First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Some call it Shroton, others Iwerne Courtney. Whatever about the name, it’s a pretty little village of chalk, flint and thatch that lies among the undulating downland of Blackmore Vale.
Snowdrops spattered the hedge roots and daffodils were still hiding their waxy yellow petal heads as we set out from the village up a white chalk track streaming with the morning’s rainfall. Huge gunpowder clouds came rolling up from the southwest across a sky of pure blue.
A yellowhammer with a sulphurous head was practising his spring flirting with a drab female in a bramble bush, and larks went up singing from the sheep pastures. There was a hint of spring in the air, though not in the wind, still wintry enough to bring tears to our eyes.
Soon the massive ramparts of Hambledon Hill came over the skyline. Neolithic people mounded them round the long L-shaped crest of the hill, and crossed them with linking causeways, a vast undertaking 5,000 years ago. Human skulls were ceremonially laid at the bottom of the ditches.
We walked the circuit of the ramparts among sheep remarkably white and healthy-looking after a winter on the hilltops. Through smooth green pastures far below curved the River Stour, its course marked by patches of flooding.
A hailstorm came pattering across as we turned south along a field track, the ice pellets bouncing off the grass and piling up in the ruts. We ducked into a barn and waited out the shower among bales of straw, then followed a rollercoaster path steeply down and sharply up again to the heights of Hod Hill.
It was the Durotriges tribe that walled in this hilltop, some two thousand years after the earthworks were raised on Hambledon Hill across the valley. The invading Romans chased the Durotriges away in 43 AD after a brief bombardment with ballistae – several of these iron catapult bolts have been found up here.
We crossed the plateau through Roman and British ramparts, both sets of fortifications still prominent on the ground. Beside the path at the far side of the hill grew hazels heavy with catkins, and scarlet shoots of dogwood.
Down in the valley below we turned for home along a rutted track, walled with brick, flint and hard chalky clunch. A buzzard wheeled overhead, the edges of its wings silvered by a sun already sunk behind the rim of the western hills.
How hard is it? 6 miles; moderate hill walk; downland tracks and field paths
Start: St Mary’s Church car park, Shroton, near Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 8RF (OS ref ST 860124) – £1 honesty box for parking
Getting there: Bus X3 (Shaftesbury – Blandford Forum)
Road – Shroton/Iwerne Courtney signposted off A350 (Shaftesbury to Blandford)
Walk (OS Explorer 118): Right along road; left (‘Child Okeford’); in 100m, left (859126, stile, ‘White Hart Link’ /WHL, ‘Wessex Ridgeway’/WR). Track uphill; at gate, right (WR). In ⅔ mile at trig pillar, right (848123), anticlockwise round Hambledon Hill ramparts. Back at trig pillar, ahead; in 250m, ahead at fingerpost (849120, ‘Steepleton Iwerne’). In 900m right at barn (855116); down to cross road (855112). Through gates opposite; up track; in 150m fork right (855111) up to gate (NT- ‘Hod Hill’), Half left across Hod Hill for 700m. Through outer ramparts (858103); left on lower path. In 250m, right through gate (860105, NT); left on track down to road (861111). Follow WHL for 1 mile back to Shroton.
Lunch: The Cricketers, Shroton DT11 8QD (01258-268107, thecricketersshroton.co.uk)
Accommodation: The Fontmell, Fontmell Magna, Shaftesbury SP7 0PA (01747-811441, thefontmell.co.uk)
Info: shroton.org; visit-dorset.com