First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The old wool-trading and lace-making village of Thorncombe lies up and down its sloping street, a handsome huddle of old cottages in a steep, remote piece of countryside where Dorset tips over into Somerset.
The sun was finally groping its way through the clouds after days of miserable rain. The fresh wind and brilliant autumn colours of the woods put a spring in our step as we followed the rim of the deep ferny cleft of Stonelake Brook.
The Monarch’s Way led north through pastures where the wet grass polished our boots for us. Flints underfoot crunched and crackled. Off on our left side the church and houses of Thorncombe sloped down their hillside, framed by oaks and beech trees in wind-tattered gold and scarlet.
Down at Synderford bridge we picked up the Jubilee Trail and followed it north across the red mud squelch of rain-swollen brooks and the broad clover leys on Chitmoor. Devon Ruby cattle grazed the fields at Wheel House Lane, the sturdy little bull inspecting the females with close solicitude.
A screeching chorus of pheasants arose from a maize field as we neared Forde Abbey, where the last of the afternoon was slanting across the old monastic buildings. The view down the drive from the ornate gates was of a surf of pink, white and purple cyclamen along the lime avenue leading away to beautiful gardens and fountain pools.
Just beyond Forde Abbey the meanders of the River Axe mark the Dorset border. We crossed the bridge into Somerset and turned west through lush river meadows dotted with fine old cedars. Along the river, the pink blooms of Himalayan balsam opened their spotted throats to release a spicy fragrance. We edged round a deep gravel pit, pushed our way through an elephantine jungle of maize nine feet tall, and skirted the empty yards of Forde Abbey Farm.
Now the sun made a belated return, streaking the sky with patches of blue and fringing the clouds with a sharp lining of silver. Lemon yellow beech leaves scuffed under our boots as we came past Whistling Copse and turned for home.
A great view of rolling country to west and east, and we were crossing Thorncombe’s cricket field where goldfinches in a flicker of wings were gobbling up the grass seed laid on the pitch by the groundsman in hopes of a perfect surface for next summer’s opening match.
How hard is it? 6½ miles; easy; field paths. NB GPS and OS Explorer map are helpful for route-finding.
Start: St Mary’s Church car park, Thorncombe, Dorset TA20 4NE (OS ref ST376034)
Getting there: From Crewkerne (A30, Chard-Yeovil) follow ‘Forde Abbey’, then ‘Thorncombe’.
Walk (OS Explorer 116): Path through churchyard to road; left to junction at chapel (376032); right uphill. In 100m pass ‘Old Alley’; left (375032, fingerpost/FP). At stile, ahead (yellow arrow/YA); in 2nd field, stile (377027, ‘Liberty Trail’) through trees. In 200m, sharp left on Monarch’s Way/MW (377025) to pass Yew Tree Farm (383031, ‘Wessex Ridgeway’). At road, right (380035).
At Synderford sign, left (382037, FP, Jubilee Trail/JT), skirting water treatment plant. Cross brook; bear right up field slope with hedge on right to gap (380037, JT). On by hedge, following JT waymarks to cross brook in trees by stepping stones (376041). Left up hedge, left through hedge at top of bank (375043); right to kissing gate/KG. Follow right-hand hedge; in 200m, right (374045, KG); left up hedge. In 200m, left with hedge on left (374047); follow JT to Wheel House Lane (371048).
Left; opposite Thorncombe turning, right (366047, FP, JT) across fields to road (362053). Right past Forde Abbey gates, across River Axe. Left (362054, ‘Horseshoe Road’). In ½ mile, recross Axe (356051, YA). Follow Liberty Trail/LW and YAs clockwise round gravel excavation at Westmills Plantation (354050). Cross road (355046, ‘Forde Abbey Farm’) across field. Skirt to right round Forde Abbey Farm buildings (357042); follow farm drive. At fuel tank fork left (363037, blue arrow) across field to Horseshoe Road (366037). Right (LT). In 200m bear right along hedge (366036, FP). In 650m path descends and bends right; left here (368030, stile) to stile in conifer hedge (370030). Across recreation ground to cross road (371031), then more fields (YAs) to Thorncombe.
Lunch: Bell Inn, Winsham TA20 4HU (01460-30677)
Accommodation: Haymaker Inn, Wadeford, Chard TA20 3AP (01460-64161, thehaymakerinn.co.uk)
Info: Chard TIC (01460-260051); fordeabbey.co.uk