First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A grey and blowy day across the Dorset coast and the deep-sunk Vale of Marshwood. Up at Lambert’s Castle the beeches thrashed and hissed, shedding their leaves downwind like flocks of birds.
A steep path took me down the fields to Roughmoor, where a sow and her three pink-and-black piglets were blissfully crunching up the beechmast fallen from the trees. They snorted and grunted and raised their snouts hopefully as I leaned on their fence, but I had nothing in my pockets to add relish to their feast.
Marshwood gives the impression of great depth and remoteness, a green mosaic of woodland and sloping pastures that Thomas Hardy would recognise today. At Roughmoor Cottage a splashy ford led to a holloway rustling with bracken and hart’s tongue ferns.
Up at Higher Stonebarrow the wind roared in the beeches that held the hedge-banks together with the grip of their root tangles. A basso profundo moan came from the high tension cables that crossed the valley. But once down in the squelchy green lane beyond Sheepwash Farm I was walking far beneath the rumpus of the gale. At the ford below Little Coombe the swollen stream gushed freely among horsetails and filled my boots, one of the myriad waters that once filled the carp pools dug by medieval monks at Fishpond Bottom.
A network of old cart tracks threads through Marshwood Vale. I saw no-one as I followed the sunken path to Little Combe and Great Combe, isolated farmsteads on green slopes under the grey sky. A glimpse of the roofs of Charmouth lining their cliff gap to the south with a wedge of wind-whitened sea beyond. Then I turned up straggling Long Lane to cross the earthworks of Coney’s Castle.
Two Iron Age hill forts, orientated south-north, dominate the eastern flank of Fishpond Bottom – the modest rise of Coney’s Castle, and to the north the bigger stronghold of Lambert’s Castle on its long slim promontory.
I’d just finished re-reading Bernard Cornwell’s sword-slashing King Arthur trilogy, ‘The Warlord Chronicles’. Romantic fantasy was irresistible here on the windy ramparts. I strode them like a warrior, wolfskin cloak flying free, sword in hand, as I prepared to repel the Saxon hordes massing in Marshwood Vale below.
How hard is it? 5¼ miles; moderate. Some boggy green lanes, fords.
Start: Lambert’s Castle car park, near Lyme Regis EX13 5XL (OS ref SY 367987)
Getting there: Off B3165 between Marshwood and Raymond’s Hill (A35)
Walk (OS Explorer 116): Back along drive. In 100m, opposite gate on left, right down path. Cross B3165 (366988); down steps; kissing gate; half left down to gate (365989). Right down drive. At Roughmoor Cottage cross ford (363991); up holloway to Higher Stonebarrow. Left up drive; at start of road, left (357990; gate with red dog notice). Bridleway bounded by hedge, then walls to cross B3165 (360987). Stile. Down right edge of field to cables; follow them left to green lane (363983). Right; in 50m, left (stile); right along upper edge of woodland on right. In 250m at telephone pole (363980), sharp left down through trees to road (364981); right. 50m past Sheepwash Cottage, left (364977) along wet green lane to Little Coombe Farm. 100m beyond, right (369975) for ⅔ mile past Higher Coombe and Great Coombe farms to Long Lane road (373968). Left for ¾ mile to Peter’s Gore crossroads (371981). Ahead (‘Marshwood’); in 20m, right past Lambert’s Castle/Wessex Ridgeway signs. North across Lambert’s Castle for ½ mile; at northern edge (372991) turn back along western rim to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: Hunter’s Lodge, Raymond’s Hill EX13 5SZ (01297-33286, hunterslodgeinn.co.uk)