First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A blackbird was singing on the garden wall of Portesham House, where stone lions couchant guarded the porch. Thomas Masterman Hardy, who lived here in the Dorset downs as a young boy in 1778, was destined for fame as a much-loved sailor and man of action. Horatio Nelson’s close friend and trusted Flag Captain died loaded with honours in September 1839. In that month his namesake, the future novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, became the tiniest of twinkles in his mother’s eye at Higher Bockhampton, a few miles over the hills to the east. It’s not the great writer who is commemorated by the tall stone Hardy’s Monument on the downs, but the fighting admiral from little Portesham village.
Near the path to Hardy’s Monument crouches the Hell Stone, a neolithic tomb resembling a heavily armoured giant crab, whose nine massive stone legs support a huge capstone of flint-studded conglomerate. The Devil, playing a game of quoits, hurled the Hell Stone here from the Isle of Portland ten miles away, so local stories say.
Up in a cold wind by the monument, Jane and I savoured that fabulous tale along with an equally fabulous burger of local beef, cooked and served with a relish of friendly banter by the pony-tailed man in the Hobo Catering van. Hobo the Canadian Inuit dog (who has kindly lent her name to the admirable fast-food business run by her master) followed every mouthful with the soulful gaze of true cupboard love.
Truth to tell, Hardy’s Monument looks more like a factory chimney than a memorial to a national hero. But the views over Dorset are sensational. Even more stunning is the prospect from the steep ridge above Waddon House, where we paused on the way back to Portesham. Downs and farmlands, the shingle bar of Chesil Beach, St Catherine’s Chapel on its knoll of strip lynchets, the Devil’s quoits pitch of Portland lying like the Gibraltar of Wessex on a bay of molten silver – if any view could entice an adventurous lad to sea, it would be this.
Start & finish: King’s Arms, Portesham, Dorset DT3 4ET (OS ref SY 603857)
Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk) to Upwey (6 miles); Bus service 61 from Dorchester (www.surelinebuses.co.uk); Road – Portesham signed off A35 Dorchester-Bridport at Winterbourne Abbas
Walk (7 ½ miles, moderate grade, OS Explorer OL15): From King’s Arms, cross street; up Church Lane; right up Back Street; left opposite Manor Close (602860). Follow ‘Portesham Withy Beds, White Hill, Abbotsbury Round Walk/ARW’ signs/waymark arrows. Pass withy beds; through gate at end of trees (592860). Sharp right up steep bank; follow fence (fingerpost, ARW) for 1/3 mile. Right over stile (592865) by ‘South Dorset Ridgeway, Hardy’s Monument/HM’ marker stone. Follow ‘Inland Coast Path/ICP’ for 2/3 mile to road (601869). Left (great care!) for 30 yd; right (HM fingerpost) down fence for 2 fields. Detour right (605869; ‘Hell Stone only’) over stone stile to Hell Stone (605867); return to path; follow ICP through wood to Hardy’s Monument (613876). Cross road; follow ICP to recross road (616877; ‘ICP, Jubilee Trail/JT’). In 1/3 mile (620874), right off ICP, following JT for 1 ¼ miles past Bench farm ruins (624864) to road (630857). Right; in 100 yd, right (’Portesham’); in 200 yd, right over stile (yellow arrow/YA). Diagonally right to ridge top; follow fence (stiles, YAs) for 1 mile. Through gate by Portesham Farm (612861); left down drive; right along lane into Portesham.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Hobo catering van at Hardy’s Monument (presence likely, not guaranteed); King’s Arms, Portesham (01305-871342; www.kingsarmsportesham.com; B&B available)
More info: Dorchester TIC (01305-267992)