Beating the Portesham Parish Bounds

It was a tradition, in many parishes in days gone by, for the youngsters to walk around the parish boundary to be "beaten" as they went so they'd never forget their home territory!

This walk follows, as closely as possible, the Portesham Parish Boundary and, being over 10 miles long, can be walked either in two sections, with the halfway point at Friar Waddon, or all in one go.

THE WALK'S DIRECTIONS

Please note: All signage en route are now removed

For a printable version please see the PDF file at the foot of this page

For those of you with the correct technology, the  GPX file is next to it

From the Parish Map on The Green, opposite The King's Arms, go up New Road then left onto Cemetery Road, at No 16 turn right up the path, at the top, turn left on the path to a gate, left on the track for 200 metres, straight on through the gate and field path to go through the next gate. Walk past the Withy Beds (1) with the pond on the left.

1.  Portesham Withy Beds

A withy or withe is a strong flexible willow stem, typically used in traditional crafts such as thatching.  Willow grows well in cool, moist soil hence the Portesham withy beds sited here just below a spring and pond.  Several species of willows (often known as osiers) are grown for withy production.

 

It is probable that these withies were used in the local area to make baskets.  It was common at one time for fish to be caught in wide necked baskets placed close to the shore so that fish could swim in on the flood and ebb tide.  So it is possible that such baskets were used at The Fleet.

 

Withies were also used to mark tidal channels, so these withies may also have been used nearby at The Fleet.  There were also cottage crafts carried out in Portesham which could have used baskets made from withies – until the 1950s villagers were occupied in braiding rope and making fishing nets for the Bridport ropemakers Gundys.

1. The Withy Beds.jpg

After 150 metres go through the gate, then right, steeply uphill, zig-zagging to the top, turn left at the signpost. Keeping the fence on your right, follow the path, rising about 400 metres through gorse, to find a metal footpath gate on the right. Enjoy the views behind and contemplate the Moot Stone (2) ahead on the skyline by the road to Gorwell.

2.  The Moot Stone

As you enjoy the view towards the sea, look at the valley on your right.  The Ordnance Survey map names this as Uggescombe.  The “Uggescombe Hundred” would have comprised around 100 “hides” of land in Anglo Saxon Wessex.  These now form 12 modern day parishes extending as far as the outskirts of Weymouth to the east, Bridport to the west,  Compton Valence to the north and Chesil Beach to the south.  

 

So this could be a most important place in this area’s past.  Interestingly, if you turn to look in the opposite direction towards the road at the head of the valley, you will be looking at a point where four parishes meet.  This meeting point of boundaries is marked by a large stone, albeit that it is impossible to see unless you walk further and find the minor road to Gorwell.

 

A moot was an assembly of the people in early England to exercise political, administrative, and judicial powers.  The possible “Moot Stone” may have marked the location where matters for the Uggescombe Hundred were hammered out.   What a draughty place to hold a “mooting” but one assumes that's a moot point!!

2. The Moot Stone.jpg

Go through the gate, eastwards, along a path, becoming a track and find Hampton Stone Circle (3).

3.  The Hampton Stone Circle

 

With luck you have found the circle as most people walk past it without noticing. You will see something of its age from the old Ministry of Public Building Works sign board. The MPBW looked after ancient monuments until English Heritage took over.

The MPBW excavated here in 1965 as at that time the stones were being disturbed by agricultural work. Then there were 28 stones, all of them in the wrong position further to the west, and a photograph from 1908 shows 16 stones. 

The excavation found sockets for only nine or possibly the current 10 stones, all of them “Sarsens”.  There were no finds during excavation, so it was impossible to date the monument accurately, but it is thought to be Neolithic, the period of the first farmers, and perhaps up to 4,000 years old, or early Bronze Age, with some of the “extra stones” having formed part of a chambered long barrow (see later information on the Hell Stone) which has now been obliterated by agricultural workers.

3. Hampton Stone Circle.jpg

Carry on down the track, past some farm buildings on the left, to a road. Take care crossing over to the steps and gate on the opposite side. Bear slightly left, diagonally across the field, to the double stiles in the corner, carry on down the path for 100 metres to cross the stone stile on the right with a path leading up to the Hell Stone (4).

4. The Hell Stone

As you will see, there is more than one stone. Like the Hampton Circle, these too have been tampered with during the past 200 years. During the 18th and 19th century it was fashionable for the wealthy to have a "folly" on their land - an artificially created structure looking much older than it actually is.

In this case, the original stones here were actually from a prehistoric structure – a Neolithic long barrow – but these were used in 1866 to create this structure, which was probably intended to look like a “Cromlech”; a Megalithic structure similar to a stone tomb and often found in west Wales and Brittany.

These stones are thought originally to have formed the underground burial chamber of a Neolithic long barrow dating from 6,000 to 4,000 years old.  The long barrow once extended for about 25 metres or 80 feet back in the direction of the footpath parallel to and split by the stone boundary wall.  It was up to 10 metres wide and although now only about a metre high was once high enough for earth to cover the stone chamber. 

The dew pond to the south is of much more recent construction and was for watering animals.

4. The Hell Stone.jpg

Return to the main path, turn right and at the bottom cross the stile, through a small thicket and look for the first bridleway sign on the left. Go uphill with woodland on the left and right. After 250 metres look for a sign on the right to Hardy Monument/South Dorset Ridgeway (5).

5.  Hardy's Monument

Thomas Masterman Hardy lived in Portesham for much of his life. Where was he born? It could have been in Martinstown, where his family were farmers, but some say he was born at Kingston Russell House as he was baptised in Long Bredy.

 

Joining the navy in 1781, aged 12, he rose through the ranks to become  captain of Horatio Nelson’s flagship HMS Vanguard by 1798.  Nelson was the charismatic leader and masterful naval tactician, but Hardy was the “disciplined technical sailor par excellence” as the British fought the Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar.  Everyone knows the tale of Nelson dying in Hardy’s arms where he is reputed to have said “Kiss me Hardy”, or was it really “Kismet Hardy”, an Arabic term for “fate Hardy”?

 

Hardy died in 1839 having had many high ranking naval roles, becoming Sir Thomas and Governor of Greenwich Hospital, the home of his other memorial.  This memorial was funded from public subscription at a cost of £450, built of stone from Portesham quarry and opened in 1844.  It has three links with the sea and seafarers – can you work out what they are?

5. Hardy Monument.jpg

Go down the steep sloping path to the north of the monument, cross the tarmac road and follow a gravelled path down to the car park below. Cross the road again to the path opposite and for the next 3 kilometres follow signs for Bincombe with the parish boundary alongside. Look out for the Bronze Age barrows (6) and shake holes (7).  

6.  Bronze Age barrows

You are now on the South Dorset Ridgeway which is littered with prehistoric remains.  Although farming, staying in one place to grow crops and keep domesticated animals, had developed in the Middle East about 12,000 years ago, it took until about 6,000 years ago for farming to develop here. 

 

These first Neolithic farmers favoured these hilltops; the soils were not too heavy, making them easy to plough, and there was less vegetation than in the clay vales below, making the land easier to clear.  From here you could see your enemies from a distance and you could travel more easily along the drier hilltops than along the damp forested clay vales.  So, you are now on a kind of “prehistoric  motorway”!

 

By the Bronze Age from about 4,500 years ago, farmers had moved into the more fertile valleys, but like the Neolithic folk at Hell Stone, they still buried their most important people on the hilltops and put a high mound of earth on top so they could see them.  Some barrows had a ditch or bank or berm round the outside too. You may see a big depression at the top; a sign that the barrow was robbed about 150 years ago by treasure hunters.

6. Bronze Age Barrows.jpg

7.  Shake Holes

 

In some parts of Britain these are called swallow holes, perhaps because people were worried that they might disappear down them!

In fact, one appeared on the road to Martinstown just below Hardy Monument about 10 years ago - it was easily large enough to swallow a car.

 

They are not cause by “earthshakes” but are common in limestone and chalk country (you are now on a chalk ridge).  Both rocks are formed of with large amounts of calcium carbonate.  Rainwater contains dissolved carbon dioxide making it a weak form of carbonic acid which over long periods of time dissolves the chalk and limestone creating underground holes.  Sometimes the ground above collapses creating a shake hole.

 

This limestone country was important to early settlers; it soaks up water which reaches the surface as a spring where it reaches rocks like clay.  Portesham and nearby Upwey and Waddon are spring line settlements created where limestone and Kimmeridge clay meet and there is a ready supply of water.

7. Shake Holes.jpg

Cross the recent electricity grid contractors' road and walk between two barrows first on the right, then on the left. After 100 metres, look carefully for a footpath sign on a gate, on the right, just before two more barrows and go through, follow the path going slightly right, through a planted field, to cross a stile midway along a wire fence, follow the path round the right side of a small valley to a stone wall on the right. Follow the path downhill as it becomes the track to Friar Waddon, emerging onto the road through Yull Farm. Cross the road and take the tarmac bridleway uphill opposite, following over a brow, curving right, then left, then for 1 kilometre south over a stream and track of Abbotsbury Railway towards a ridge with a pylon on the brow. Immediately after the pylon turn right 90 degrees due west (there is no footpath sign) to cross a planted field just to the right hand side of a small copse by another pylon, aiming for a gap in the field boundary ahead. Go through the gap and walk past the ruined Corton Dairy (8) on the left.

8.  Corton Dairy

Looking to your right you will see Corton at the base of the ridge of hills to the north.  Corton is a very old hamlet with its own small church.  The local map shows lots of farm buildings with the name dairy showing that traditionally this has been pasture land for dairy cattle, this was common on the wet clay vale you have just crossed.

 

The ridge you came over is formed of Portland and Purbeck limestone but the smaller ridge you are now on is formed of corallian limestone which, being softer, is lower and good for arable crops.  Between these two ridges on the clay vale between, you crossed a small stream and the track of the old railway.  Here there once was a “milk platform” where the milk from this dairy was picked up daily by train.

 

The Kimmeridge shale, in the valley near Corton, was important over 100 years ago.  It was mined for the oil that could be extracted and carried away by train, probably for use during the first world war.  So this parish also contains an oilfield!

8. Corton Dairy.jpg

Carry straight on, crossing a planted field, going slightly left, towards another gap in the field boundary. Go straight on, with the fence on your right to a junction of tracks, then straight ahead, over a stile crossing a field, aiming for a clump on the brow. Just past the clump, find a stile in the fence on the right, cross the stile, going immediately left, beside the fence, then cross the field, still heading west, along the brow, to a gate with East Shilvinghampton (9) downhill on your right.

9.  Shilvinghampton

 

For the Anglo Saxons Shilvinghampton meant “farm on

a bench or slope”. East and West Shilvinghampton are

now small hamlets both with farm buildings to the

north of here and there is another farm a little further

north.

At one time however there was a lot more to

Shilvinghampton. In the 'elds between these three

farms there are banks and ditches and it is thought that

there was a much larger hamlet here in mediaeval

times 600 to 700 years ago. Why has it been

abandoned?

There are many deserted villages in Britain with at least

30 in Dorset. There are 've or more within 10 miles,

including Winterborne Came, West Ringstead, Rew near

Martinstown, Stinsford and Wolfeton. In some cases

they will have become depopulated as people found a

better life elsewhere.

But many villages and hamlets died out as a result of

plagues such as the Black Death, which came to Britain

not far away in Weymouth 673 years ago. Who knows,

The Black Death could have come to Shilvinghampton?

9.  Shilvinghampton.jpg

Go half right downhill to the stile on the road at West Shilvinghampton. Cross the road to go over another stile, continue through the field with the fence on the right, to a gate, due west. Carry straight on across fields and two stiles before reaching the gate onto the B3157. Take great care crossing over to the gate opposite, continuing over a planted field in the same westerly direction, aiming for the right hand end of a hedge on the horizon. Cross a stile in the wire fence to a large stone at the right-hand end of the hedge line. Straight on, in the same direction, to a stile by a gorse clump, slight right downhill to the right of a telegraph pole and to the right of a garden, down to a gate on the road into Rodden.

Turn left on the road, then right at the next junction to a bridleway sign on the right after 50 metres. Go steeply uphill, skirting to the right of a gorse clump on the brow. Bear slight left, past gorse and continue on the track along the ridge , through two gates and at the third gate, take the footpath downhill to the right as it follows a small gully to a stile. Cross the stile and follow the path, past some buildings of East Elworth and, keeping those to your left, follow the path between fences to a gate into a field. Shortly you will find a small gate in the fence to your left, go through, turning immediately right and, keeping the hedge on your right, proceed to a gap in the hedge straight ahead (10).

 

10.  Did you know that :-

  • Portesham has been called Portisham, Possum, Posham,  and, in the Domesday Book, Portishamme?

  • People used to holiday in converted carriages in the railway sidings in the 1940s?

  • A rare Iron Age mirror was found on Portesham Farm in 1994 and is now in Dorchester Museum?

  • William Weare and his wife Mary were buried at St Peter’s church in the 1600s, but she is in the church and he is on the other side of the wall buried outside?

  • There is archaeological evidence of settlement here for the last 4,000 years?

  • In 1023 King Canute granted a charter to Bishop Orc which established Portesham as part of Abbotsbury Abbey.

  • The stream running behind the village green is artificial and is a leet which took water to a mill to the west of the village

  • Fez Wig is the annual summer festival held in the village in August?

  • There was  a Civil War battle here in 1644 where the Royalists beat the Parliamentarians?

 

This is the site of a derelict stile. It is often very muddy (* see note below), carry straight on through the gap keeping the hedge on your right, to a gate onto a path by the caravan site. Follow the path onto the site access road, turn left along the footpath by the B3157 to the centre of the village and your start point.

* NOTE: The muddy gap can be avoided by turning left through East Elworth to West Elworth and then along a minor road and the B3157 to Portesham, but this is hazardous and is not recommended.

"WELL DONE WALKERS!"

John Surowiec

All proceeds of the walk have gone to Dors to India, the Portesham based charity which supports children from the poorest families in South East India.

GET FIT & FULL OF PORTESHAM FACTS IN 2021!

Beating the Portesham Parish Bounds took place over the May Day Bank Holiday, brilliantly organised by John Surowiec, raising £300.00 for the Dors to India charity  

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