gift shop outside of the main exterior wall. Following the trail through the woods leads you under a wonderful cobbled tunnel which provided part of the original entranceway to the castle. Carry on following the (currently rather wet and muddy) route, for which there is very much a need for wellies and it will sweep round to the right and eventually come out under the original archway at the edge of the Arundel estate, bringing the back of the rather stunning castle into full view. You can always pop into the castle gift shop on the way back to the car to replenish spent energy with an ice cream and a coffee. The castle dating from the 14th century also offers a wonderful glimpse into life before and after the English Civil War, so if you don’t mind parting with some money to English Heritage, then it is definitely worth stopping for a picnic in the grounds and exploring.
Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door
This ideal family walk is not for the faint hearted (or those with push chairs or lazy dogs!) In the height of the season, you will struggle to park at Lulworth, so head there early on a Saturday. Leave the picnic in the car, but make sure you have plenty of water and some snacks to carry with you (you’re going to need them!) The walk starts at Lulworth Cove and proceeds for 4.1km at an ascent of 242 metres, which is great for astounding scenery. The top of the hill is a good point to get some fluids on board and prepare yourself for the much easier and smoother descent down to Durdle door, with views stretching far across the bay to Portland. The only down side of this stunning walk is that once you reach your destination, you have to trek all the way back again to Lulworth Cove, where the picnic and a selection of cafes (with delicious ice cream) will be waiting for you.